(’76 Contributor) Filed Friday, May 6: Redistricting of Colorado’s seven Congressional districts is entering its final weekend, at least for the regular Colorado legislative session. Absent agreement or a special session called by the Governor, the lines will drawn by the Courts.
Editor: David Kerber is a new contributor. He is an attorney, a Greenwood Village councilman, and former chairman of the Arapahoe County Republican Party. The clarity and common sense of his analysis on this complex issue is not diminished by the passage of a week and the non–passage (as he foresaw) of any redistricting bill prior to legislative adjournment on May 11. Kerber’s most brilliant point—obvious, yet too seldom noted—is in his next to last paragraph, which diagnoses the disease of over–government as the real reason that struggles over congressional district lines have become so intense.
The purpose of Congressional redistricting is, of course, to provide as equal representation on a numerical basis in the US House of Representatives, the peoples House. This issue is difficult when a new congressional district is added or when one is lost, the latter, a scenario that Colorado has never had to face.
Colorado Republicans took the tact of keeping the same Congressional boundaries and adjusting them for shifts of population within the state focusing on communities of interest. The Democrats threw the prior map out and drafted districts on a clean slate with the hope of creating as many competitive districts as possible. The resultant Democratic map unified such diverse editorial boards as the Boulder Daily Camera, the Colorado Springs Gazette and the Pueblo Chieftain in condemning the plan. The initial map combined Boulder with Grand Junction and Parker with Durango.
Responding to universal scorn, the Democrats issued second map last Wednesday which although better still created a western horseshoe shaped district which included Boulder and Douglas Counties and radically altered the 5th Congressional District, The Democrat map would change Congressional districts for 1 million Coloradoans.
Just last year, the Democrats passed a bill to give criteria for a court should the legislature fail in its duty to create these districts. Mandatory considerations were the US Constitutional requirement for equal numerical representation such that the districts must be constructed to be within one numerical soul of each other. (The fact that such required mathematical exactitude is based on the Census that we all can agree is not perfect along with the usual deaths, births and movement of our citizenry since the census is a puzzling.) The mandatory criterion is to comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Then neutral factors that may be considered are: (1) the preservation of Political subdivisions; (2) The preservations of communities of interest including ethnic, cultural, economic, trade area geographic and demographic factors; (3) The compactness of each congressional district; and (4) minimization of disruption of prior district lines. HB 10–1048.
There is no reference to creating competitive districts. In fact, a Democrat bill which would have included competitive districts as a factor was defeated in the Democrat controlled legislature. Nevertheless, the Democrat philosophy of competitive Districts is what is keeping a compromise from being reached.
The thought that competitive districts can be created is a utopian illusion. As mentioned above, the population is constantly shifting, and a good voter registration campaign or purging the voter rolls of those who have moved or are deceased would ruin the Democrats’ carefully crafted competitive district proposals.
The drawing of Congressional District lines has always been a political act, and the Courts have universally determined that it has no jurisdiction to challenge the wisdom of any legislatively drawn districts. The abuse of the legislative process is a practice known as, gerrymandering, and has been used by both parties to create as many safe districts for their members as they can by drawing perverse boundaries the sole purpose of which is to gain political advantage. Each party condemns the practice, but engages in it so frequently, that each side expects that the other is engaging in it even if one party or the other tries to draw the lines in a non partisan manner.
The reality is that there is no trust that anyone will draw the lines fairly. There is a presumption of bad faith and if one can only examine the lines with sophisticated mathematical models; it will reveal the assumed cheating that the participants agree must exist. One answer is that those who draw the lines should not have access to voter registration numbers, but no one trusts that the participants won’t access the data surreptitiously and therefore cheat. We are back to the same problem that no one trusts anyone.
However, the real problem is not one of drawing lines or criteria but that it makes so much of a difference. The federal government now has control over our roads, the air we breath, the water we drink, what our children are taught, what kind of lights we use in our houses, the technology for how our toilets are flushed and a large hand taking money out of our bank accounts. Whoever controls Congress controls these decisions and therefore controls us. We have given out far too much of a say over our lives to those who are selected in a much too flawed process.
To allow redistricting to go to a judge, single unelected individual, who has neither the time nor expertise to make these decisions, would truly be a failure of our legislative bodies. In Court, the parties would gather hundreds of thousands of dollars to present their legal cases only to achieve what would most assuredly be a flawed result. This is money that could be spent publicly or privately for K–12, higher education, health care, or a hand up for our neighbors who are going through tough times. Until we can reclaim control of our lives from our government, I would hope our legislators suspend their natural suspicion and cynicism and come to a resolution.