by Jerry Johnson and Dan Jablan, CMS lobbyists
Featured in the November-December 2021-January 2022 Colorado Medicine.
The top story of interest to lobbyists and politicos during the current interim between the end of the last legislative session and the start of the next one in January 2022 has been the redistricting process. It takes place every 10 years in Colorado following the release of the new census data. And, to be fair, it holds much more interest to elected officials and those who occupy the legislature’s lobby than it does to the public at large.
This redistricting exercise was different than those in preceding decades by virtue of the passage of two referendums by Colorado voters.
By passing Referendum Y and Z in 2018, the voters overwhelmingly decided that the fairest way to redraw legislative district lines would be by creating independent commissions – one for congressional districts and one for legislative ones – free from the influence of current elected officials or political party leaders. Good government advocates have long proposed independent commissions as the vehicle to end “Gerrymandering,” which we all learned about in our first political science or government class. In 1812, Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry famously redrew district lines to benefit his party – creating a district that resembled the shape of a salamander. Protecting incumbent elected officials is expressly prohibited in Colorado.
The redistricting process has been ongoing for the last seven months. The two 12-member commissions began their work in early April and voted on final new district maps this month. The commissions comprised four Democrats, four Republicans and four unaffiliated voters. The maps have been presented to the Colorado Supreme Court for review. Parties can file legal challenges to the maps, but the court’s role is to decide whether the maps meet constitutional muster, a determination that should be available soon after the publication of this issue of Colorado Medicine. The court can approve the maps or send them back to the commissions.
The two commissions spent more than 200 hours in meetings during the summer, holding hearings in communities across the state. Nearly 400 individual and group comments were received in a very open and transparent process. The new Colorado system makes it one of fewer than a dozen states using independent citizen commissions to do this work. Gerrymandering is still the norm across the country.
The congressional commission’s map created a new Congressional District 8, connecting Adams and Weld Counties along the Front Range, but otherwise seemed to leave the current Congressional districts largely intact after balancing the number of voters in each. The
commission passed the congressional map by a 11-1 vote.
But what to make of the new state House and Senate districts, hence the future balance of the state legislature? The current makeup of the legislature has the Democrats in control, 20-15 in the Senate and 41-24 in the House. The new maps suggest that control of the Senate will be extremely competitive, while the House Democrat majority could narrow substantially. The Democrat and Republican parties seem to be both happy and unhappy with portions of the maps, which points to the process of the independent commission working properly. The commission passed the new state legislative map by a 12-0 vote. The new districts will take effect in time for the 2022 election.