Garfield commissioners to weigh in on state legislative redistricting proposal that removes Rep. Will from HD 57
A staff proposal before the Colorado Independent Redistricting Commission that removes a chunk of Garfield County from House District 57 — and its current representative — would not be in the county’s best interests, county commissioners and the county clerk all said Monday.
“I was shocked when I saw the map,” Republican state Rep. Perry Will, a resident of the Garfield Creek area south of New Castle, said in addressing the commissioners during their regular meeting. “I see it as an assault on rural legislators.”
Both he and the current representative for House District 54 in Mesa County, Republican Matt Soper, would no longer reside in their current districts if the staff recommendation that’s now before the Redistricting Commission stands.
However, they would be eligible to run for reelection as incumbents in their new districts, should the plan go forward.
As proposed, the Garfield County population centers of Rifle and Silt, along with a large rural swath south of Interstate 70 that includes Will’s address, would be put into the new HD 55 along with the rural portions of Mesa County and a northern section of Delta County.
HD 57 would retain the remainder of Garfield County and all of Routt and Moffat counties, as is currently the case, but with the addition of Routt County and its largest population center, Steamboat Springs.
“I’d appreciate any effort to get this changed,” Will said. “I truly love representing House District 57 and the people here, and would like to continue to do that.”
County commissioners agreed they’d like to try to convince the independent commission charged with redrawing state legislative and congressional district boundaries otherwise regarding the HD 57 configuration.
In addition to preparing written comments to send to the commission, they plan to show up at one or both of a pair of upcoming Western Slope public hearings on the proposed redistricting, at 11 a.m. July 24 in Craig and at 11 a.m. July 31 in Carbondale.
Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said the proposal might meet the goal of ensuring roughly equal population within legislative districts, but it fails in meeting two other goals: maintaining contiguous geographic areas and preserving communities of interest, such as counties and towns.
“This plan doesn’t protect our political subdivisions and doesn’t protect our larger community of interest, which is Garfield County,” Jankovsky said.
He acknowledged that the proposal is strictly coming from a staff recommendation and driven largely by shuffling population centers, and that the Redistricting Commission has yet to make a decision. Ultimately, the final decision rests with the Colorado Supreme Court.
“This is not acceptable, and we need to make sure it changes,” Jankovsky said.
Garfield County Clerk and Recorder Jean Alberico said she also has concerns about the proposed new district boundaries from the standpoint of running elections.
Past redistricting split Garfield County and even some precincts into separate Colorado House districts, she said.
Alberico said one of her objections in the past has been when a small number of voters get pulled into a new legislative district and it’s harder to protect voter privacy.
Splitting some portion of the county to gain population elsewhere may be inevitable this year, she said.
“Whole counties are really best for county clerks,” she said.
Time is of the essence, she added, as clerks need to begin preparing for the 2022 election cycle by fall.
“It’s hard to say to people who I’ve worked with all my life, ‘well, I don’t represent you,’” added Will, a former state wildlife officer who worked for several years in Garfield County before retiring and becoming a state legislator in 2019.
In addition to leveling concerns regarding state redistricting, Garfield County commissioners have signed a resolution supporting the creation of two wholly rural congressional districts in Colorado during the upcoming legislative redistricting process.
Through the 2020 U.S. Census, Colorado gained a congressional seat due to the increase in its population. The state redraws its congressional districts every 10 years.
District boundaries are to be determined by an independent 12-member commission, which was established in 2018 through a pair of state constitutional amendments, a county press release noted.
The Colorado Supreme Court is to approve the new congressional district maps in December.
“I think we needed to express our wishes and desires to the commission,” Commissioner Mike Samson said at the July 6 Board of County Commissioners meeting. “The commissioners of Garfield County encourage the congressional redistricting commission to ensure Colorado’s rural population is effectively represented through the creation of two fully rural, or as near as possible, districts.”
A proposal now before the commission does that, for the most part, with the proposed new 3rd Congressional District covering most of the rural and mountain resort counties on the Western Slope, and the 4th Congressional District taking in the Eastern Plains counties and a section of south-central Colorado.
The county resolution notes that the rural parts of the state have “unique interests that are sometimes contrary to the interests for Front Range communities.”
“The Western Slope of Colorado is a community of interest that deserves to be made whole within one congressional district,” the resolution reads. “The Eastern Plains and southern Colorado is a community of interest that deserves its own congressional district.”
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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