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April 13, 2011
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Commissioners want to stay in 3rd Congressional District

Garfield County does not want to be cut out of the 3rd Congressional District and stuck in the 2nd District, as part of a redrawing of congressional district boundaries following the 2010 U.S. Census.

Concluding that the redistricting move must be politically motivated, the Board of County Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution Monday expressing their unhappiness about the idea.

But according to two legislators on the state committee in charge of the early stage of redistricting, the BOCC might be overreacting.

"We haven't drawn any maps," said state Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village. "Everything is on the table. There is an infinite number of possibilities."

State Rep. David Balmer, R-Centennial, responded by email, "I'm not aware of such a proposed map. In all of our proposed maps, Garfield County remains in 3rd Congressional District."

The impetus for the resolution came from Commissioner Mike Samson, who mentioned on April 4 that he had heard the realignment was a possibility. Samson could not be reached on Tuesday for further explanation.

All across the United States, state legislators are working to redraw the boundaries of congressional districts to reflect changes in population.

By federal law, congressional districts are required to represent equivalent percentages of the nation's overall population.

The 10-member redistricting committee in Colorado has conducted hearings around the state and is now working to prepare maps of the proposed changes for presentation to the Colorado General Assembly on April 21.

At present, according to the resolution passed by the BOCC, Garfield County is being eyed for inclusion in the 2nd District, along with Pitkin County and "certain sections of Front Range counties."

The BOCC, in its resolution, declares its hope "that Garfield County remain a part of the 3rd Congressional District ... because Garfield County is an integral part of Western Colorado and should be represented at the federal level in unity with our Western Slope compatriots."

The resolution notes that state law "defines the Third Congressional District to include Garfield County" and suggests that redistricting should "preserve communities of interest, including ethnic, cultural, economic, trade areas, geographic and demographic factors."

The state law cited is the basic law that defines congressional districts, and is amended every decade based on the work of the redistricting committee.

Although the commissioners offered little comment while approving the resolution, Commissioner Tom Jankovsky remarked, "If anybody should go into the 2nd, it should be Pitkin County," referring to his belief that similar political outlooks are shared by residents of Pitkin and Boulder counties.

Following the discussion, Commissioner John Martin explained that he felt any such redrawing of the districts would have to be politically motivated.

"How do you divide the the Western Slope?" he asked rhetorically. "You bring Boulder over and split the 3rd."

Currently, the geographically immense 3rd District contains most of the Western Slope counties, including all of the counties that share a border with Utah, the San Luis Valley counties, and Pueblo County.

The more compact 2nd District, which has expanded westward in recent years to include Grand, Summit and Eagle counties, occupies the northern-central portion of the state, with its population center in the Boulder area.

The 2nd District is considered to be strongly Democratic and more politically liberal than Garfield County, which generally has a conservative voting record and currently is dominated by Republican office holders.

Martin said the redistricting effort is being driven not by population but by politics, and is intended to pull Garfield County into Boulder's political orbit.

"If it was truly a population issue, we'd look at it in a whole different light," concluded Martin.

"It's gerrymandering on a congressional level," agreed Commissioner Mike Samson, referring to a term that describes the redrawing of district lines for political gain.

jcolson@postindependent.com


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The Post Independent Updated Apr 13, 2011 12:47AM Published Apr 13, 2011 12:46AM Copyright 2011 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.