Colorado constituents took to public hearings this week to voice concerns about the latest redistricting map for the state. The proposed plan, which was introduced Sept. 3, has inspired vastly different reactions.
The tentative map divides Colorado’s Western Slope district in half and lumps urban areas like Boulder County, Fort Collins and Douglas County into districts with rural counties. The state also gained an additional seat, which brings Colorado’s districts to eight instead of seven.
The new plan, which is drawn by nonpartisan staff members and cannot consider incumbents or elections, would place House Rep. Lauren Boebert of Garfield County in Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District. This means Boebert would technically reside in Democratic House Rep. Joe Neguse’s district – but U.S. House members don’t have to live in the districts they run in.
Congresswoman Boebert tweeted her plans to run for Colorado’s 3rd District seat Wednesday night.
“I am so proud to represent CO’s 3rd District,” she wrote. “Regardless of redistricting I will run & win again in the 3rd because rural Colorado wants & needs a strong conservative fighter.”
Based on election trends between 2016 and 2020, three of the districts will lean Democrat, two will lean Republican, and three districts would be competitive, according to a report by the nonpartisan commission staff. But Ted Trimpa, a Democratic political consultant in Colorado, says the districts will likely split to four Democratic and four Republican districts based on recent performance numbers.
In a public forum Thursday, Commissioner Martha Coleman with the Colorado Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission acknowledged the stark changes in the current map from the preliminary one released in June that was based on 2019 estimates.
“You might notice that this map looks different from the preliminary plan map staff created earlier this summer,” Coleman told participants at the virtual forum. “The current first staff plan map was drawn with final 2020 census data and has taken into account public feedback and the initial discussion and recommendations from the commission.”
Many factors are considered when drafting the maps, said Ryan Winger with the public opinion research firm Magellan Strategies. Competition, consistent population size, minimizing splits within counties and ensuring votes from people of color aren’t minimized are all taken into account. But not everything will turn out perfect in the end, he said.
“There’s only so much that can be done in terms of drawing these districts,” Winger said in an interview with The Durango Herald.
The entire process is “very complicated,” said Colorado Democratic strategist Michael Stratton.
“If you ... figured out how to do this totally equal, you'd have a lot of people who are totally angry because it divides communities, or counties, or water basins, or homogenous parts of the state,” Stratton told the Herald.
Marco Dorado, the Colorado state director of All on the Line, an affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, said a major challenge in drafting the maps is the process of taking the thousands of comments and hours of public testimony into account.
“I think it’s been a very impressive effort by the commission,” Dorado said in an interview.
Before Boebert announced her plan to run for the 3rd District, Congressman Neguse sent a campaign email Wednesday with a goal to raise $10,000 in grassroots donations because “Joe may be facing off against Lauren Boebert in the next election,” he wrote.
“Make no mistake, such a campaign would be very expensive,” he wrote. “Rep. Boebert has an enormous right-wing following and over a million dollars in her campaign account already.”
But Trimpa said Boebert should run in the district where she resides.
“Despite what the law says, if you’re going to represent the district you should live in it,” Trimpa said in an interview. “It’s kind of counterintuitive.”
Greg Brophy, a Republican consultant and former state House and Senate representative in Colorado, said Boebert will “likely win” if she runs in the proposed 3rd Congressional District.
Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District has “leaned Republican” the last 30 years, said Dick Wadhams, a Republican political consultant and a former state chairman.
Some notable Democrat exceptions like John Salazar and Ben Nighthorse Campbell, before he switched his party affiliation as a U.S. senator, have represented the district, Wadhams told the Herald. But the redistricting as it stands will not change the district’s political makeup that drastically, he said.
“It’s not like the 1st District which hasn’t elected a Republican congressman in 60 years, or the 5th Congressional District that has never elected a Democrat,” Wadhams said.
Some constituents have said dividing western Colorado is a positive action, while others, like Brophy, called the proposed map an “abomination” for rural Colorado.
The rural Western Slope is unified by needs and interests in natural resources, forestry and mining, Brophy said. By including more urban and suburban counties, like Boulder and Larimer counties, constituents won’t have as much of a voice, he said.
“Your member of Congress isn’t going to be solely or mostly interested in natural resource issues,” Brophy said. “It’s going to hurt the interests of Western Slope counties. That’s why the western counties want their own member of Congress.”
But Democratic strategist Trimpa said he “doesn’t buy” that this proposed map will drown out rural needs.
“That presumes that somebody like Joe Neguse in the 2nd District isn’t listening to those folks in the Western Slope. That’s his job to do that,” Trimpa said in an interview.
Some constituents like Rozanne Evans of Ouray said in the hearing Thursday that dividing the Western Slope means more representation for rural communities at the federal level, not less. She’s also in favor of rural and urban counties residing in the same congressional district.
“With two districts comes double the representation for the West Slope,” Evans told commissioners at the hearing.
Many who favored a southern district in Colorado also argued the redistricting would highlight the vote for Hispanic and Native American communities in the region, including Kerry Wilson of Ouray County.
“Identity politics is where we are now. I think when you vote as a bloc, you have more power,” Wilson said at the public hearing Thursday.
Mark Gaber, director of redistricting at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, said in an interview that the Latino vote is still “fractured” among Republican districts in Colorado when looking at the current map. This map is an improvement from the previous proposal, but the Latino vote is still divided, Gaber said.
Gaber submitted a proposed map with the League of United Latin American Citizens Colorado affiliate that he believes would better highlight the Latino vote.
Under the latest proposal, the 3rd District would be 26% Hispanic. In the preliminary map, the 3rd District was only 15% Hispanic.
Despite the improvement, Gaber fears Latino voters will still be “swamped out” by white voters. In particular, the proposed 3rd Congressional District leaves off key counties like Lake and El Paso, he said.
“So as a result, the election data shows that district three would not actually perform to a lot of Latino voters to elect their candidate of choice,” Gaber said.
If eight of the 12 commissioners, including two independent commissioners, do not vote to pass the latest map, a second staff plan will be released Wednesday. Testimony and comments from the public will be considered when redrafting the plan, as well.
If a supermajority is not reached for the second draft, a third map will be released on Sept. 23. The deadline to pass a plan is Sept. 28 with submission to the Colorado Supreme Court by Oct. 1. The Supreme Court must approve the congressional redistricting map by Dec. 15.
Constituents can submit feedback online by visiting the committee’s website.