Report by Floyd Ciruli
April 20, 2001
Gov. Bill Owens has said Congressional redistricting deliberations will take place in a special legislative session this fall. Senate Democrat leadership believes there is time remaining in the session, which ends May 9. Regardless, the task will spark major political fireworks. Personal and partisan passions will be fully engaged.
Colorado's 10 years of growth have earned it one of 12 Congressional seats that will change states due to nationwide population shifts. Reapportionment will divide Colorado's 4.3 million people into seven redrawn districts of about 614,000 each.
All six of Colorado's current districts will lose some population to help create the new district. Joel Hefley's 5th District, centered in El Paso County but extending to Douglas County, must shed the most population (an extra 190,000 residents more than the reapportionment ideal of 614,000).
Surprisingly, Tom Tancredo's 6th District in the southern and western suburbs of Arapahoe and Jefferson counties is the smallest in the state with only 654,000 residents. It is smaller even than Diana DeGette's Denver-dominated 1st District, which is the historic laggard in new population growth (662,000 in the 2000 census). Denver grew 19 percent, which reversed its stagnant trend over the last four decades.
Legal and Political Process
Legally, districts must be redrawn based on substantial if not absolute equality (as a rule of thumb, districts must be within 1 percent of the ideal seat size). Court challenges have also set standards for race, ethnicity and geographical compactness. But reapportionment is mainly a political process in which protecting incumbents and fighting for partisan advantage are the main imperatives. Incumbents normally are represented by their partisan colleagues in the state legislature. Congressman Mark Udall considers the issue so important he has retained the law firm of Brownstein, Farber, et al, to represent him. Communities also try to maximize their clout, sometimes by protecting a popular incumbent and other times by dividing their area among two or more districts.
The Democrats want to protect Udall and DeGette and have a chance to win either the new seat, the 3rd District segments that have been represented by such Democrats as Ben Campbell, Frank Evans and Wayne Aspinall, or a reconfigured 4th District based on the increasingly moderate and environmental voters in Larimer County.
Republicans are confident they can hold their current 5 seats and win the new 7th District, which they envision being nestled between South Arapahoe County and the northern suburbs of Colorado Springs.
"Merging, stretching and stuffing" are techniques that redistricting pros employ to strengthen their friends and dilute their foes. Gerrymandering (using creative drawing of legislative district lines for party advantage) can involve redistricting an opponent out of existence by merging him or her into a neighboring district represented by a member of the same party, or by stretching the lines to incorporate a sufficient number of hostile voters to make the district unwinnable. The converse strategy involves stuffing the opposing party's voters into the district in order to waste their votes and eliminate their voting influence in neighboring districts.
Scenarios for Drawing the Lines
Although it appears the largest surplus population from which to draw a new Congressional district is in the south metro area, all six current seats will change due to the surplus of voters. There will be a number of major decisions for legislators. Drawing new lines tends to have a domino effect as districts are forced to accommodate the new.