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JulieMarie Shepherd Macklin (right) of Congressional District 6 speaks with residents during a redistricting meeting on Tuesday, August 24, 2021, at the Eagle Pointe Recreation Center in Commerce City. The Colorado Independent Congressional and Legislative Redistricting Commissions draw Colorado's legislative districts for 2021. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

Blowback on a proposal that would place northwest Colorado and Boulder in the same congressional district has Colorado’s Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission considering significant changes to the latest draft of the state’s U.S. House map released Friday. 

That map, the first plan based on 2020 census data, would also create a southern district and draw rural communities into districts with urban areas in many parts of the state, drawing criticism from residents of the Western Slope and Eastern Plains in the first two of four public hearings. 

With the partisan balance of the U.S. House at stake, political observers across the country are watching carefully to see where Colorado’s district lines are drawn. The map released last week would place Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, of Garfield County, in the 2nd Congressional District with Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, of Lafayette, in a district that would favor Democrats.

MORE: 3 reasons the latest draft of Colorado’s congressional map may spell trouble for Lauren Boebert

At a meeting Wednesday, many commissioners suggested the latest congressional map drawn by staff isn’t likely to get their vote  — at least not without some big changes. 

Republican Commissioner Bill Leone of Westminster said he could never vote for the latest plan. He cited a number of “untenable” changes, including splitting Fort Collins from the rest of Larimer County and adding Greeley into a largely urban 8th Congressional District. “I did feel like we were mixing … dramatically contrary communities,” he said.

The debate at Wednesday’s meeting comes ahead of the Sept. 15 deadline for the release of another draft drawn by nonpartisan staff. The commission has also received map proposals from a variety of advocacy groups, and individual commissioners have asked staff to draw other proposals. 

All of those are on the table as the commission is racing to meet a Sept. 28 deadline to approve a final plan and send it to the Colorado Supreme Court for review by Oct. 1. 

The panel Wednesday considered a map drawn by Commissioner Martha Coleman, a Fort Collins Democrat, that proposes an L-shaped 3rd District encompassing most of the Western Slope and all of southern Colorado. 

An incomplete version of a map proposed by Congressional Redistricting Commissioner Martha Coleman on Sept. 8, 2021. (Screenshot)

It also makes changes based on feedback that commissioners heard this week:

  • Creates a 2nd Congressional District comprised of mountain counties, including Boulder, Eagle, Grand, Lake, Larimer, Pitkin, Routt and Summit
  • Avoids splitting Larimer County and communities including Highlands Ranch and Parker 
  • Adds Broomfield and Longmont into the new 8th Congressional District, along with north Denver neighborhoods, including Globeville and Elyria-Swansea 

Coleman’s map isn’t a complete proposal, and it doesn’t meet all the constitutional requirements the commission must meet, including a mandate that each district contain the same number of people, give or take one person.

But several commissioners indicated that Coleman’s map, which would be a major departure from the plan unveiled last week, takes them closer to resolving some of their disagreements over where the districts should be drawn.

“This is certainly as close to probably any sort of southern district that I would be comfortable with,” said Republican Commissioner Jason Kelly, an Alamosa resident who has said he’s unlikely to vote for a map with a southern district. 

Commissioner Jolie Brawner, an unaffiliated voter from Denver who has been supportive of a southern district, said Coleman’s configuration for a Western Slope and southern Colorado district would create a district with strong emphasis on agriculture and rural interests while also keeping important southern communities together. 

“I think there’s a lot of really interesting things for us to discuss further. I think it’s a really great place to start a discussion,” Brawner said. 

Commissioners also raised misgivings about Coleman’s proposal, including that the districts are not compact and would not be competitive enough. Staff have not yet analyzed the districts drawn in Coleman’s proposal for political competitiveness, and the software Coleman used to draw her map uses different metrics for measuring that. 

“We’ve gone from three competitive districts to one … and it’s not even close,” said Commissioner Danny Moore, a Republican from Centennial.

The panel will continue discussing Coleman’s proposal and other public feedback at a meeting scheduled for Friday, which comes after they hear from the public at two other meetings on Thursday and Friday. 

Commissioners heard from several Western Slope residents and officials during public hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday, who objected to being grouped with part of Larimer County and urban Boulder and Broomfield counties in the latest draft map. 

“It negates the voice of Grand and Jackson and Moffat and Rio Blanco if we’re in the same district as Larimer and Boulder,” said Merrit Linke, a Grand County commissioner and chair of Club 20, a conservative Western Slope economic development advocacy group. 

Residents of Fort Collins and Douglas County also objected to the draft for drawing them with the Eastern Plains in a proposed 4th Congressional District. 

The proposed 2nd Congressional District, which would include all or parts of liberal-leaning Boulder, Broomfield and Larimer counties, including the cities of Boulder and Loveland, and reach across the Continental Divide into northwest Colorado to take in Rio Blanco, Moffat and Garfield counties along the Utah border. (Handout)

The map, however, received praise from several southern Colorado Democratic activists who favor a congressional map that keeps their region together. They urged commissioners to keep the boundaries of that district mostly intact. 

“I’m sure you’re going to hear many reasons over the next few days as to why you should abandon the southern District and go back to the
 status quo,” said Frances Koncilja, a Democrat who grew up in Pueblo and is a former member of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. “So I’m requesting that you stand tall and continue with the map that staff has drawn.”

Many of those who spoke at the first two hearings this week to provide feedback on the latest proposal were making their second appearance before the commission. And many had political connections they didn’t disclose. The commission’s rules for public testimony require that comments “must include an accurate identification of the author.”

Several Jefferson County residents with Democratic Party involvement praised the new map for keeping the county together in the 7th Congressional District, which also includes west-central mountain counties. 

Among them were Carl Hamm, who served on the county elections canvass board for the Democratic Party in 2020; Liz Geiselman, the state party’s volunteer of the year; and Clara Jane Banzin, also a Democratic Party activist.

Meanwhile, several Republicans asked that the Western Slope be kept whole. Allen Maez, who identified himself as a Montezuma County rancher but didn’t mention that he chairs the county GOP, was among them.

“The rural voice, farmer/rancher, needs to have representation who understands who they are,” Maez said. “Not citified voices of the big urban sprawl.”

Rachel Gabel of Morgan County, an assistant editor at The Fence Post, an agricultural publication, said the new draft map also is unfair to rural Eastern Plains counties. She advocated for a map where “rural Coloradans have a seat at the table rather than being a featured dish.”

To testify in-person at the public hearings on Thursday and Friday, people must register 24 hours in advance. Remote participation registration will close when the meetings begin.

  • 1 – 4 p.m. Thursday for residents of the 2nd and 3rd districts via Zoom, or at the Eagle Community Center or the Grand Lake Center
  • 9 a.m. to noon Friday for residents of the 6th and 7th districts via Zoom, or at the Thornton Community Center or the Community College of Aurora

If eight of 12 commissioners don’t agree on a map after the initial public hearings, another staff plan will be released Sept. 15 and a third, if necessary, on Sept. 23. 

Special to The Colorado Sun
Twitter: @fishnette

Thy Vo is a freelance journalist and former Colorado Sun staff member.

Twitter: @thyanhvo