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New look for 59th Dist.

On Monday, the Colorado Supreme Court handed down a decision approving the reapportionment of legislative districts that amounted to a victory for state Democrats.

District reapportionment occurs every 10 years following the release of census numbers.

Monday’s decision creates some problems for Rep. J. Paul Brown (R) of Ignacio, with the ruling allowing for the formation of a 59th District that could be much more competitive for Democrats. Furthermore, the redistricting provides a logistical challenge for Brown, necessitating the crossing of two mountain passes to meet with constituents in the newly-added portions of Gunnison County (including Gunnison).

Brown has represented District 59 (which includes Archuleta County) in the state House since 2010.

Furthermore, the reapportionment will move traditionally conservative Montezuma County out of District 59 to within district lines that include Montrose and Telluride, potentially changing the political landscape within that new district.

Essentially, Monday’s decision opens up an unprecedented 27 seats without incumbents running for them next year — 19 in the House and eight in the Senate.

There are 65 seats total in the House and 35 seats total in the Senate. At the moment, Republicans hold a slight 33-32 advantage in the House, while Democrats hold a 20-15 majority in the Senate.

Although Monday’s ruling was not entirely a slam dunk for state Democrats — several of the new districts would either place current Democratic legislators into traditionally safe Republican districts or would force Democratic incumbents to run against each other for the same seat — the decision has been almost universally viewed as favoring Democrats over the next decade.

During the past year, both sides of the aisle have presented several redistricting plans, each side rejecting the other’s proposals. On Monday, it was ultimately the Democrat’s plan that the Supreme Court approved.

Earlier this year, the state’s high court rejected an initial set of maps drawn by the Colorado Reapportionment Commission, siding with Republicans who said that the maps split too many counties.

Those maps went back to the bipartisan commission last month, which, on a 6-5 vote, favored Democratic redistricting.

In arguments before the court, Republicans continued to maintain that the Democratic-drawn maps split too many counties and cities as well as saying the process had been overly partisan.

Following Monday’s ruling, several state Republicans accused Democrats of being “vindictive” in redrawing the maps.

In a news release on Monday, Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman (R-Colorado Springs) said, “It is disappointing to see the Supreme Court validate such blatantly partisan and politically vindictive maps. It is clear that the reapportionment process in Colorado is broken and in need of reform.”

The new maps force Cadman to share a district with Republican Sen. Keith King in Colorado Springs. In 2012, only one will retain a seat in the Senate.

Although not affected, District 6 Sen. Ellen Roberts (who previously represented House District 59 in the House) expressed concerns over the decision and the impacts it would have on Brown’s ability to effectively represent his constituents.

“I’m disappointed and concerned about how this goes forward over the next 10 years,” Roberts said. “I think the whole process shows flaws and I hope that the next time it’s not nearly as partisan as this was.”

“I’m extremely concerned with a state representative’s ability to represent District 59,” Roberts added. “If you were a crow it might work, but most of us have to drive on roads.

“In the future, I want to see a more fair and equitable process,” Roberts said.

Although it remains to be seen if the process Roberts desires will be in the state’s future, what is certain is that the 2012 election, previously predicted to be a relatively unexciting affair, will heat up in the coming months.

With the potential for 27 House and Senate seats in play next year, along with a stab by Democrats for primacy in both chambers, the 2012 election will most likely be anything but dull.

As of press time Wednesday, Brown could not be reached for comment.

jim@pagosasun.com

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