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First draft of Colorado’s new state Senate, House district maps could pit 20 incumbents against each other

Redistricting staff released preliminary maps for how state legislative districts should be drawn

The Colorado House chambers on the first day of Colorado's special legislative session on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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Colorado House and Senate district maps drawn as the state begins its once-a-decade redistricting process placed a number of incumbent lawmakers into the same districts, setting the stage for election battles next year. 

The maps, rough drafts prepared by nonpartisan redistricting staff and presented Tuesday morning to the Colorado Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission, are expected to change a lot over the next few months. But they’re an important starting point for public debate, as the commission embarks on a statewide roadshow in July to get input from the public and community groups on how political lines should be redrawn. 

This year is the first time that the redistricting process for congressional and legislative is being overseen by two independent commissions. Unlike previous years, nonpartisan legislative staff will not consider the home addresses of incumbent politicians as they create the maps.

How that plays out will have significant political ramifications for Coloradans as control of the General Assembly is at stake. When Democrats won both houses in the General Assembly in 2018, they were able to achieve policy goals stymied by Senate Republicans in the previous four years. Republicans see redistricting this year as an opportunity to retake control of the Senate, where Democrats currently outnumber them by five seats.

The new districts will take effect for the 2022 election, said Jeremiah Barry, a legislative attorney advising the commission.

Members of the House serve two-year terms, and will be required to run again in 2022 anyway. But it’s unclear how the changes would apply to senators, who are elected to four-year terms, Barry said.

Senators drawn into new districts would be entitled to complete their terms. It’s not clear what would happen if two senators, who are elected to four-year terms, end up in the same district next year and still have time left to serve.

“That’s an issue we’re looking at,” said Barry, adding that if that scenario does occur with the final maps, it may be up to the Colorado Supreme Court to resolve.

The state constitution requires that state senators and representatives live in their district for at least one year before they are elected to office.

Click to view files of the proposed legislative maps.

Staff cautioned that the maps are likely to change significantly over the next few months.

The preliminary maps are based on 2019 U.S. Census Bureau estimates because of a delay in the release of the final population data collected during the 2020 Census. Once the U.S. Census Bureau releases that data in August, redistricting staff will have to adjust the map. 

“These will never be approved by anyone…they are merely a baseline starting point for conversations across the state,” said Jessika Shipley, staff director to the independent redistricting commissions.

Seven Senate districts include two incumbents

The Sun identified at least seven of the proposed Senate districts that each contain two incumbents. Three include two Democrats, three include a Democrat and Republican, and one includes two Republicans.

Those districts include:

  • Democratic Sens. Faith Winter, of Westminster, and Rachel Zenzinger, of Arvada, in Senate District 28. Winter is up for reelection next year, while Zenzinger’s term ends in 2024.
  • Democratic Sens. Chris Kolker, of Centennial, and Jeff Bridges, of Greenwood Village, in Senate District 18. Both are up for reelection in 2024.
  • Democratic Sens. Chris Hansen and Robert Rodriguez, both of Denver, in District 22. Rodriguez is up for reelection next year.
  • Democratic Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, of Longmont, and Republican Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer, of Brighton, in District 32. Both are in their first term and up for reelection in 2024. 
  • Republican Sen. Kevin Priola, of Henderson, and Democratic Sen. Dominick Moreno, of Commerce City, in District 30. Both are term limited in 2024.
  • Republican Sen. Larry Liston and Democratic Sen. Pete Lee, both of Colorado Springs, in District 13. Lee is up for reelection in 2022, Liston in 2024.
  • Republican Sens. Chris Holbert and Jim Smallwood, both of Parker, in District 16. Holbert is term-limited next year, Smallwood in 2024.

Democrats held the Senate from 2004 through 2012, but Republicans won control in 2014 and 2016, albeit with a single-vote margin. 

In 2018, Democrats regained control with a three-vote margin, which increased to five votes in 2020. Six of the 17 seats up for grabs in 2022 will be open because incumbents are term-limited.

MORE: Here are the Colorado legislative districts that stand to change the most during redistricting

Incumbents paired in 13 House districts

Two incumbents are placed together in at least 13 of the proposed House districts. Seven include two Democrats, five include two Republicans and one includes both a Democrat and Republican.

