Reapportionment proposal angers local officials
Proposed amendments labeled unfair, unwieldy by Northwest Colorado legislative districts
September 18, 2001
By RYAN SHERIDAN
Daily Press writer
Colorado has grown and changed as a state over the last several years, and the 2000 census revealed just how much. Using those census numbers, the state has initiated a reapportionment process for legislative districts.
With its last round of amendments, the Colorado Reapportionment Commission has angered representatives of Northwest Colorado, and spurred accusations of partisanship and unfair practices by the Democrat-controlled commission.
At a meeting on Tuesday, local representatives, groups and residents met with members of the Commission. Reapportionment Commissioners Kathleen Beatty, Jay Fetcher and Rosemary Rodriguez traveled around the state to gather input on the latest proposals. The latest amendment would create one massive district, 57, made up of Moffat, Rio Blanco, Routt, Jackson, and a majority of Grand and Garfield counties. Another proposed district, 61, would stretch over 300 miles from the northernmost part of Garfield County down to the southern end of Hinsdale County.
“The new map doesn’t accomplish anything, and it costs the ag community a vote and voice in the House,” said. Rep Al White, R-Winter Park. “Commissioner Fetcher, I believe this effort is misguided. You’re claiming to want to protect the voice of agriculture, then you come up with this map, and this is disingenuous, in some manner.
“I urge the adoption of the original map for Western Colorado.”
White also urged the commission to give equal weight to compactness and the effort to lessen county splitting, instead of considering county splitting as paramount. The two proposals are “a constitutional push,” and the issues and needs of Northwest Colorado call for both considerations to be taken into account, according to White. The late publication of this proposal on the Internet upset White and many of the other legislators that attended.
Moffat County Commissioner T. Wright Dickinson also spoke out against the latest proposal.
“It’s fine to talk about communities of interest, but history should be our best teacher. When groups operate by themselves all farmers or all miners or all enviros all we do is set tensions in place. The best thing we can do is create balance,” Dickinson said. “The best thing that happened to the agricultural community was that two voices were caring about my world, and the districts made people look beyond their own interests. This proposal does not create that atmosphere, and I encourage you not to adopt this proposal.”
The success of programs and proposals from this area were, in part, due to the representation Northwest Colorado enjoyed, and this representation needs to continue, Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos said.
“A key element to all the successes we’ve had was our representation in the state legislature. We had strength in numbers to bring programs to rural America,” she said. “We don’t have the business case to support some efforts in rural areas, and if we lose some of our voice, we now won’t be able to get the programs from the government.”
Raftopoulos also pointed out the difficulty of having one representative covering so much territory. That not only would the number of voices be reduced, so would the quality of that representation, she said.
The issue of county splits can’t be balanced with other considerations because of the directions the commission received from the State Supreme Court, Fetcher said.
“We can’t put county splits as second. The Supreme Court made that clear. If we could draw these districts geographically, that might be better, but we can’t do that we have to deal with county splits for voting convenience,” he said.
Fetcher said she expected to hear these complaints from this area, and pointed out the response from Vail, which was the next stop, would be much different.
Rodriguez said that it was important to have an open mind, but she doesn’t favor creating proposals that “don’t have a chance down in Denver.”
Rodriguez hasn’t made a final decision yet, because she still wants to review and ingest the information presented.
The formation of the Commission is one problem that it’s too late to deal with and that has a major impact on the issue, White said.
“The commissions in the past have been balanced, but this time a partisan commission was appointed, and the decisions coming out of that are as partisan as they can be,” he said.
Dickinson agreed that the Reapportionment Commission’s makeup was a problem.
“The Governor appointed a balanced commission, the legislature appointed a balanced commission, but the Supreme Court appointed a commission of Democrats,” he said. “A non-elected body has chosen this membership, a body that doesn’t answer to the people. Even if it was an all-Republican commission, I still would be unhappy with that it’s simply an issue of fairness.”