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An overhead view of the Colorado Senate chambers. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

Democrats would be favored to keep control of both the Colorado Senate and House under new draft maps of the state’s legislative districts released Tuesday afternoon. 

The maps, drawn by nonpartisan staff, could be sent to the Colorado Supreme Court for final approval and adoption if the Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission can’t find consensus next week when they meet to finalize the districts’ lines. 

Fifteen districts would be considered safe for Democrats under the proposal, and three seats would lean in their favor. Nine districts would be safe for Republicans and eight districts would be tossups.

Democrats need to control 18 seats to control the 35-member chamber. 

In the House, the latest proposal would give Democrats 34 safe districts and four more that lean in their favor. There are 65 representatives in the House, meaning that Democrats appear to be in a position to easily maintain their majority in the chamber under the new maps. 

If a supermajority of commissioners — eight of the panel’s 12 members — can’t agree on state House and Senate maps to send to the Colorado Supreme Court by Oct. 12, the staff-drawn maps released Tuesday would automatically be forwarded to the court. The court could then adopt the maps, or send them back to the commission with instructions for changes. 

Click here to view files for the new map drafts.

David Pourshoushtari, communications director for the Colorado Democratic Party, called the latest maps “a step closer to being fair and reflective of Colorado’s communities of interest.”

He said maps currently being drafted by three of the commission’s Republican members “unfairly benefit Republicans or marginalize Colorado minority voters.” A Democrat and unaffiliated commissioner are also working on those maps.

The state legislature has been controlled by Democrats for the past three years, and the maps could ultimately determine which party has control of the House and Senate in the coming decade. 

“There is still more to this process and we look forward to hopefully seeing more competitive districts in the map that the Commission adopts,” said Joe Jackson, executive director of the Colorado Republican Party.

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 competitive, but leaning in favor of a political party if it has an advantage of at least 5 percentage points.

Democrats currently have a 20-15 advantage in the Senate and a 41-24 advantage in the House. 

At least eight Senate incumbents would be drawn into the same district

The Senate map released Tuesday draws at least eight incumbent senators into the same district as another incumbent, including three pairs of Republicans. 

The changes could leave the incumbents out of a job unless they’re willing to move into a new district or challenge a colleague, potentially in a primary. State lawmakers must live in the district they represent.

For instance, Democratic Sens. Brittany Pettersen, of Lakewood, and Jessie Danielson, of Wheat Ridge, would both be in Senate District 22 under the new proposal. Both are up for reelection next year.

The two, who are close friends, could opt to run against each other in the Democratic primary. 

Republican Sens. John Cooke, of Greeley, and Kevin Priola, of Henderson, would both live in Senate District 13 under the new map. Cooke, however, is term limited and can’t run for reelection next year, while Priola’s term doesn’t end until 2025.

Senate District 12 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.

Because state law requires incumbents be able to serve their entire term, Hisey would essentially be knocked out of a seat. He would have to move into another district to run for reelection, if the map doesn’t change. Hisey cannot challenge Gardner in a primary election next year.

A similar situation would play out in Senate District 5, which would be home to both Republican Sens. Don Coram, of Montrose, and Bob Rankin, of Carbondale. Rankin was elected to a four-year term last year while Coram is up for reelection in 2022.

Coram, therefore, would have to move into another district to seek reelection to the state Senate.

In this Wednesday, March 10, 2021 file photo, Colorado state Sen. Bob Rankin speaks during a news conference outside the governor’s mansion in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

Four districts would be have no incumbent under the new proposal including:

  • District 4 in rural Douglas County and the central mountains
  • District 24 in Thornton
  • District 27 in east Centennial and southeast Aurora
  • District 35 in southeast Colorado

Of the incumbents serving terms through 2024, 11 are Democrats and nine are Republicans.

Seventeen Senate districts would be up for election in 2022 under the proposal, with nine of them open seats that don’t have an incumbent up for reelection. Of the open seats, five would be in solid Republican districts, one would be in a solid Democratic district and two would lean in Democrats’ favor. One open district would be competitive.

Among incumbents up for election in 2022, four of their districts would solidly be in Democrats’ favor, one would be solidly Republican, one would lean Democratic and three would be competitive.

At least 16 House incumbents would be drawn into the same district

In the House, at least 8 of the 65 House districts in the new map would include more than one incumbent, affecting 16 lawmakers. 

