Congressional map splits Eagle-Vail
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – This is what being a “population equalizer” between congressional districts looks like. The result is a neighborhood split, at least in parts, down the middle of a street.
At first glance, a map of state congressional districts issued Nov. 10 by Denver District Judge Robert Hyatt split Eagle County in two parts. The eastern portion stayed in the 2nd Congressional District, now represented by Rep. Jared Polis, a Boulder-area Democrat. The rest of the county went into the 3rd Congressional District, currently represented by Rep. Scott Tipton, a Cortez Republican.
If the line drawn by Hyatt split the county at, say, Wolcott, it would have been fairly simple. But the second district boundary actually stops at the east end of Singletree on the west, then snakes along Interstate 70, U.S. Highway 6 and U.S. Highway 24 from that point to the east.
That line puts Wildridge into the 2nd District, and Beaver Creek into the 3rd. But the boundary line then weaves back and forth on U.S. Highway 6 through Eagle-Vail. In one instance, it runs down the middle of a portion of Deer Boulevard, with the north side in the second district and the south side in the third.
Local officials of both major parties weren’t happy with the decision. Republicans had lobbied hard to have Eagle County moved entirely into the 3rd District, which covers most of the Western Slope. Democrats had lobbied to keep the county in the 2nd District.
But how did we get to a point that literally splits a neighborhood down the middle for congressional representation?
The story is fairly similar every decade – the state Legislature couldn’t agree on a map that would reconfigure the state’s congressional districts after the most recent Census. With the legislature self-stymied, the case ends up before a judge, who hears arguments from the parties’ representatives and others. The end result is either a map submitted by one of the parties involved in the case, or a judge-drawn map that combines elements of one or more documents submitted in court.
In this case, Hyatt picked a map favored by the state’s Democrats in the interest of making more of the state’s congressional seats competitive.
State Republicans are still considering whether or not to appeal Hyatt’s decision to the Colorado Supreme Court.
Mark Grueskin, the attorney representing the state’s Democrats, said it’s not uncommon to split counties in the interests of making districts the same size in population.
“The goal always is to have compact districts that are identifiable,” Grueskin said. But, he added, all districts have to be exactly the same size to pass legal muster.
“The court thought about (the maps) critically, and felt it was a reasonable place to split,” Grueskin said.
But Richard Westfall, the attorney who represented the state’s Republicans, said Eagle County was no more or less than a “population equalizer.”
That would explain the boot-shaped dip in the Eagle-Vail map that puts just a handful of units into the 2nd District while surrounded on three sides by the 3rd.
While Hyatt’s map favors Democrats statewide, Jill Ryan, chairwoman of the county’s Democratic Party, said the map, if it stands, will make things more difficult for activists in both parties.
“We’ll have to pick delegates to the state convention from two different districts,” Ryan said. “That makes it hard to get the representation we need.”
Both Ryan and Kaye Ferry, chairwoman of the county’s Republican Party, said that’s a burden that small counties don’t need.
The good news, if there is any, is that Eagle County isn’t alone in feeling slighted by the map Hyatt approved last week.
Ferry said she spent much of Monday on a conference call with Republicans from around the state, and that party activists in Douglas and Larimer counties – two large counties on the Front Range – are also urging the state party to challenge Hyatt’s ruling.
But, Ferry added, if an appeal is made, it has to be on specific grounds, and any appeal must come from the state’s political parties. Westfall said he’s urging the state’s party officials to make a decision quickly.
“That decision should come this week, as far as I’m concerned,” Westfall said. “And if the Eagle County commissioners wanted to file a brief in support (of the appeal), it might be helpful.”
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or email@example.com.