Redistricting proposal wouldn’t move Eagle County
Senate Bill 352, introduced with only three days left in the legislative session, has outraged state Democrats, who’ve accused the proposal’s Republican supporters of mounting a last-minute “power grab.”
“We’re supposedly doing the people’s work down here. People should have had the opportunity to testify – that didn’t happen,” says Rep. Carl Miller, D-Leadville, who also represents Eagle County. “Why wait until there’s three days left and just try to push it through.”
The Republican proposal would add Pitkin and Park counties to Udall’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes Eagle County, and move bordering Lake County from the 5th Congressional District to the 3rd Congressional District.
The contentious bill was approved by the House State Veterans and Military Affairs Committee 7-2 on Tuesday, with two Democrats refusing to vote. It now goes to the full House for debate. Two Senate staffers actually quit in protest after Republicans refused to allow Democrats to record votes – and explain them. A House staffer reportedly left in tears as she took the votes in committee after Republicans refused to allow amendments.
“”She was very upset. Politics is politics, but this is unfair. It is really an abuse of the process,” said Rep. Frank Weddig, D-Aurora.
Jack Taylor, the Steamboat Springs Republican who represents Eagle County in the state Senate, says the bill – which he voted for – would put the critical headwaters of the Colorado and Arkansas rivers back into McInnis’ predominantly Western Slope congressional district.
The move would give the Western Slope more control over its water resource, Taylor says.
“The best we can do is to get some of our headwaters protected. It bothers me when we have somebody on the other side of the hill representing the Western Slope, especially the headwaters of the Colorado and Arkansas,” says Taylor, referring to Udall.
Politics at play
That a judge made the final decision on the state’s congressional districts is in part motivating Republicans to push the bill through in the waning hours of the legislative session.
“What input did the public have on judge’s decision – which was made by one individual behind closed doors?” Taylor says. “I think we saw a power grab last summer when there was no movement whatsoever on (the Democrats’) part to compromise, and that forced us to go to court.”
The proposal also is seen as an attempt to bolster support for Rep. Bob Beauprez, a Republican who won the newly created, suburban 7th Congressional District by a mere 121 votes last fall.
The proposal could give Republicans a 27,000-vote edge in the district that comprises northern and eastern Denver suburbs.
State Attorney General Ken Salazar, a Democrat, has threatened to fight the bill, warning the proposal is unconstitutional. He has said state and federal constitutions, as well as “tradition and precedent,” envision congressional districts being redrawn only once every 10 years, after a census is taken.
Miller says any attempts at redrawing Colorado’s congressional districts should remain several years in the future, Miller says.
“We should be waiting another eight years,” he says. “To my knowledge, this has never been done before.”
But Miller says he wasn’t happy with the redistricting last year and isn’t happy with the new proposal. Both, he says, weaken the Western Slope politically on critical issues, such as water and transportation, by dividing the region in to too many pieces.
Congressional districts should combine people with common interests and concerns, Miller says.
“I think rural Colorado has to have a strong, united voice,” says Miller, adding that he expects the House to approve the proposal.
“This further splits the Western Slope,” he adds.
“Didn’t do any favors’
Taylor says he agrees last year’s redistricting was ill-conceived.
“It didn’t do any favors for us on the Western Slope,” Taylor says.
Ideally, Eagle, Summit and Pitkin counties would be moved into the McInnis’ 3rd Congressional District, which is headquartered in Grand Junction.
Meanwhile, Udall’s press secretary, Laurence Pacheco, says the Boulder congressman was monitoring the debate in Denver.
“Congressman Udall has been up in Eagle County working with local elected officials and community leaders, learning a lot of the issues that are important to people in Western Slope and Eagle County in particular,” Pacheco says. “He is proud to represent them.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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