Colorado Democrats are celebrating a Denver District Court ruling that chose their redistricting plan over one submitted by Republicans – one they hope will give them another vote in Congress.
Republicans initially warned that Democrats shouldn’t get too giddy – it was possible the ruling would be appealed, perhaps overturned. That appeal appears unlikely, however, according to a statement released Jan. 29 from the CO. Speaker of the House Doug Dean.
Redistricting is a result of the 2000 Census, taken every 10 years. Colorado grew by just over 1 million people since the 1990 Census, entitling the state to a seventh seat in the House of Representatives.
The court got involved because state lawmakers, in last year’s General Session and a Special Session, could not agree on new boundaries. Lawmakers were also unable to agree on boundaries in the session now underway, inviting the court action.
Denver District Court Judge John Coughlin Friday chose a redistricting map over one submitted by Republican leadership. Coughlin said in his ruling it was obvious the Republican plan was designed to grab votes and increase its political lock on the state.
No matter, said Jeff Crank, vice president of governmental affairs for the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce. “The important thing for the 5th District, which encompasses Colorado Springs, El Paso County and its five military installations, is that it remains intact.”
“Our belief is that El Paso County should be kept whole,” Crank said. “Even with the map that came out, the 5th District is a great district.” Crank testified in the hearing on behalf of the Chamber.
Colorado Springs Representative Mark Cloer is concerned about how the plan will impact Republican election chances in other parts of the state, but said he’s “excited El Paso (District 5) has been kept whole.”
“That is probably the one good thing about it,” said House Speaker Doug Dean, R-Colorado Springs. Dean drew up the competing map for redistricting. “This (the map the court accepted) flies in the face of the fact that in the last 10 years, Republicans have become the majority party,” Dean told a reporter.
Dean also wonders whether Senate Democrats had advance notice how the judge would rule.
“I guarantee there will be an appeal,” Crank said. “If political consideration were taken into account with this map, the Supreme Court (state) is a very Democratic court… so you’re not going to get any sympathy there (in case of an appeal).”
Dean and other Republicans argue that the only explanation to why Democrats didn’t offer their own plans on the Senate floor, and refused to vote on proposals sent to them by the House is that they may have known in advance how Coughlin would rule on the two proposals.
“I don’t think anybody thinks that Judge Coughlin conversed with the Democrats,” Dean told The Rocky Mountain News. “But Judge Coughlin isn’t the only one who might have known what he would decide.’’
Those remarks angered Democrats, who invited Dean to offer some proof. “There is a disturbing trend within the Republican Party every time they fail,” Rep. Dan Grossman, D-Denver, told the News. “For them to cry sour grapes and then allege collusion is ridiculous. These are serious charges they’re making and they should come forward with proof or shut up.’’
The judge said the allegations are false. He said the only person he told was his wife, and that she wasn’t interested.
Under the redistricting plan the judge selected, the 5th District, is comprised of all of Fremont, Chaffee, Teller, El Paso and Lake Counties, and part of Park County. Previously, only part of Fremont County was in the district, while Chaffee, Park, and Lake were in the 3rd District. Under the new map, the part of Douglas County that was formerly part of the 5th District is now in the new 7th District. By federal mandate, each district is comprised of about 615,000 people.
District 5 voter registration still shows Republicans with a two to one margin. Latest numbers show 169,696 Republicans, 84,941 Democrats, and 122,093 Independents. The changes will have only marginal impact on this district, Crank said.
So, while things remain pretty much status quo for District 5, the new district opens a sea of opportunity for would-be politicians, as well as established politicians, in the area.
Statewide, Republicans hold a 4-2 advantage in the congressional delegation. Democrats believe they have at least an even chance to take the 7th Congressional District. First, there is no Republican incumbent to unseat. Politically, the 615,000 member district is almost equally divided amongst Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.
“You have a district that is competitive. That’s the most Democrats could ask for here in a state that has not been kind to them in the past few years,” said Amy Walter, an analyst for the Cook Political Report.
The judge admits the map he chose isn’t perfect. “The court admits that District 7 is an extremely cut-up district,” Coughlin said. “The reason… is that it surrounds the City and County of Denver on the west, the north and the east.”
Coughlin said he rejected Dean’s map for several reasons, not the least being that it split the city and county of Denver for partisan reasons.
“This court cannot consider partisan criteria in deciding how to redistrict the state… certainly plaintiffs would like to ‘mine’ as many Democratic votes from the city and county of Denver,” Coughlin said. “That is not the court’s responsibility. In general, plaintiffs have cleverly proposed a map which gets as many votes as possible from the three Democratic strongholds and in doing so ignores the criteria (for redistricting).”