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Congressional Reapportionment
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.

Extra Population

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).

Congressional Reapportionment
Goal 614,000
District Congressman Party Location Population
1 DeGette D Denver 662,711
2 Udall D Boulder 702,336
3 McInnis R West Slope 723,533
4 Schaffer R Eastern Plains 748,228
5 Hefley R El Paso/Douglas 810,423
6 Tancredo R South Metro 654,030
Total 4,301,261
Ciruli Associates, 2001

Next largest is Bob Schaffer's 4th District, anchored in the northern Front Range counties of Larimerand Weld but sweeping around the entire eastern plains and including Las Animas County on the New Mexico border. The seat has more than 130,000 voters above the required average.

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.

Western Slope – The Western Slope has been united into a single district for two decades but has needed Pueblo County's Front Range population to reach its Congressional population level. The current district could shed 109,000 residents, slightly less than the population of Pueblo county, and be on its own. That move would then require a new configuration in southern Colorado that could move the lower Arkansas Valley and parts of El Paso County into a district with Pueblo, creating an uneasy configuration with a conservative bent.

Denver – Over the decades, the politics of reapportionment has left Denver mostly intact. Its compactness, community of interest and ethnic and racial populations lead map drawers to avoid partisan schemes. The district can easily carve off 48,000 voters for surrounding areas and remain centered on Denver and solidly Democrat.

Larimer/Weld – Northern Colorado's rapid growth (430,000 residents in Larimer and Weld) means the district must add only about 180,000 more residents, some of which could come from northeast Colorado and the rest from north and east Adams and Arapahoe counties to construct a more compact and somewhat more moderate district.

Boulder – Boulder has been the heart of the 2nd District and a Democratic seat, albeit with some tough races, since the early 1970s. Rapid population growth in the area suggests that modest changes in district boundaries, which include northern Jefferson and west Adams counties, could leave the seat little changed in terms of partisan balance. However, the power of Boulder's liberal Democratic party machine could be diminished or enhanced depending on how Boulder county's proportion of the district changes.

El Paso/South Metro – It is difficult to reconfigure Hefley's 5th and Tancredo's 6th Congressional seats in a fashion that endangers either incumbent. The only challenge for line drawers will be locating 614,000 residents for a new district.
The 2001 reapportionment effort could easily gridlock over efforts to protect incumbents and maximize partisan advantage. The best early bet is that although changes are essential, radical reconfiguration is unlikely either from the legislature, or the typically cautious courts.

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