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Our View: Shifting sands

Bipartisanism, redistricting impact our political landscape

State Rep. Marc Catlin of Montrose, now in his third term, three weeks ago was appointed vice chairman of the Agriculture, Livestock and Water Committee in the Colorado House of Representatives.

Committee leadership positions are almost always held by the political party in the majority. Today, that is the Democratic Party.

That Catlin, a Republican, whose 58th district includes Montezuma County, is in that seat is a tribute to at least a small bit of bipartisan sharing by the Democrats. It is also because Catlin knows agriculture, livestock and water very well and is respected on both sides of the aisle.

Catlin farmed the family acreage – corn, beets and brewing barley, for example – and became an agricultural lender and real estate agent. He was the assistant manager of a water users’ association and is now the water rights coordinator for Montrose County.

With pressure on the Colorado River water system sure to become exacerbated because of the prolonged drought, Catlin is positioned to help the southwest corner of the state and the Western Slope navigate its impacts.

Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, of the 59th district, is also a member of the agriculture committee.

That could be a good pairing for the committee's decision-making.

Forest health and encouraging the use of beetle-kill wood products are initiatives this session.

Catlin's district once did not include Cortez.

Until the reapportionment after the 2010 census, Montezuma County was split, with Cortez falling in the 59th district to the east, along with Durango. The 2010 reapportionment made Montezuma County whole, while the 59th district took Gunnison County to the north.

One of the key components of redistricting is to keep counties intact when possible, and in this case, Montezuma County’s strong Republican bias was a good fit with Montrose’s similar lean.

But while Montezuma County and Durango share affinity to some degree in numerous ways, there is little if any connection between Durango and Gunnison County, in part because the two are separated by mountain passes. But commerce and social linkages are not primary concerns in the redistricting process. Instead, federal law demands population equity (and Colorado’s constitution prevents deviation over 5%) and ensures anti-discrimination. These are the highest priorities of redistricting.

For political history buffs, when Colorado became a state in 1876, Cortez and Durango were in one county. Population growth and the increasing need for county services, provided on horseback, soon made that single county problematic.

Soon, we'll know whether the two districts will survive in their present forms. The state's population growth has been reported to have increased 745,000, or 14.8%, to 5,774,000, since the 2010 census. But complete numbers will not be available until August or September. Redistricting will be based on the new census. While almost all of the population growth took place along the I-25 corridor, there will be ripple effects.

Divide 5,774,000 by 65 House seats and each district will contain about 89,000 residents. That is an increase of about 11,000. How will the 58th and 59th districts be reconfigured to increase their sizes?

Congressional districts will be redrawn as well, and it’s likely Colorado will gain a seat in the House of Representatives because of the increased population.

So, while the mountains and rivers won’t move, our political landscape could change in surprising ways come the next election cycle.

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