Reapportionment is really an art

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By Greg Romberg

I don’t know how other Evergreen and Conifer residents feel, but it looks to me like the people drawing boundary lines for legislative and congressional districts must think we’re all schizophrenics!
While we’ve seen a lot of discussion about what things should be considered in drawing lines to adjust for population every 10 years, one thing that is always supposed to be considered is communities of interest. Congressional redistricting is the job of the state legislature. Despite a high-profile announcement of a bipartisan joint select committee in December of last year, the legislature was unable to come up with a plan, and the job fell to Denver District Judge Robert Hyatt. His map, which was affirmed by the state Supreme Court last week, puts Evergreen and Conifer in the 2nd Congressional District where Boulder Democrat Jared Polis, one of the most liberal members of Congress, will likely represent us. Until that time, our representative will continue to be conservative Mike Coffman. My guess is that Evergreen is neither as conservative as Coffman nor as liberal as Polis.
And then there is the state reapportionment process, which as of the time I’m writing this column is still yet to be completely finalized. A reapportionment commission that is appointed by the governor, the chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court and legislative leaders does this job. It ended up with five Republicans, five Democrats and one unaffiliated voter. It completed its first set of maps only to have the Supreme Court throw it out for splitting up too many counties. New sets of maps were approved and, as of this writing, are still waiting for the court’s final blessing. The new maps are very controversial, as a number of sitting legislators, including the Republican leaders in both the House and Senate, were thrown into the same districts as other sitting members of the General Assembly.
Evergreen again saw some interesting whipsawing through that process. We’re currently in state Senate District 16, which has been in Democratic hands since 2000 and is currently held by Sen. Jeanne Nicholson of Gilpin County. The district includes parts of six different counties on both sides of the Continental Divide. In the Reapportionment Commission’s first map, we would have become part of District 22, which would have been completely in Jeffco and would have been a very reliable Republican seat. The new plan puts us back into District 16, but now it’s all on the Front Range with most of its residents in Jefferson County, but with the rest in Boulder, Denver and Gilpin counties.
In the state House, Evergreen has been in District 25 in every iteration, but the district has looked different at different times. Represented by Republicans who have been fiscally conservative and environmentally sensitive for years, our current representative is Cheri Gerou of Evergreen. The current district includes the mountainous regions and other parts of Jefferson County. The first map submitted by the Reapportionment Commission paired us with people in Gilpin, Clear Creek and Park Counties and removed anything north of I-70 in Jefferson County from the district. The new map looks more like our current district with the entire district back in Jefferson County.
Drawing district lines is perhaps the most partisan thing done in politics, and both parties are obligated to do what they can to press for their own advantage. While we can talk about the criteria that should be used, all the iterations shown in our little corner of the world prove that it is clearly more an art than a science, and what are considered communities of interest for our congressional, state Senate and state House districts may not look at all the same.

Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.