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Politics and Government

8 takeaways from Colorado’s new congressional map

The proposal still needs to be approved by the Colorado Supreme Court, but we took a look at how it would affect the state’s political makeup

Some folks are loving the new, eight-district congressional map approved by Colorado’s Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission in an 11-1 vote late Tuesday.

Others, not so much.

But it’s been clear from the start of the process that not everyone would be happy with how a new map would end up. 

The proposal must be approved by the Colorado Supreme Court by Nov. 1 or be sent back to the commission for revisions. For now, though, here are eight takeaways from how things shaped up:

Incumbents remain in their (relatively safe) districts

The redistricting commission was forbidden from drawing maps benefitting Colorado’s seven congressional incumbents, but all of them remain in their districts under the proposed map and are poised to keep their jobs. 

“This map is good news for pretty much every current incumbent,” tweeted Dave Wasserman, U.S. House editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

The one potential outlier is Democratic U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, whose 7th Congressional District would remain anchored in Jefferson County but now includes the central mountain counties of Lake, Park, Teller, Chaffee, Custer and Fremont, most of which lean conservative. 

Democrats would have a 7 percentage point advantage in the district, based on the results of eight statewide races between 2016 and 2020. By comparison, Perlmutter cruised to reelection in 2022 with an 11 percentage point win.

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., makes a point during his address to the Colorado Democratic Party’s State Assembly in Denver on April 12, 2014. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

“The commission vote last night is one step in this process and now the map moves into the judicial review phase where we believe the court will take a serious look at communities of interest,” Perlmutter’s campaign said Wednesday in a written statement. “We believe there are two maps worth another review. We look forward to the court’s review of these maps.”

Perlmutter’s campaign also sent out a fundraising email saying he “is going to need your help more than ever to win this seat.”

“Reaching thousands of new voters is going to be a challenge — one that we’re up for,” the email said. “Our campaign needs to be much bigger to win.”

But J. Miles Coleman, associate editor at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, said the new 7th District would still be “clearly Democratic.”  

Lauren Boebert’s district gets redder

Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 29, 2021, to complain about Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., masking policies, and other topics. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Garfield County Republican, could be considered a winner when it comes to the new map. 

Earlier proposals either drew her home into the same district as Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, of Lafayette, or made her 3rd Congressional District more favorable to Democrats.

Under the final proposal, the 3rd Congressional District would lean 9 percentage points in Republicans’ favor, based on previous election results. The new 3rd District would drop liberal Steamboat Springs and Lake County and pick up Republican strongholds like Las Animas, Crowley and Otero counties in southeast Colorado.

Boebert secured her first term last year by just 6 percentage points. 

Some Democrats aren’t thrilled

Democrat Joe Biden beat Republican Donald Trump in Colorado’s 2020 presidential contest by 13 percentage points. But the new congressional map could result in Democrats winning four congressional seats and Republicans taking the other four.

That’s because the map would create three safe seats for Democrats, three safe seats for Republicans and two seats, including Perlmutter’s, that could go either way.

The most competitive district under the new map would be the new, heavily Hispanic 8th District based in the north Denver metro area and stretching into Greeley. Democrats would have a 1.3 percentage point advantage in the district, based on the results of previous elections.

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Sheena Kadi, a Democratic political consultant, called the potential 4-4 split “absurd” in an increasingly blue state. 

Colorado Democratic Party spokesman David Pourshoushtari also expressed misgivings.

“We are thankful to the commission for its hard work on this map, but remain concerned that competitiveness came almost exclusively at the expense of Democrats,” he said in a written statement. 

Factoring into the perceived Republican advantage is the fact that the commission never discussed dividing the state’s two largest population bases: Democratic Denver and Republican Colorado Springs. 

In fact, congressional redistricting commissioners voted two weeks ago to keep those urban areas and Aurora whole when drawing maps. Splitting those cities might have led to more competitive districts. 

Some announced and potential congressional candidates win, others lose

State Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Vail Democrat, who has raised at least $1.2 million to challenge Boebert next year, was drawn out of the 3rd Congressional District. The proposed final map places her in the 2nd District with Neguse.  

Colorado state Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, ,speaks during a CORE Act One Year Anniversary event on Jan. 30, 2020 at the Hyatt Regency in Denver. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Members of Congress don’t have to live in the district they represent, but it can be difficult to cross district lines and win. 

But two other Democratic Boebert challengers — Sol Sandoval Tafoya and state Rep. Donald Valdez — were drawn into the 3rd District after being drawn out in earlier iterations of the map. 

