As this newspaper reported, last week, the Colorado Reapportionment Commission approved a map redrawing this state’s legislative districts. Not only does the map deprive Jefferson County of its allotted number of whole House seats, it carves up significant natural, cultural and administrative communities of interest.
Once every 10 years, the state realigns the map to account for changes in population. Until 1974, legislative reapportionment was done by the state legislature. That year, the people of Colorado approved a ballot measure creating a bipartisan commission consisting of 11 people appointed by legislative leadership, the governor and the chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court.
This year I happened to serve on the commission as the speaker of the House’s designee. It’s an honor, but not one anybody seeks. That’s because reapportionment is a complicated, imperfect science, guaranteed to irritate more people than it pleases.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to re-allocate the state’s population across state House and Senate maps without making major changes. For example, some rural areas are losing population, while Front Range counties like Douglas and Weld are growing exponentially. Because of the constitutional mandate to keep the population of districts roughly equal, lines are bound to move.
But while some changes are necessary, others are not. And the changes to Jefferson County fall into the latter category.
Currently — and since at least the 1970s, and probably long before that — all of Jeffco west of the foothills has been kept in a single district. From roughly Coal Creek to Deer Creek, this community of interest has long worked together to have its voice heard at the Capitol.
Whether you live in Coal Creek Canyon, Genesee, Lookout Mountain, Evergreen or Conifer, you deal with similar issues as your neighbors. Living in the urban-wildland interface, volunteer fire departments are more vital to our community than just about any other place in the state. Our “main streets” are arteries like I-70 and U.S. 285, roads we use often because many of us work, go to school or recreate outside our immediate neighborhood. Because western Jeffco is unincorporated, we rely on our state representative to act as a de facto mayor, county commissioner and spokesperson.
Unfortunately, much of that will be lost under the new map, which splinters the mountainous portion of Jeffco into three districts. The northern portion will be dominated by Arvada, the central portion will be dominated by Golden and eastern Jeffco, and everything south of I-70 will be put with Clear Creek, Gilpin and Park counties.
In other words, wherever you live, your state representative is no longer likely to be a neighbor. Worse, that person must now divide his or her time among your community’s issues and the concerns of gaming towns, distant rural mountainous areas or faraway suburbs. That’s not fair to you or the people in those places.
The map creates similar problems in other parts of Jeffco. Representative Jim Kerr, a Republican, told the Denver Post that the communities in South Jeffco are “sliced and diced.”
“Columbine Knolls isn’t even part of the district anymore,” Kerr said. “They just chopped that baby right out of there.”
And in the central part of the county, the map draws together two incumbents — Andy Kerr, a Democrat, and Ken Summers, a Republican — and then gives an 8-point partisan advantage to the Democrat, depriving citizens of a 50/50 competitive district. Electoral outcomes should be decided by voters at the ballot box, not by 11 people in a conference room.
For these reasons, I was a “no” vote on the state House map. It’s my sincere hope that the Colorado Supreme Court, which automatically reviews the Reapportionment Commission’s work, will take into account these unnecessary changes and remand the map back to the commission for adjustments. It’s the right thing to do.
Rob Witwer is a former member of the Colorado House of Representatives and co-author of the book, “The Blueprint: How Democrats Won Colorado and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care.”