Since state representatives serve two-year terms, all of the affected incumbents — with the exception of those who are term limited or seeking higher office — would have to decide whether to challenge one of their colleagues to keep their job. 

Democratic State Rep. Lisa Cutter campaigns to retain her seat for House District 25, a traditional Republican held seat, during the final days before Election Day in Littleton, CO, October 31, 2020. (Kevin Mohatt, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Here are the pairings:

  • Democratic Rep. Tracey Bernett, of Longmont, and Republican Rep. Dan Woog, of Erie, would both live in House District 12. 
  • Republican Reps. Andres Pico and Dave Williams, both of Colorado Springs, would both live in House District 16.
  • Democratic Reps. Monica Duran, of Wheat Ridge, and Brianna Titone, of Arvada, would both live in House District 27. 
  • Democratic Reps. Yadira Caraveo, of Thornton, and Kyle Mullica, of Northglenn, would both live in House District 34. Caraveo, however, is running for Congress next year.
  • Republican Reps. Mark Baisley, of Roxborough Park, and Kim Ransom, of Douglas County, would both live in House District 39. Ransom, however, is term limited and can’t run for reelection in 2022.
  • Republican Reps. Stephanie Luck, of Penrose, and Ron Hanks, of Fremont County, would both live in House District 46. Hanks, however, is running for U.S. Senate next year.
  • Republican Rep. Colin Larson would live in House District 22 with Democratic Rep. Lisa Cutter in southwest Jefferson County. Larson is expected to run for Congress next year.
  • Republican Reps. Rod Bockenfeld, of Watkins, and Rod Pelton, of Cheyenne Wells, would both live in House District 56.

Voting Rights Act issues and other possible legal challenges 

A number of advocacy groups are paying close attention to how the draft maps treat the state’s fast-growing Hispanic communities and other minority groups.

Organizations like the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy and Research Organization and Campaign Legal Center have already said they plan to file legal challenges against the congressional map submitted to the court last week. 

“The (legislative) commission has to know that it’s under the greatest scrutiny for how it treats the minority population as it draws its final plans,” said Scott Martinez, a Democratic attorney who drew maps adopted by the court in 2011. 

The latest House map would have 18 districts where more than a quarter of the population is Hispanic, while the Senate map draft would have 10 such districts. 

The legislative commission has hired a voting rights expert, Lisa Handley, to conduct an analysis of whether voters of racial and ethnic groups exhibit different voting preferences, a key indicator for determining whether a map dilutes minority votes. Although that report has not been made public, commissioners discussed Handley’s findings in an executive session prior to the release of the new maps. 

The commission is also scheduled this week to debate a policy on complying with the Voting Rights Act for the final maps.

Martinez said he’s glad the commission is paying attention not just to areas with longstanding Hispanic communities like Pueblo and the San Luis Valley, but also places where minority populations are growing quickly, like Aurora, Lakewood and Adams County. 

“We’ll all be watching with what the commission does to ensure the minority population is not ignored in its final map,” Martinez said. 

Marco Dorado, Colorado state director for All on the Line, a group affiliated with the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, said his organization will be watching for final maps that “ensure communities of interest are appropriately prioritized before considering competitiveness, in compliance with the state constitution.”

What’s next 

The legislative commission has set an Oct. 12 deadline to vote on final House and Senate maps and has scheduled meetings every day until that date.

Once maps are adopted by the commission, staff will prepare the maps, accompanying reports and a legal memo that must be submitted to the Supreme Court by Oct. 15. 

Parties can file legal challenges or briefs on the final state House and Senate maps by Oct. 22, ahead of a 1 p.m. Oct. 25 hearing. 

Final legislative maps must be approved by the court by Dec. 29.

MORE: A new Colorado congressional map is before the Supreme Court. Now the legal battles begin.

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 7:03 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, to correct who would live in House District 22 under the new maps. Republican Rep. Colin Larson would live in House District 22 with Democratic Rep. Lisa Cutter. Both live in southwest Jefferson County. Larson is expected to run for Congress in 2022.

Thy Vo previously was a politics reporter for The Colorado Sun.

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....

Sandra Fish has covered government and politics in Iowa, Florida, New Mexico and Colorado. She was a full-time journalism instructor at the University of Colorado for eight years, and her work as appeared on CPR, KUNC, The Washington Post, Roll...