The latest draft maps of Colorado’s new state Senate and House districts would make it difficult for Republicans to challenge Democratic control of the legislature, according to analysis of the proposals released Monday.
Under the new maps, the 35-seat state Senate would include 15 safe Democratic districts, 10 safe Republican districts and 10 competitive districts, according to a report by nonpartisan staff. Five of the competitive seats lean toward Democrats, however, meaning it would be difficult for the GOP to take back control of the chamber — their best shot at reversing four years of Democratic control at the Capitol.
The state House, which has 65 seats, would have 33 safe Democratic districts, 21 safe Republican districts and 11 competitive districts under the new maps. Two of the competitive seats lean in Democrats’ favor, making it appear unlikely that the GOP could pick up the 11 seats it needs to take back control in the House.
Colorado has been trending blue for years as the share of registered Republican voters has declined and the percentage of unaffiliated voters grows. Republicans see the redistricting process as an opportunity to regain some ground in the state legislature.
“We agree with the assessment provided by others in the media that this map will consistently elect a Democrat majority in the State House and State Senate,” said Joe Jackson, executive director of the Colorado Republican Party. “This process has a long way to go, and we hope the commission will work to generate more competitive districts.”
Alan Philp, a lobbyist representing a Republican-oriented Colorado Neighborhood Coalition, agreed.
“The maps are an improvement over the 2011 maps politically in terms of the number of competitive districts, but there’s plenty of room for improvement,” said Philp.
The Colorado Democratic Party Monday raised concerns that the draft Senate map would give Republicans an “unfair advantage,” citing districts where Democratic incumbents who are up for election in 2022 are placed in the same district as Republican incumbents who face re-election in 2024.
“For the sake of fairness, the commission staff needs to understand the implications of drawing maps without taking into account the overlapping 4-year terms of state senators. Coloradans voted for fair redistricting when they approved Amendment Z, and this map does not meet that goal,” said David Pourshoushtari, a spokesman for the Colorado Democratic Party.
“It’s not about the incumbents necessarily — it’s about how the seats are staggered,” Pourshoushtari said, adding that “going into 2022, that’s three seats right there that could give Republicans … three seats to earn a state Senate majority.”
The maps released Monday are the first plans drawn by nonpartisan redistricting staff based on a decade of demographic changes captured in 2020 census data. They also take into account input from more than two dozen public hearings held around the state, and include parameters requested by members of the Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission.
The commission, formed by the passage of Amendments Y and Z in 2018, has until Oct. 11 to finalize the maps and must submit them to the Colorado Supreme Court by Oct. 15.
The legislative commission has a policy defining political competitiveness based on an average of election results from eight statewide races between 2016 and 2020. The metric looks at the difference between the percentage of votes cast for a Republican candidate versus the percentage of votes cast for a Democratic candidate.
Nonpartisan staff consider a district competitive if neither party has an advantage of more than 8.5 percentage points. The Colorado Sun considers a district leaning in favor of a political party if it has an advantage of at least 5 percentage points.
While candidates for the U.S. House don’t need to live in the district they represent, candidates for the state legislature do. That means changes to the districts could leave some incumbents and candidates out of the running unless they’re willing to move or challenge a colleague, potentially in a primary.
At least 14 incumbents in the state Senate would be in the same district as another senator, according to a Colorado Sun analysis of the proposed Senate map. And at least 16 incumbents in the state House would be drawn into the same district as another representative.
The districts will continue to change.
Nonpartisan staffers are slated to draw another iteration of both House and Senate maps by Sept. 23. How much the maps change will depend on the input the commission receives at public hearings this Friday and Saturday, as well as any new parameters adopted by the 12-member commission.
Commissioners will receive a presentation and discuss the latest proposed maps at a meeting at noon Tuesday.
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Instead of splitting the Eastern Plains between two districts like the current Senate map does, the proposed state Senate map would draw most of the region into Senate District 3, along with the eastern portions of Adams and Arapahoe counties.
Senate District 35 would be made up entirely of Pueblo County, while the six San Luis Valley counties are in Senate District 7, which also would cover the southwest corner of the state and includes both the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes.
The Roaring Fork Valley would be kept together in Senate District 5.
The draft map includes 12 districts where the Hispanic population would make up a quarter or more of the total population, and one district, the proposed Senate District 21, where Hispanic residents would make up slightly more than half the total population.
The proposed Senate District 25 in Adams County will likely need to be amended because it includes two incumbents elected in 2020, Democratic Sen. Dominick Moreno, of Commerce City, and Republican Sen. Kevin Priola, of Henderson.
“We got some late public comments that Brighton should be kept whole in a Senate district,” said Jeremiah Barry, staff attorney to the redistricting commission. “There will need to be an amendment to the first staff plan.”
That’s because state law requires incumbent senators, who serve four-year terms, be allowed to serve their entire term even if redistricting draws them out of the district they were elected to. The legislative commission has adopted a policy allowing staff to adjust maps to avoid a conflict where two “holdover” senators are in the same district.
In four other instances, Senate incumbents up for reelection next year were placed in a district with an incumbent who will serve until 2024. Because state law requires incumbents be able to serve their entire term, those up for reelection would essentially be knocked out of a seat.
Sen. Pete Lee, a Colorado Springs Democrat up for reelection in 2022, would be forced out of office if the draft map is adopted because he would be drawn into the same district as Republican Sen. Larry Liston, who isn’t up for reelection until 2024.
