Colorado State Senate
Report by Floyd Ciruli
April 11, 2001
Dramatic changes in Colorado's population over the past decade are about to have dramatic impact on Colorado's political landscape.
The most immediate and high-profile changes to come out of the 2000 census will be legislative and congressional reapportionment. Altering the lines of legislative seats will add clout to some communities and weaken others. Historically, reapportionment following the census has ended political careers and changed party dominance.
Although the state grew by nearly 1 million residents during the 1990s (30 percent), the growth was unevenly distributed. Legislative districts that experienced the most growth will have to shave population and districts that experienced growth below 30 percent will have to add population through reconfiguration.
The release of the new census data shows Senator Bill Thiebaut's Pueblo district is the smallest in the state and will need more than 30,000 residents to reach the new ideal size of 122,893. Not surprising, Douglas County has the largest senate seat, nearly twice the desired size. Senator John Evans' district will have to be divided nearly in half as it contains 114,473 too many residents. Thiebaut's and Evans' districts are the end points in the 10-year ritual of reapportioning the state's legislative districts. Senator Peggy Reeves of Fort Collins holds the district that needs to be changed the least. It is closest to the new ideal size with only an extra 260 residents.
Democrats occupy eight of the 10 slowest-growing districts. Seats may have to be merged in order to find significant additional population. Losing a Democratic Senate seat in reapportionment would cause them to lose control of the body.
Other Democrats joining Bill Thiebaut in the ten smallest districts are Senator Deanna Hanna, Lakewood; Ed Perlmutter, Wheat Ridge; Ron Tupa, Boulder; Rob Hernandez, Pat Pascoe and Ken Gordon, Denver; and Sue Windels from Arvada.
Denver and Jefferson counties have all or part of seven seats on the top ten smallest county list. While Jefferson County had a respectable 20 percent growth and Denver a remarkable 19 percent, it was below the state average of 30 percent and not evenly distributed throughout the counties.
Ignoring many factors of campaigning such as the number of incumbents running and the quality and funding of candidates, it appears the reapportionment process provides the Republicans with a modest advantage.The urban fringe and resort mountain counties contain the largest concentrations of new residents. These seats are shared by Republicans and Democrats. Republican Senate seats that must be pared down include Senator Doug Lamborn in El Paso County and Jack Taylor in northwest Colorado. Democrat Joan Fitz-Gerald occupies an over-sized seat in Jefferson, Boulder and adjacent mountain counties. In addition, Democrats Terry Phillips, of Boulder, and Jim Dyer, from the southwest corner of the state, have extra residents.
Historically, Democrats have fared poorly in reapportionment because they tend to represent core cities and rural areas with declining populations. Indeed, with this reapportionment, Pueblo and Denver will lose influence and hurt the Democrats. More surprising is the decline of near suburbs such as Lakewood, Arvada, Englewood and part of El Paso, which will effect newly elected Jefferson County Democrats Hanna and Windels and Republicans such as Jim F.Dyer and Mary Ellen Epps.
At least some of the partisanship is removed from legislative reapportionment by the passage of a constitutional amendment in 1974 establishing a reapportionment commission appointed by each house, the Governor and Colorado Supreme Court. No more than six members can represent one party.