“I am running for Congress from my community and for my community,” Tafoya, a community activist in Pueblo, said in a written statement.“From Pueblo to Craig, we share the same values — a belief in opportunity, hard work and family.”

Republican state Rep. Colin Larson, of Ken Caryl, who is considering a bid to challenge Perlmutter next year, was drawn just beyond the boundaries of the 7th District. Instead, he’s in the safely Democratic 6th District, represented by U.S. Rep. Jason Crow. 

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Again, Larson could still run in the 7th, since members of Congress don’t have to live in the district they represent

State Rep. Yadira Carveo’s home was drawn into the 8th District, which the Thornton Democrat is running to represent. Thus far, no Republican has declared a run in the 8th, though state Sen. Kevin Priola, a moderate from Henderson, is one rumored challenger. 

“The 8th Congressional District, as it’s always been, is anchored in Thornton and part of Adams County, where Dr. Caraveo grew up, where her dad worked construction to support their family, and where she serves as a pediatrician and a state legislator,” Caraveo’s campaign manager, Elana Schrager, said in a written statement Wednesday.

Observers agree: The commission functioned as intended

While Kadi, the political consultant, may not be happy with the final map, she has to admit that the commission functioned as intended.

“The commission has done an excellent job adhering to what they were tasked to do,” she said. 

The commission was formed by voters in 2018 through the passage of Amendments Y and Z. The idea behind the ballot measures was to remove some of the highly charged partisan politics that historically dominated Colorado’s redistricting process, instead favoring parameters like communities of interest and competitiveness.

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“An 11-1 vote says it all,” said Alan Philp, a Republican who lobbied the redistricting commission. “Amendment Y’s process demanded that people from different backgrounds, different parts of the state, and different parties worked together to adopt a map. It was a process, but a process that worked.  The Colorado Independent Congressional Commission passed a collaborative, consensus map that is fair, reflective of the constitutional criteria, and created a highly competitive, new Hispanic influence district. It’s a great day for Colorado.”

Public gets plenty of opportunities to have a say

The commission heard more than 100 hours of public testimony at more than 30 in-person and virtual hearings around the state. A subcommittee also sifted through nearly 5,200 comments submitted online.

That said, not every effort from the public to lobby the commission was successful. 

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Rural Colorado United, a super PAC that opposes Boebert, tried to mobilize support for an amended citizen-drawn map that created a huge 3rd District spanning Colorado’s borders from east to west. The district would have been a toss-up, with only a 1.4 percentage point advantage for Republicans based on prior election results. It also would have placed Boebert in the 2nd District, and and Perlmutter and Neguse in the 7th District.

Commissioner Jolie Brawner, an unaffiliated Denver voter, noted the cookie-cutter nature of the comments apparently prompted by the group. 

At one point Tuesday night, as commissioners were voting on a final map, the map Rural Colorado United supporters garnered five votes. But after heated back and forth, commissioners coalesced around a compromise proposal.

Mapping geeks win the day

Preliminary Colorado House and Senate redistricting maps are displayed on Tuesday, August 24, 2021, at the Eagle Pointe Recreation Center in Commerce City. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

Democratic Commissioner Martha Coleman, of Fort Collins, created the map adopted by the commission by amending a staff-drawn proposal delivered Sept. 23. 

Coleman is a geographer who works at Colorado State University and specializes in geographic information systems, the software used to draw maps.

The ability of anyone with the technical ability to draw maps allowed many people to submit proposals. The commission received more than 100 map recommendations from the public

On the other hand, commissioners who couldn’t navigate the mapping software weren’t as involved in the process of shifting lines around to accommodate various city or county boundaries, or perceived communities of interest.

In the end, population was the first consideration

The commission and its nonpartisan staff needed to balance the population in the eight districts to within one person of 721,714 — the equivalent of the state’s population divided by eight.

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That meant that vast rural areas in the Eastern Plains, San Luis Valley and Western Slope needed to be paired with more urban areas, including Castle Rock, Pueblo and Loveland.

“The problem is that the whole Eastern Plains and that agricultural community
 doesn’t have a lot in common with any large population center,” Republican Commissioner Bill Leone, of Westminster, said during one recent debate. “They view large population centers, generally, as a problem for their community.”

That population dilemma also meant that in metro areas, neighbors on either side of the street could end up in different congressional districts.

Acknowledged Democratic Commissioner Simon Tafoya, of Denver: “The population of one person is a very difficult thing to do.”


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