Downvalley residents: keep Aspen, New Castle in same legislative district
August 29, 2011
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Glenwood Springs and New Castle should remain in the same legislative district with the towns of the Roaring Fork Valley, when state officials redraw the boundaries of the Colorado General Assembly districts that affect Garfield County.
At least that was how many of those felt who testified on Saturday before the Colorado Reapportionment Commission.
The commission is on a tour of counties around Colorado, seeking public input as it prepares to redraw the boundaries of the state’s 35 state senate districts and 65 state house districts.
Locally, the commission is working out where the boundaries would be for a newly created House Districts 63 and House District 61.
Currently, House District 57, held by Republican Randy Baumgartner of Hot Sulphur Springs, contains the western portion of the county, starting just west of Silt.
House District 61, represented by Democrat Roger Wilson, takes in the southeastern portion of the Garfield County and includes Silt, New Castle, Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Aspen, as well as stretching southward past Crested Butte and Gunnison.
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As the proposed House Districts map is drawn now, the western boundary of District 61 would be Colorado Highway 134 (South Canyon Creek Road), and the district would contain Glenwood Springs and the Garfield County portion of the Roaring Fork Valley drainage.
But for many of those testifying at the Saturday hearing, that is not how it should be.
“On my street, half the people go to work in Glenwood Springs,” said Douglas DeNio, a New Castle resident. “My wife has a business there.”
DeNio and others noted that the commission is supposed to take into account the “communities of interest” of a proposed district.
“New Castle is more like Glenwood than like Rifle,” agreed Gay Moore of Glenwood Springs. She said that recreation and tourism are the main economic drivers in both towns. Ranching and industry, specifically oil and gas drilling, dominate the economies of Silt, Rifle and Parachute, Moore continued.
Mayor Frank Breslin told the commission that New Castle and Glenwood Springs share the geography and topography of the Grand Hogback, while the terrain west of New Castle “is called plateau country.”
But others, including Garfield County Commissioner John Martin, felt differently about the matter.
“Keep our county whole,” Martin told the commission, “don’t divide us up so much.”
Asked by Rob Witwer of the reapportionment commission whether he would rather see Garfield County kept “whole,” or the Roaring Fork Valley be grouped with Glenwood Springs and New Castle, Martin answered without hesitation, “Garfield County whole.”
Martin urged the commission to establish the district boundaries so that Garfield County is served by one member of the Colorado House, just as the proposed Colorado Senate map does not split Garfield County between two districts.
The goal of the reapportionment commission, set down in the state constitution, is to equalize the populations of the different districts by redrawing boundaries after every U.S. Census. This year, the “ideal size” of a house district is to be approximately 77,000, while the same benchmark for a senate district is roughly 145,000.
A “preliminary plan” for redrawing the districts is supposed to be finished by Sept. 5, and the plan is to be submitted to the Colorado Supreme Court on Oct. 7. If the plan is approved by the Supreme Court, it is to be filed with the Colorado Secretary of State by Dec. 14.
One technical point, raised by Garfield County Clerk Jean Alberico, concerned a network of streets uphill from West Glenwood that are in Garfield County.
Because the proposed new House district map follows the city boundary line, those living on the streets in the county would be in a different district than those whose homes are inside the city line, which Alberico said would complicate the electoral process.
“It will make my staff’s work very difficult” if that arrangement is in the final map, Alberico said, partly because of the difficulty of being sure to get “everyone put in their proper precinct and district” before the state’s party caucuses get started in early 2012.
“We’re aware of the tight time line,” said chairwoman Gayle Berry of Grand Junction, the only Western Slope member of the commission. Berry and her fellow commissioner Mario Nicholais indicated they would try to solve Alberico’s problem.
“I think that will get fixed,” said Nicholais.