Two Republican incumbents, Sen. Bob Gardner, of Colorado Springs, and Sen. Dennis Hisey, of Fountain, are both placed in Senate District 2. Gardner was reelected to a second four-year term in 2020, while Hisey is up for reelection next year.
And Sen. Jessie Danielson, a Wheat Ridge Democrat, would be forced to leave her seat because the draft map would place her in the same district as Democratic Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, of Arvada, whose term ends in 2025.
Republican Sen. Jim Smallwood, of Parker, and Democratic Sen. Tammy Story, of Evergreen, would be drawn together into District 16, which stretches from the mountains of Jefferson County south and east to Douglas County. Smallwood’s term runs through 2025 while Story is up for reelection next year, meaning that Story would have to move into a new district or wait two years to seek a consecutive term.
The other two districts with two incumbents include senators who can’t run for reelection next year because of term limits.
Sen. Don Coram, of Montrose, would be placed in District 6 with Sen. Ray Scott, of Grand Junction, who is finishing his second term and can’t run again. Both are Republicans.
And Sen. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, would be drawn into Senate District 5, which is currently represented by Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Vail Democrat who can’t run again.
The map would create five open Senate seats:
- District 4 in Douglas County with a 23.7% Republican advantage
- District 8 in northwest Colorado with an 18.4% Republican advantage
- District 10 in Colorado Springs with a 30.3% Republican advantage
- District 12 in El Paso County with a 3.6% Republican advantage
- District 21 in Adams County with a 29% Democratic advantage
- District 22 in west Denver and eastern Jefferson County with a 30.3% Democratic advantage
- District 23 in Broomfield, Jefferson, Adams and Boulder counties with a 23.9% Democratic advantage
For the most part, nonpartisan staff sought to prioritize a community of interest when forced to split a county between multiple districts to satisfy population requirements. For example, Eagle County would be split between House Districts 26 and 57, but the Roaring Fork Valley region, which includes a small portion of western Eagle County, is largely kept together, according to a staff report.
Steamboat Springs was drawn into House District 26, while the rest of Routt County would be in House District 49 under the new proposal.
The proposed House map also includes 20 districts with Hispanic populations that make up a quarter or more of the district’s total population, and three districts where the Hispanic population is more than half the district’s total population.
Of the 16 House incumbents who would be in the same district as another state representative in the proposed map, three of those pairings would pit a Democrat against a Republican.
Republican Rep. Colin Larson of Ken Caryl and Democratic Rep. Lisa Cutter of Littleton would both live in the proposed House District 22, a competitive district. Larson, however, is seriously considering a bid for U.S. House next year.
Democratic Rep. Tracey Bernett, of Longmont, and Republican Rep. Dan Woog, of Erie, would be in the proposed House District 12, which would be a safe Democratic district. Both are in their first terms.
And Democratic Rep. Marc Snyder, of Manitou Springs, and Republican Rep. Terri Carver, of Colorado Springs, would both fall under the proposed House District 20, where Republicans have an advantage of 9.2 percentage points, according to a report by nonpartisan staff. Carver is term-limited in 2022, however.
Meanwhile, five other proposed districts would pit incumbents from the same party against each other.
First-term Republican Reps. Stephanie Luck, of Penrose, and Ron Hanks, of Cañon City, would be in the proposed House District 60, which would include all of Fremont and Custer counties, as well as a portion of Pueblo.
And Rep. Karen McCormick, a Longmont Democrat, would live in the proposed House District 13 along with Rep. Judy Amabile, a Boulder Democrat. Both are in their first terms.
Democratic Reps. Monica Duran, of Wheat Ridge, and Lindsey Daugherty, of Arvada, are both in District 24.
Democratic Reps. Kerry Tipper, and Chris Kennedy, both of Lakewood are both in District 28.
Republican Reps. Kim Ransom and Mark Baisley, both of Littleton, are placed in the same district, but she’s term-limited.
Open seats under the House map would include:
- House District 11, based in Longmont and which includes parts of Boulder County, with a 28.5% Democratic advantage
- House District 16 based in Colorado Springs with a 1.3% Democratic advantage
- House District 23 in Jefferson County with a 16.1% Democratic advantage
- House District 25 in Jefferson County with a 9% Democratic advantage
- House District 37 in Arapahoe County communities like Centennial, Cherry Creek and Littleton, a competitive district with a 7% Democratic advantage
- House District 44 in Douglas County with a 20.5% Republican advantage
- House District 48 in Larimer and Weld counties with a 23.9% Republican advantage
- House District 63 in Adams and Weld counties with a 20.4% Republican advantage
The Legislative Redistricting Commission will hold three virtual public hearings Friday and Saturday to get feedback on the new maps.
The hearings will be limited to the first 40 speakers who sign up in advance. These are the final public hearings by the legislative commission, although public comments are still being accepted online.
This week’s hearings:
CORRECTION: This story was updated at 5:18 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021 to correct that Republican Sen. Jim Smallwood, of Parker and Democratic Sen. Tammy Story, of Evergreen, would both be drawn into Senate District 19 under the new draft map. Smallwood, whose term ends in 2025, would hold the seat while Story not be eligible for reelection in the district.
RRECTION: This story was updated at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, to correct that Senate District 2 would be home to Republican Sens. Dennis Hisey, of Fountain, and Bob Gardner, of Colorado Springs. Gardner was reelected to a second four-year term in 2020, while Hisey is up for reelection next year.