Reapportionment debate coming to Glenwood Springs

John Colson
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

The Colorado General Assembly’s reapportionment road show comes to Glenwood Springs on Saturday to give local voters a chance to comment on competing Democrat and Republican visions for redrawing the state’s legislative districts.

The meeting, midway through a 25-city, month-long tour of Colorado, is to gauge public sentiment about the plans and take suggestions to improve it.

The tour, and associated legislative negotiations, also is an effort to try to keep the entire process out of the courts.

The last time the districts were redrawn, a judge handled the matter after the Legislature could not reach agreement on the subject.

Reapportionment is aimed at drawing boundaries for 65 state House and 35 state Senate district in response to the 2010 Census. A separate effort, known as congressional redistricting, will redraw Colorado’s seven federal congressional districts.

One reapportionment issue certain to arise at the hearing is whether Garfield County’s southeastern corner, including Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, should remain with adjacent portions of Eagle, Pitkin, Gunnison and Delta counties in House District 61.

That is the preliminary plan put forward by the Republican-controlled House. Roger Wilson, D-Glenwood Springs, currently represents District 61.

The proposed House District 61, however, would encompass a smaller portion of Garfield County than the existing District 61, and would move New Castle out of District 61 and into a newly created District 63.

If adopted, the House plan would put western Garfield County into House District 63, along with Rio Blanco, Routt and Moffat counties. All four counties currently are in District 57 with Grand County, represented by Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs.

The plan for the Senate districts, put forward by the Democrat-controled state Senate, would leave Garfield County intact within Senate District 8, currently represented by Jean White, R-Hayden. That is how things stand now, except for a small section at the Mesa County line in Senate District 7, currently represented by Steve King, R-Grand Junction.

But the section of Eagle County now in Senate District 8 would be shifted to Senate District 5, currently represented by Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village.

The 11-member Colorado Reapportionment Commission is made up of five Democrats, five Republicans and an unaffiliated member, including two legislators. Every decade, the commission must redraw state House and Senate districts so each district has roughly the same number of people.

In redrawing the district lines, Reapportionment Commission is required by state law to:

• Keep districts as compact as possible.

• Keep districts whole within counties unless crossing county lines is needed to create equal populations between districts.

• Avoid splitting cities between districts as much as possible.

• Ensure that communities of interest be preserved within a district.

The reapportionment proposals have been drawing fire from both parties, based on perceptions that each party is hoping to gain some political leverage by creating districts that lean toward one party or another.

State law directs the commission to create “competitive” districts by maintaining a balance of Republicans versus Democrats.

According to letters forwarded to the Post Independent by Reapportionment Commission staffer Clare Pramuk, some vocal residents favor retaining the current division of Garfield County.

“Our interests are best served by acknowledging that what goes on in Eastern Garfield County is really quite different than Western Garfield County,” wrote Barb Coddington of Glenwood Springs.

Several letters to the commission, from residents of Carbondale and New Castle, asked that both towns be kept in a district that includes Glenwood Springs, Aspen and Gunnison, based on a “community of interests” represented by such activities as recreation and tourism.

The western half of the county, according to the letters, is dominated by ranching, mineral extraction and rural life, and the two halves are very distinct in terms of politics and social values.

The public is encouraged to attend and participate in the hearing so the commission can be well-informed about the effects of boundary changes, said Pramuk

The meetings last as long as the public wants to keep talking. A meeting in Boulder lasted five hours, she said.

There will be sign-up sheets at the meeting and those who wish to speak can sign up repeatedly, even if they have spoken already.

“But they have to sign up to speak,” she said.

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