Redrawing political boundaries every 10 years to make sure everyone is fairly represented is no easy task.
In 2011, as the lone member on the Colorado Reapportionment Commission not affiliated with any political party, I experienced first-hand the many interests who have and need a voice at the table; not just the Republican and Democratic parties, but the unaffiliated and minor party voters, rural and urban communities, ski towns, universities, cities, counties, emerging populations, business and industry, special districts and many more.
It is a loud and contentious process that works best when it is open to the public and a wide variety of voices are heard. Certainly, the current systems can be improved upon and we should continue to look at changes that result in districts that represent all voters in Colorado.
Beware of current efforts attempting to make their way onto next year’s ballot promising “reform” by Fair Districts Colorado. The two measures would change the constitution and our laws for the legislative reapportionment commission and create a congressional commission. There are some nice words involved, but the proposals have fatal flaws that should sound alarm bells for all of us in Colorado.
Less open: The proposed ballot measures would make map drawing a more secret process, done behind closed doors by staff at the Capitol. Currently, everyone and anyone can submit a map to the commission for public scrutiny. In 2011, we provided software on our website for interested citizens who wanted to draw maps. There are also some troubling exemptions to the Colorado Open Records Law in the proposals.What’s the rush? The proponents are rushing through a change to our state constitution and laws without any meaningful public input. Last year, more than a dozen organizations and community leaders vehemently opposed similar proposed ballot measures because no communities of color or voter advocacy groups were included in drafting the language. Again this year, no discussion. Montesquieu once said, “Useless laws weaken necessary laws.” An inclusive process and methodology for this all-encompassing proposition would create permanence and necessary laws.What’s the rush No. 2? The U.S. Supreme Court has heard arguments and will rule on a landmark case on congressional redistricting this session. Why not wait for a decision from the court?Less competition: The proposals offer no definition of a competitive district and “competitiveness” would be the last and weakest factor considered. This is not the “end to gerrymandering” touted by supporters.Increasing partisanship: Unaffiliated voters must have a place at the redistricting table when drawing representation maps. Yes, for obvious reasons, we are a growing concern in the electorate. But, the proposals being touted give the Republican and Democratic legislative leadership the power to appoint strategic members of the commissions and unaffiliated appointments are last and relegated to lottery afterthoughts. The “men behind the curtain” or architects of the proposals are two extremely partisan Republicans who have been involved in the GOP’s efforts to reshape the rules for years: Alan Philp and former Speaker of the Colorado House Frank McNulty. We need a truly bipartisan effort, not a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” There are better ways to increase representation from unaffiliated, Republican and Democratic voters on our redistricting commissions. We need to define a workable, inclusive process for all and honor our ideals of a republic with representative legislative and congressional districts.
These latest attempts are wrong and misguided tactical partisan efforts. Let’s work on offering a more permanent solution to improve our current system and not take Colorado several steps backward.
Mario M. Carrera was chairman of the legislative reapportionment commission, an 11-member commission appointed to redraw Colorado’s legislative districts in 2011. He currently commutes between Los Angeles and Denver. Reach him at email@example.com.