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After more than four months of delays and scrambling over redistricting deadlines, the 2020 U.S. Census data will be released a few days early.

The U.S. Census Bureau tweeted Thursday that the final population data will be released on Aug. 12, rather than Aug. 16 as was expected.

“It’s a little padding for us,” said Jessika Shipley, staff director for the independent redistricting commissions. “It doesn’t give us that much wiggle room, but we needed a little wiggle room.”

Once they get the data, nonpartisan redistricting staff will need to process the raw data and turn it into a whole new set of congressional and legislative maps. The extra time won’t shift the Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission’s new schedule for releasing staff maps, Shipley said, with the first staff map based on 2020 data slated for release on Sept. 5.

This is the first edition of Remapping Colorado, a free, pop-up newsletter bringing you weekly updates on the state’s 2021 redistricting process.

Click here to get it in your inbox every Monday afternoon.

MEETINGS AND MORE: The Congressional Redistricting Commission is meeting Monday Aug. 9 at 6 p.m. ahead of its public hearing in Manitou Springs, and may continue the conversation after the hearing, Shipley said. Members will discuss plans for releasing the three staff maps based on the 2020 data.

Watch out for the Congressional Commission’s meeting Thursday, when commissioners need to decide whether to count people in prison at their last known home addresses rather than at the prisons where they are housed. In Colorado, this would change where more than 10,000 people are counted for redistricting purposes.

(Advocates say counting people at prisons inflates the population in the rural and largely white areas where prisons are located, bolstering their political influence at the expense of urban areas where many prisoners originate.)

Thursday is also the deadline for commissioners to give staff any official direction on communities of interest (the term for groups or regions with shared public policy concerns) and how they want to measure the political competitiveness of a district before work begins on the first staff map using the 2020 census data.

The Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission hasn’t voted yet on its schedule for releasing staff maps and policies on prisoner reallocation. That’s expected to happen at its meeting this Friday.

The Congressional Commission will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. tonight in Manitou Springs. Both commissions will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Longmont; at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Boulder; and in Greeley Saturday at noon. Click here for full calendar of public hearings, which are scheduled through Aug. 28.

The influence game at work

One of several messages Invisible Durango sent to encourage participation in last weekend’s public hearing.

There are plenty of rumblings about various groups and politicos trying to influence redistricting behind the scenes, and it was evident at Saturday’s public hearing in Durango.

Dale Ruggles, a Bayfield Republican, noted that a local group encouraged speakers to support a congressional map drawn by former state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, a Steamboat Springs Democrat, and James Iacino, of Montrose. Iacino lost to Mitsch Bush in the Democratic 3rd Congressional District primary last year, and Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert won the general election. In one blast to supporters, the progressive group Indivisible Durango wrote that the congressional map proposed by nonpartisan staff would ensure “we get Lauren Boebert for 10 years.”

“When commissions like yours are influenced by these political action committees and fake interest shown today, it takes away our rural voice and ends up in an unfair outcome,” Ruggles told the commissions.

Bill Leone, a Republican serving on the congressional commission, countered Indivisible Durango’s characterization of initial draft maps as drawing a Republican 3rd District.

“This is a nonpartisan staff map, the perception may be that it’s been set up for Republicans,” Leone said. “I’m a Republican telling you this:
 That’s absolutely, totally, completely not the case, and this commission will have input” in the future.

No one from Indivisible Durango is registered to lobby the commissions. Two Republican former lawmakers encouraging community engagement on behalf of the nonprofit Colorado Neighborhood Coalition aren’t registered either. Only 22 people have registered to lobby the commissions, up from a dozen in June.

Meanwhile, Common Cause is encouraging members to testify at the commission’s hearing in Boulder Wednesday, with an offer of prep sessions via Zoom and a guide on offering public testimony. That guide doesn’t suggest what to testify about, however.

Mountain communities and southern Colorado want their own congressional district

A map, including a proposed southern district, submitted to the Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission. The panel’s subcommittee on public comment, outreach and communities of interest discussed the idea last Wednesday. (Screenshot)

After previously hearing from people in mountain communities like Steamboat Springs and Frisco, redistricting commissioners spent the past weekend in Colorado Springs, Trinidad, Alamosa and Durango.

They’ve heard a similar message from residents of both mountain towns and southern Colorado: Give us our own congressional district.

