Colorado Republicans and West Slope residents are upset about a Democratic proposal to redesign the states congressional districts.
All of the Dems redistricting maps divide the state from west to east, in the process separating the northwestern quadrant of Colorado from the southwestern section. The 3rd District would gain Eastern Plains counties from which West Slopers are far separated, and would lose its northwestern component.
The redistricting has to be done. States are mandated to rebalance their congressional districts after every decennial census, so that each citizens vote provides roughly the same amount of representation in Congress.
Most of Colorados growth over the last decade occurred on the Front Range, where 82 percent of the states voters reside, but 17 of the states 64 counties lost population, mostly in the southern, southeastern and eastern parts of the state.
In that light alone, it makes sense to aggregate more small counties into a congressional district. The geography of such a plan generally involves rural districts wrapping around urban areas in complicated shapes, raising the spectre of gerrymandering. Right now the 3rd and 4th districts wrap around the populous center of the state on all sides.
Geography cannot be the only consideration. The issue of communities of interest most often economic communities was removed from the equation by Democrats at the end of the 2010 legislative session. That was a moral and public-relations failing, but the requirement has not functioned particularly well because of the urban-rural dichotomy. Currently, almost the entire Western Slope along with several southern counties on the other side of the continental divide, including Pueblo County, comprise the 3rd District. That is hardly ideal either; Pueblo and Ignacio really do not share an economy.
The issue is far from simple. Water is a defining interest in the politics of the interior West because it dictates economic growth. When it comes to water, the continental divide is an absolute boundary, with water on one side flowing into the Pacific and on the other side into the Gulf of Mexico.
At the same time, Durango and Aspen have something in common, but Montezuma and Dolores counties may share more interests with the grazing counties of the Eastern Plains, and the energy fields north of I-70 are a different community entirely. Nonetheless, the Western Slope is a fairly cohesive bloc in terms of federal issues.
Another option, to make the math work, is to give each district some urban and some rural areas. A practical result of that is that rural voters are disenfranchised in every district.
A third plan might be to simply slice the state north to south, with each district being allocated a seventh of the population. That is not going to happen because a whole lot of Front Range residents would end up in different congressional districts than their neighbors across the street, although such a plan would leave the Western Slope and the Eastern Plains whole.
There is no neat, easy way to draw a redistricting map, and how it is drawn matters a lot, because federal funds are allocated by congressional district.
These maps are only the first round of a lengthy process, but lawmakers must consider the best interests of rural counties, even though they do not hold enough voters to matter in the political scheme of things. Although redistricting is all about politics, it must not be blatantly, and abusively, partisan.
The issue is not as clear cut as the GOP wants to make it seem, but the Dems have it wrong.