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Littwin: It’s redistricting season, with a brand new nonpartisan commission. But where’s a little gerrymander when you need one?

The preliminary redistricting lines, which will certainly change, have Lauren Boebert in a plus-10 Republican district, and that’s scary. The question now is how much embarrassment Boebert’s new 3rd District can take.

As I’m sure you must have noticed, it’s redistricting season in Colorado and also the first time this once-a-decade event will be determined by a nonpartisan commission, with staff doing the preliminary line drawing.

Like most Coloradans — who, after all, voted for the new law — I’m all for nonpartisan commissions. Except for one thing. One very critical thing.

The way the 3rd District is drawn, Lauren Boebert is in a plus-10 Republican district, according to numbers from the 2018 attorney general’s race, which, for some reason, has been used as a baseline. I don’t know how many Republican votes Boebert loses by being Boebert, but 10 points is a lot in these hyperpartisan times.

Mike Littwin

As far as I’m concerned, this is not a partisan issue. It’s a Colorado embarrassment issue. I don’t want to say Boebert is dangerous — for the most part she’s irrelevant — but there’s a story in Politico that Boebert is trying to make her way onto the House committee that’s coming together to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Not only Boebert, says Politico, but also Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz. Most Republicans want nothing to do with this committee. It’s too dangerous because none of the findings could be good for Donald Trump. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy hasn’t decided whether he will even participate in forming a committee, but if he does, he has five nominations, and the thinking is that he’d want Trump acolytes. Let’s just say there are few acolytes more acolyter than Boebert.

Can you imagine? I can’t, and yet I can.

That’s why I’m saying if there were ever a year for a good old-fashioned gerrymander, this would have been it.

The commission has now presented preliminary maps for both congressional districts and state legislative districts. The thing to remember about these maps is that preliminary is the controlling word. If history is any guide, the first-draft maps always change and change significantly. And I suspect this round of redistricting — even with a nonpartisan commission — won’t be all that different.

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The headline on the legislative districts is that a lot of incumbents have been drawn into the same district. The new law on this says that incumbency should not be considered in drawing the lines, and I guess that’s how it worked out. But here’s another guess: That’s not the way it will necessarily end up.

The headline on the congressional districts is that Colorado gets a new district, due to another decade of explosive growth. It will be the 8th District, which in its preliminary form, takes in a group of mostly northern and northeastern Denver suburbs.

There’s a long way to go, starting with the road show in which the commission holds hearings across the state next month. The hearings will consider both legislative and congressional districts, which should make for some very long and very loud sessions. If there’s one thing we’ve already learned from nonpartisan map drawing, it is that it may be no less controversial than the partisan variety.

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Many of the changes will likely come down to something called “communities of interest,” which could mean a number of different things to a number of different commissioners, some of whom are sophisticated political creatures and some of whom are, well, not. But one of the issues certain to come up in both levels of redistricting is Hispanic representation.

And there’s another major issue: The line drawers, to this point, have been working with 2019 numbers. The new census numbers, which have been delayed by the usual politics, won’t be out until sometime in August.

I don’t have to tell you how critical this is. The betting is that in the midterm elections of 2022, there’s an excellent chance that Republicans will retake the U.S. House of Representatives. In off years, the party out of power almost always gains seats. That’s how Democrats won back the House in 2018. Of course, there are off years and then there’s the off year in which Donald Trump has just begun his revenge tour against those Republican incumbents who, he judges, haven’t been sufficiently loyal to him.

So how the lines are drawn in each state matters. How much gerrymandering there is in states without nonpartisan commissions matters. Whether desperate Democrats can figure out a way to pass voting reform laws to counter the wave of voter-suppression laws in Republican-led states matters. How the courts end up ruling on the inevitable challenges to redistricting matters. How many crazies Trump helps to nominate matters.

Most Colorado Democrats are probably less worried about Boebert than they are about how the new district has been drawn and what impact the 8th District has on the 7th. The 7th District, represented by Ed Perlmutter, lost a lot of Democratic votes, including the bulk of Arvada, to the 8th and picked up Republican voters from parts of Douglas County. If you go by that attorney general’s race, the 7th, as presently drawn, would be a plus-3 Republican district, meaning the blue state of Colorado’s eight districts would be divided, 4-4, if you count the small edge in the 7th.

With Perlmutter as the incumbent and as a consistently strong campaigner, I’d have to guess — despite the fact that I’m not exactly a demographer — that Perlmutter would probably still be the favorite. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the district changes somewhat. 

The Colorado Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has offered a map that includes Greeley, now in the 4th, into the new 8th, which would increase the Hispanic representation from a little under 30% in the district to somewhat more than 35%. If Greeley were to move, that would set off a chain reaction affecting at least three districts.

In the preliminary drawing of Boebert’s 3rd District, which is basically most of the Western Slope, she added some of the more liberal mountain towns but lost Pueblo and the San Luis Valley. 

In 2020, she won her race by only six points, and Democrats have been lining up for the chance to oppose her. Let’s see, when the final lines are drawn, when the commission votes, when the Supreme Court determines whether the law has been followed, how much embarrassment the new district can stand.

Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.

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