Southern Coloradans argue their region doesn’t belong with either the Western Slope or Eastern Plains. In Trinidad on Friday, Alvin Rivera, a Pueblo resident and Democrat who previously ran for the University of Colorado Board of Regents, called for a new district including “all of southern Colorado from border to border below Pueblo … and extending to include parts of southern Colorado Springs.”

Some members of the Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission think it’s a compelling idea, but the population numbers probably won’t pan out (each district must aim for roughly equal populations). Neither the mountain towns nor southern Colorado alone have enough people living there to make their own congressional district, and pulling in other regions to meet population requirements is also problematic.

“I think a southern district is a good idea, a mountain district is a good idea,” said Republican Commissioner Jason Kelly, of Alamosa, during a subcommittee meeting Wednesday where members discussed the proposals for a separate southern or mountain town district. “You just can’t get there with the numbers.”

Meanwhile, at a July 31 meeting in Frisco, Summit County residents said they shouldn’t be drawn into the 3rd Congressional District with the Western Slope. Summit County and mountain towns along the Interstate 70 corridor are “recreational, environmental-based economies” compared to more agricultural and extractive industries to the West, said Hunter Mortenson, the mayor of Frisco. “I see us as being too much at odds with each other.”

The Congressional Commission hasn’t had a full discussion of either proposal yet.

“‘We want to be with people like us, we also don’t want to be with people not like us,’” said unaffiliated congressional commissioner Jolie Brawner of Denver, summarizing a sentiment the panel has heard in several communities. “Someone’s going to be unhappy.”

Defining shared interests

The Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy & Research Organization, or CLLARO, is holding a news conference Tuesday where the group will unveil its own legislative map.

“If you are just asking yourselves where are ‘the Latinos’ without considering a lot of diversity, you can make mistakes, like taking the 4th Congressional District and putting Commerce City and Pueblo together,” CLLARO’s executive director Mike Cortés told The Sun, referring to the preliminary map released in June. “These are different folks with different communities of interest.”

A number of groups have sharply criticized the preliminary maps, made using 2019 population estimates, as unfairly dividing up Latino and Black neighborhoods and other communities of color.

Alex Sánchez, executive director of Voces Unidas de las Montañas, told commissioners at a July 31 public hearing in Carbondale that the preliminary state House map unfairly divides growing Latino communities in Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin counties among four districts, making it harder for those communities to be relevant in electoral politics.

“(Latinos) are projected to be a critical factor in the expected growth of this region,” Sanchez told The Sun. “Our community should be able to vote in a single district so our voice can matter.”

Cobalt, the progressive reproductive rights group, also hosted a webinar last week in which Democratic state Sen. Julie Gonzales of Denver and state Reps. Leslie Herod of Denver, Yadira Caraveo of Thornton and Iman Jodeh of Aurora urged people to get involved at upcoming redistricting meetings.

Herod noted the preliminary legislative map changes House District 8, which she represents, by dividing historic Black communities in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood from North Park Hill. She also cited a number of changes that would affect Black neighborhoods in Aurora and Colorado Springs.

“One thing struck me, and I got to appreciate their honesty,” Herod said about redistricting commissioners’ response to criticism at a July 27 public hearing in Denver. “They said, ‘we don’t know Denver …. we’ve never been to Five Points or Park Hill, tell me where the dividing line should be.’

“This is not necessarily all-out war,” Herod said. “It’s really first (about) information.”

Headlines (what else you should be reading)

>> DURANGO: The Durango Herald reports on objections to proposed state House and Senate districts in preliminary maps at Saturday’s hearing.

>> SUMMIT COUNTY: They’re now in the 2nd Congressional District with several Front Range counties. Should Summit move to the 3rd District, as proposed in initial map drafts? Summit Daily covered the Frisco hearing.

>> MONTROSE: More discussion on splitting up Western Slope counties and communities in state legislative districts occurred at the Montrose public hearing, according to the Montrose Press.

>> NATIONAL TRACKER: FiveThirtyEight has released a tracker of how redistricting is playing out in all 50 states.

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— Thy and Fish

Sandra Fish

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @fishnette

Thy Vo

Thy Vo is a freelance journalist and former Colorado Sun staff member. Twitter: @thyanhvo