GOP suggests new way to draw voting boundaries
DENVER (AP) ” State Rep. Paul Weissmann remembers all too vividly the chaos that ensued the last time the Colorado Legislature tried to redraw congressional districts nearly a decade ago.
Weissmann, a Democrat, was forcibly removed from the podium when he tried to speak out against a plan backed by majority Republicans. GOP lawmakers then suspended the rules of debate and rammed their plan through.
Republican state Rep. Mike May also remembers those turbulent times, and he’s offering a solution. He wants to ask voters to change the way Colorado redraws congressional and legislative districts before the next go-round after the 2010 federal census.
Under current law, an 11-member commission ” appointed by the governor, the chief justice of the state Supreme Court and legislative leaders ” draws the boundaries for legislative districts, and the Legislature draws the boundaries for congressional districts. The process occurs every 10 years, using census data to make sure the districts have equal population.
Under May’s plan, a single, five-member committee would do both. The Republican and Democratic parties would each select two committee members from a pool chosen by the judiciary. Those four would then select the fifth member, an unaffiliated voter from the judiciary’s pool.
“We just need one group to do both jobs. What we don’t want is what happened 10 years ago,” said May, who was a freshman lawmaker during the last redistricting process and supported the Republican plan. He’s now the House minority leader.
May is drafting the bill with help from the League of Women Voters, business groups and the public-policy lobbying group Colorado Common Cause.
The last time around, the Democratic-controlled Senate and Republican-controlled house couldn’t agree on a new congressional map that included a new 7th District awarded by the 2000 census.
In 2002, a Denver District Court judge drew his own congressional map, saying lawmakers failed to do their jobs.
The next year, Republicans gained control of the Senate and rejected the judge’s map. They drew their own, saying the state constitution gave the responsibility to the Legislature.
Republicans contended the new 7th District should be located where most of the population growth had occurred, in Republican-rich Douglas County, instead of the district drawn by the judge that moved it north of Denver, where Democrats had a chance to win.
Then-Attorney General Ken Salazar, a Democrat, asked the state Supreme Court to decide whether lawmakers had the authority to redraw congressional districts after they were drawn by a judge. The high court upheld the district judge’s plan.
A divided U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider an appeal, so the judge’s plan is still in place.
The process worked no better for redrawing state legislative districts.
In 2002, the state Supreme Court rejected legislative districts drawn by the Reapportionment Commission after Republicans challenged the plan as unfair.
The court ordered the maps redrawn, ruling the commission failed to comply with a state law that prohibits districts from dividing counties and cities.
Political consultant Floyd Ciruli said it’s impossible to remove politics from the decision-making, even though it’s not one of the factors considered by the courts. He said Democrats have no reason to agree to change the system now that they have control.
Christine Watson, staff lobbyist for the League of Women Voters of Colorado, said a bipartisan committee would help reduce the partisanship and political gamesmanship that dominated the process and force them to focus on more of the issues important to voters.
Weissmann, now the House majority leader, said the issue should be debated next year, when lawmakers will have more time and can still get the question before voters on the 2010 ballot.
He said the Legislature is too tied up this year with serious budget problems, and less than a month remains in the session.
But Weissmann agrees the process needs to change, and that it makes sense to have a single committee handle both the state and congressional maps.
He also agrees that what happened 10 years ago should never happen again.
“I think no one who went through that wants to see it again,” Weissmann said.