Those districts include:

  • Republican Reps. Matt Soper, of Delta, and Marc Catlin, of Montrose, are in House District 53 on the Western Slope.
  • Democratic Reps. Julie McCluskie, of Dillon, and Dylan Roberts, of Avon, are in House District 35.
  • Republican Reps. Richard Holtorf, of Akron, and Rod Pelton, of Cheyenne Wells, are in House District 40.
  • First-term Republican Reps. Ron Hanks, of Cañon City, and Stephanie Luck, of Penrose, are in House District 34.
  • Republican Reps. Terri Carver and Andres Pico, both of Colorado Springs, are in House District 48. Carver can’t run again in 2022 because of term limits.
  • Democratic Reps. Edie Hooton and Judy Amabile, both of Boulder, are in House District 37.
  • Republican Reps. Kim Ransom and Mark Baisley, both of Littleton, are in House District 33. Ransom is term-limited in 2022.
  • Democratic Reps. Kerry Tipper, of Lakewood, and Lisa Cutter, of Littleton, are in House District 10.
  • Democratic Rep. Alex Valdez and House Speaker Alec Garnett, both of Denver, are in House District 2. Garnett is term-limited next year.
  • Democratic Reps. David Ortiz, of Littleton, and Meg Froelich, of Englewood, are in House District 9.
  • Democratic Reps. Kyle Mullica, of Northglenn, and Yadira Carveo, of Thornton, are in House District 28.
  • Democratic Reps. Shannon Bird, of Westminster, and Matt Gray, of Broomfield, are in House District 27.
  • Democratic Rep. Tracey Bernett, of Longmont, and Republican Rep. Dan Woog, of Erie, are in House District 38. Both are serving their first term.

Democrats took control of the state House in 2004 for the first time since 1976. They lost by a narrow margin in 2010, but took back the House in 2012 after redistricting and have had a 41-24 advantage since the 2018 election.

Eight of the 65 House seats will be open in 2022, including three being vacated by Douglas County Republicans.

Open Districts

Seven Senate districts and 14 House districts have no incumbents under the proposed maps.

Senate:

  • District 31 in Lafayette, Louisville, Superior and Broomfield. 
  • District 29 centered in Thornton.
  • District 21 in southwest Denver.
  • District 19 centered in Littleton and Lakewood.
  • District 17 in Aurora and Centennial.
  • District 15 in Castle Rock and Parker.
  • District 14 in northwest Colorado Springs.

House:

  • District 57 in northwestern Colorado.
  • District 65 in northwestern Colorado.
  • District 41 in southern Colorado circling Pueblo.
  • District 63 in Larimer and Weld counties.
  • District 39 in Weld County, including part of Greeley.
  • District 36 in western Boulder and Boulder County.
  • District 26 in Westminster and Adams County.
  • District 4 in downtown and north central Denver.
  • District 20 in Centennial and other parts of Arapahoe County.
  • District 21 in Centennial and other parts of Arapahoe County.
  • District 31 in Parker and other parts of Douglas County.
  • District 47 in north central Colorado Springs.
  • District 49 in northwest Colorado Springs.

How much will the maps change? 

Probably quite a bit. 

Staff said the initial maps should be taken with a big grain of salt. In addition to changes that will likely occur once redistricting staff get final population data from the U.S. Census, commissioners have a number of other factors to weigh.

They also must weigh the different and often conflicting demands of the public, consider different “communities of interest” and factors such as political competitiveness. 

For example, the maps presented by staff Tuesday made an effort to keep cities and counties whole as often as possible, a decision that Barry said was due to confusing public input about the geography of certain communities of interest. 

That appears to have impacted Hispanic communities in the proposed House map, Barry noted. The map includes three proposed districts with majority Hispanic populations, down from the seven such districts in the current map. At least nine other districts in the proposed map have Hispanic populations of more than 30%, according to the demographic data released by nonpartisan staff. 

Commissioners may want to consider whether minority communities or other communities of interest are more important than city and county boundaries in certain districts, Barry said.

It’s also not clear how different the final population data will be from the 2019 estimates that staff are currently using to start the redistricting process.

Scott Martinez, an elections attorney who works with Democratic groups, believes the final data will reflect harder-to-reach communities. 

“A lot of outreach occurred in the final months [of the census] to count those folks in densely-populated, minority areas,” said Martinez. 

After criticism about how staff considered political competitiveness in the preliminary congressional map released last week, Barry said staff also considered the results of the 2020 state Senate race. That’s in addition to looking at party registration and the outcome of the 2018 state attorney general contest. 

“We’re not certain that these are the best projections for whether a district meets the definition for competitiveness,” said Barry. “This is indeed one of the more difficult decisions the commission will have to make.”

MORE: Here’s where a preliminary map places Colorado’s new 8th Congressional District

Public hearings around the state in July, August

The legislative commission and the Colorado Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission will hold 32 hearings around the state beginning July 9. Members of the public can also participate by submitting comments online.

Official census data is scheduled for release Aug. 16, and nonpartisan staff will redraw the congressional and legislative maps based on feedback from Coloradans and the two commissions. The two commissions may give direction to the staff if 8 of 12 members vote for a proposal.

Ultimately, the Colorado Supreme Court must approve the maps by the end of the year, allowing election officials to prepare for the 2022 elections.


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