By Jim Ellis
Sept. 20, 2021 — The Colorado Independent Redistricting Commission (congressional) members are on a tight time schedule so they are moving fast. The third congressional map, and second staff offering, was released for public input late last week.
Under the commission parameters, the members produced the first map and the staff constructed the second after completing public hearings. Once both maps were publicized, further comments were recorded. Responding again, the staff amended their draw and released the newest iteration.
The ballot initiative that created the commission process mandates that the members agree upon a map by Sept. 28. A super majority of eight of the 12 members is required to approve a final plan. If the commission members are unable to agree upon a map in such a ratio, the staff would then directly submit a version to the state Supreme Court. The high court must confirm the new congressional plan by Dec. 15. Therefore, it is reasonable to argue that the commission staff possesses more power than the members.
Clearly there were objections, likely from both parties, to the original staff map. Based upon public input, they claimed, a seat that occupied most of the state’s southern quadrant was placed into District 3, historically known as the “western slope” seat. It has traditionally stretched from the Rocky Mountains west of Denver all the way to the Utah border and from Wyoming to New Mexico.
The original staff map changed the 3rd District’s direction, eliminating its northern sector. This had the effect of pairing Reps. Joe Neguse (D-Boulder) and freshman Lauren Boebert (R-Silt) technically into one seat. The heart of District 3 largely remained intact under this map, so even though Boebert’s home was placed in District 2, she still had a place to run. Therefore, the potential incumbent pairing, a political set-up that would have greatly favored Rep. Neguse, is likely alleviated.
Drawing the southern seat had the effect of taking Neguse’s 2nd District from Boulder County all the way to Utah and significantly changing his district, as well. Though it would remain a solid Democratic seat, many conservative western slope voters would have been introduced into a new CD that also included liberal Boulder.
It is highly likely that neither Boebert nor Neguse liked that particular draw, and many leaders of both parties also probably lobbied the commission members and staff to change the map. If so, the persuasion worked.
The new staff map restores the western slope district to its previous formation, meaning encompassing Colorado’s western quadrant from Wyoming to New Mexico along the Utah border. It does include Democratic Pueblo County, which brings some competition to the district. According to the commission’s political statistical package, a historical eight-race averaging of significant electoral contests, the 3rd District would become relatively safe for Rep. Boebert with an R+9 political performance.
The new map version also restores Rep. Neguse’s 2nd District to its more traditional configuration. With Boulder County as its population anchor, the 2nd would again stretch to the Wyoming border and only about halfway toward Utah. According to the aggregate political average, the 2nd becomes a D+34 seat for Rep. Neguse, and obviously safe.
Colorado was awarded an eighth congressional district in reapportionment, and the latest map again places that new seat in the Denver metropolitan area. The 8th District would be located to the north of the Rocky Mountain region’s premier city, and include the suburban cities of Westminster (part) and Thornton, along with Greeley further to the northeast, as its population anchors.
This new 8th version again radically changes Rep. Ed Perlmutter’s (D-Arvada) political base and gives him a much more competitive adjacent 7th District. For Perlmutter, who could not have liked the first staff draw, this map is an improvement but a significant partisan degradation from his current seat. The new much more rural 7th CD is still anchored in Jefferson County, but returns an aggregate average of D+6, far from the 60 percent Biden percentage of his current 7th CD.
One could argue that this most recent Colorado map would yield three Democrats and three Republicans with two swing districts, the latter pair being the Perlmutter district and the new seat. Democratic nominees, however, would be the favorites in each of the swing districts – the 7th’s political aggregate average is D+6 and the 8th’s, D+4 – and the likely conclusion from this staff map would be a 5D-3R split, or a net gain of one Democratic seat.
The second staff map is by no means the final product. More public hearings and additional map versions will be forthcoming before the commission process concludes on or around Sept. 28.