Colorado Supreme Court upholds Democrat Congress map
December 5, 2011
DENVER – The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday upheld congressional maps redrawn by Democrats who put the conservative-leaning district of Republican Rep. Mike Coffman in play next year while saying politicians should be in competitive seats.
The ruling closes the book on what was an acrimonious battle that started with the Legislature’s failure to agree on new congressional lines as both parties accused each other of being unwilling to compromise.
The parties went to court and Denver District Judge Robert Hyatt approved the Democrats’ map, saying it best reflected demographic changes during the past decade.
The state Supreme Court issued a brief statement upholding Hyatt’s ruling and said a written opinion would come later.
Democratic attorney Mark Grueskin said he hoped the high court’s decision sent a message to other states working on redistricting that are considering competitive districts at a time when public approval of Congress continues to deteriorate.
“This is an incredibly important moment to say this process isn’t about solidifying the hold that incumbents have on their office,” Grueskin said.
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Republicans currently hold a 4-3 advantage in Colorado’s House delegation.
The chosen map alters Coffman’s 6th district in the southern Denver suburbs by moving Republican-leaning portions of Douglas County into the Eastern Plains seat now held by Republican Rep. Corey Gardner. The map also puts the city of Aurora entirely in Coffman’s district, eliminating its current split between the 6th and 7th districts.
Those changes make his district nearly evenly split among Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters, giving Democrats a shot at winning the 6th district for the first time since it was created after the 1980 census.
Coffman believes he still has an edge to hold onto the seat because of his Aurora roots.
“I’m disappointed that I’m losing so many of my constituents but I’m excited about running in the new district,” Coffman said in a statement. “I grew up in Aurora, went to school in Aurora, started a small business in Aurora, and I still live in Aurora.”
Democratic state Rep. Joe Miklosi of Denver is challenging Coffman.
Grueskin said the Democrats’ map also acknowledged the demographic changes in the state since 2000, which Hyatt noted in his ruling last month. For example, Hyatt said Douglas County shares common interests with counties in the 4th district on the Eastern Plains experiencing drought conditions and an expansion of oil and gas development. Hyatt also said it was important for Aurora, the state’s third-largest city, to be represented by a single member of Congress.
The new map also puts Larimer County, which is now linked to the agricultural Eastern Plains, with the 2nd district held by Democratic Rep. Jared Polis. Judge Hyatt said in his previous ruling that the change allowed the University of Colorado in Boulder and Colorado State University in Fort Collins to be represented by a single person who could focus on higher education interests.
Republicans argued the new maps included unreasonable changes to make more races competitive. They had advocated for minimal changes to the current district lines, which must be redrawn every decade to account for population shifts.
Republican attorney Richard Westfall said the ruling would not be appealed, even though he was disappointed by it.
Colorado GOP Chairman Ryan Call said Republicans are ready to compete in the new district, saying they “are confident that we will not only maintain our current Republican delegation, but have an opportunity to expand our majority in Congress as we focus on the issues of economic growth and job creation.”
The maps make three districts competitive, with each nearly evenly split among Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters – a breakdown that’s similar to Colorado as a whole. Those districts are the 3rd, 6th and 7th.
“These Congressional districts reflect the Colorado of today, including our state’s political competitiveness,” said state Democratic party Chairman Rick Palacio.
Democratic state Rep. Sal Pace is challenging Republican Rep. Scott Tipton, who represents the sprawling, rural 3rd district on the Western Slope. Democratic Senate President Brandon Shaffer is challenging Gardner in the 4th district, which still leans Republican.
Republican state Sen. Greg Brophy, who served on a legislative panel that tried to redraw districts this spring, criticized the new map.
“It was all done to give Democrats a political advantage and aid in their power grab,” he said.