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Partisan mud wrestling at session’s end

With the arrival of May, there’s only 10 days left to finish the work of this legislative session. We passed the budget bill, but the other big task for this year, we’ve not gotten done — that’s dealing with redistricting.

At the tail end of the last year’s session, a bill was being crammed through which dramatically changed the criteria to be considered by a judge in the event the legislature didn’t come to agreement this year on a new Colorado congressional districts map based on the 2010 census information.

Then, I was a Republican state representative in the Democratic controlled House. I was in the minority, not only in terms of political affiliation, but also one of only 15 legislators who represent the rural areas of Colorado.

I had a very bad feeling about the bill as it stripped out the language that directed a court to consider the Western Slope and the Eastern Plains as “communities of interest” who should be kept whole in their respective congressional districts. I’m suspicious of bills that are introduced in the last weeks of a session as often it means the bill sponsors want to shorten the time available to debate a bill’s merits. There are those who think this is great political strategy; I consider it poor policymaking.

I wasn’t the only one with a sense of foreboding about what this bill meant, then or now. The theme of seeking competitive districts was brought up repeatedly by the bill sponsor, but this was perplexing as the Western Slope and Eastern Plains have proven to be competitive in very recent history. Those elected from these districts have been from different parties just since 2008 and again in 2010. The office of the congressional representative for the 3rd district has changed party affiliation frequently for decades.

We failed to defeat the bill (House Bill 10-1408), and it passed the Senate the day before the session ended. Over the interim, I remained concerned about what was intended in passing that bill. Now, watching the ruinous results of this year’s bipartisan commission selected to arrive at a jointly drawn map for the Legislature to consider, I realize that my gut instinct was unfortunately right.

Instead of working toward a compromise, the Democrats have unilaterally proposed a map that splits the Western Slope in half, from east to west, and puts southwest Colorado in the same congressional district as large parts of the urban counties tied to Colorado Springs and Denver. We’ve very little in common with these counties and a congressman would be hard pressed to represent the rural areas fairly in such a district.

The Republicans completely reject this approach and now the partisan mud wrestling begins with just days left to the session. I’m not optimistic that there’ll be a compromise on a new map, but I’d be happy to be proven wrong. Unless agreement is reached soon, this’ll go to court for a judge to decide — a very disappointing result of partisan politics.

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