Denver (AP) — The GOP stronghold held by U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman could be up for grabs after a Denver district judge sided Thursday with Democrats in their proposed redrawing of congressional lines.
Judge Robert Hyatt's ruling makes Coffman's suburban Denver district more Democratic by incorporating all of Aurora, the state's third-largest city.
It also moves Republican-leaning portions of Coffman's district into the eastern plains seat held by Republican U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner. Coffman is facing a challenge from Democratic state Rep. Joe Miklosi, who entered the race after Democrats proposed making Coffman's seat more competitive.
Republicans have held Coffman's 6th Congressional District for decades. 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. Hyatt said the idea is to make candidates work hard for votes and "engage as many people as possible."
State Democratic House Leader Sal Pace is challenging U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton in the 3rd District. Democratic state Senate President Brandon Shaffer is challenging Gardner in the 4th District, which still leans Republican under the Democratic proposal.
Both parties filed lawsuits after the state Legislature failed to agree on new district lines this spring to reflect population changes since 2010. The process was an acrimonious one, with both parties accusing each other of being unwilling to compromise.
Republican state Sen. Greg Brophy, who was on the legislative panel to redraw districts, said the Democrats got their wish with the judge's decision.
"That means that all the disingenuous behavior by the Democrats in the Legislature paid off for them. They had no intention of negotiating with us ... they intended all along to go to court," he said.
"The finger points both ways," responded Democratic Sen. Rollie Heath, who also served on the panel with Brophy.
The map proposed by state Democrats makes minor changes to Denver's 1st Congressional District, the 3rd District in western and southern Colorado, and the 5th District surrounding Colorado Springs, said Mark Grueskin, an attorney representing the Democrats.
Republicans had argued for minor changes to district lines that were adopted 10 years ago, an idea Judge Hyatt blasted, calling their approach to make minimal changes a "disservice to the people of this state or disingenuous."
"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.
He said the Republicans' maps "are flawed and fail to consider communities of interest." For example, he said that in northern Larimer County, the presence of agriculture has changed, noting that "no longer are there the agri-business phenomenon and the smell of feedlots observed by former Mayor Kirkpatrick thirty years ago."
The map Hyatt chose would put Larimer County in the 2nd District held by Democratic Rep. Jared Polis. Hyatt said that would make it so the University of Colorado in Boulder and the Colorado State University in Fort Collins can be represented by a single representative who could focus on their shared higher education interests.
Hyatt also said like the state's two biggest cities, Denver and Colorado Springs, Aurora should be represented by one person, instead of keeping the city split between the 6th and 7th districts.
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.
Republicans argued that it's not up to the court to decide the question of competitive districts. Criteria used for redistricting include keeping communities of interest together, preserving county and municipal boundaries and avoiding racial discrimination.
"I think that we presented the only map that really reflected the changes in Colorado," Grueskin said. "The other map, in part, or in whole, embraced the Colorado of 2001."
Grueskin said he expects Hyatt's decision to be appealed but called it "sound and extremely defensible."
Ten years ago, congressional redistricting was also settled in court, with a judge siding with Democrats. Colorado added its seventh congressional seat then, which Republicans won, giving them a 5-2 edge in the state's delegation at the time.
"Time and time again, the courts continue to rule in favor of the Democrats in the context of redistricting," Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call said in a statement.
Call said there "are significant problems" with map the court adopted, but he remained optimistic about Republican's chances at maintaining the majority of congressional seats in Colorado. They have four of the seven seats now.
He said no decision has yet been made whether to appeal. "But given the court's track record," he added, "Republicans aren't likely to get much of a fair shake."
Other groups also participated in the lawsuit and proposed maps, including Colorado Latino Forum and the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association.
Hyatt said in his ruling that he recognized he would not make everyone happy.
"Redrawing any district lines necessarily means disappointing citizens and interest groups no matter how those lines are drawn. That is a regrettable fact of any redistricting process," he said.
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