GOP to challenge Colorado Congress plan
November 16, 2011
DENVER – Colorado Republicans said Wednesday they’ll challenge a judge’s ruling on proposed congressional lines that give Democrats a chance to unseat two GOP incumbents, including one in a district always held by the party.
Douglas County, Larimer County, and the state’s Republican Party were filing an appeal with the Colorado Supreme Court, said Ryan Call, the party’s chairman.
Republicans called the ruling last week by a Denver District judge flawed, saying it makes drastic changes to districts in favor of competitiveness. The GOP had argued that minimal changes were needed to the current congressional lines in place for the last 10 years.
Call said Republicans “believe the maps and initial decision by the Denver District Court disregarded Colorado’s traditional communities of interest, and placed undue reliance on non-constitutional criteria, including so-called ‘competitiveness’ and other political factors, that are not enumerated in state law.”
Judge Robert Hyatt blasted the Republican plan, calling it a disservice to voters and saying it ignored demographic changes in Colorado over the previous decade.
“If the focus was limited entirely to that factor, and a map drawn with only that factor in mind, with all else as afterthought and rationalization, this entire enterprise would require no more than a five-minute computer generated exercise,” Hyatt said.
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He chose a Democrat-sponsored map that gives the party a new edge in the heavily Republican district held by U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman. Republicans have held that seat since it was created after the 1980 census. Democratic state Rep. Joe Miklosi is challenging Coffman for the district.
Coffman’s suburban Denver district would include all of Aurora and put Republican-leaning portions of his district into the eastern plains seat held by Republican U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner.
The rural 3rd District on the Western Slope held by Republican Rep. Scott Tipton would become slightly more competitive than it already is. Democratic state Rep. Sal Pace is running against Tipton.
The Legislature failed to agree on new district lines this spring, and both parties sued.
Republicans also objected to how the proposed map puts northern Larimer County, currently represented by Gardner, in the Democratic stronghold of Rep. Jared Polis in the 2nd District. The judge said making the change in the 2nd District helps the University of Colorado in Boulder and Colorado State University in Fort Collins because they would be represented by one member of Congress who could focus on educational issues shared by both colleges.
Hyatt also said Aurora should be represented by one person, instead of keeping the city split between the 6th and 7th districts. Republicans submitted an additional map that put Aurora in one district, the 7th, but Hyatt said that would pair Coffman with another incumbent.
The Latino population, the state’s fastest growing, also played a role in Hyatt’s decision. Latinos now account for one-fifth of Colorado’s population, compared with 17 percent in 2000.
“Competitiveness is particularly important for the Latino community because it gives them a voice in districts where the outcome of the election is close,” Hyatt said.
But Republicans have argued the Democratic proposal actually dilutes Hispanic voting strength.
Hyatt said the Democrat’s proposal makes three districts competitive, with each nearly evenly split among Democrats, Republicans, and unaffiliated voters. Those districts are the 3rd, the 6th, and the 7th.
In his ruling, he said the Democratic map made few changes to the districts 1, 3, and 5.
Mark Grueskin, the attorney representing Democrats, did not immediately return a call for comment. He said last week that Hyatt’s ruling is “sound and extremely defensible.”
Call said a decision Tuesday by the Colorado Supreme Court rejecting proposed state legislative districts “was influential” in the decision to appeal the proposed congressional maps. The court said in the ruling on state legislative districts that counties were unnecessarily split while making more races competitive.