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Blanca Uzeta O'Leary (D), second from left, listens to public testimony on Tuesday, August 24, 2021, at the Eagle Pointe Recreation Center in Commerce City. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

The 12 members of Colorado’s Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission still have a lot of big decisions to make before their self-imposed deadline to send maps to the state Supreme Court on Tuesday. 

Commissioners met for more than 12 hours over the weekend and narrowed down the state Senate maps they will vote on Monday for final approval. Most of those maps look pretty similar, but diverge in how they divide some key areas, including the Roaring Fork Valley, Colorado Springs region, as well as Adams, Boulder and Larimer counties. 

The panel will consider four state Senate maps Monday. These maps include the second staff-drawn Senate map based on 2020 census data (read our coverage here), and three iterations of “coalition maps” drawn by Republican commissioners Hunter Barnett, Aislinn Kottwitz and ​Constance Hass; unaffiliated commissioners Kevin Fletcher and Samuel Greenidge; and Democrat Gary Horvath. The coalition maps are

Several commissioners wanted more time to study the differences in the four maps, various versions of which have been floating around for weeks but were only recently finalized. 

The legislative commission will gather at 6 p.m. Monday to continue voting on a final state Senate map. They can also begin voting Monday on a state House map. 

This is the second-to-last edition of Remapping Colorado 2021, a pop-up newsletter bringing you the latest on redistricting. Did this newsletter help you understand the process better? Send us feedback and support The Colorado Sun by becoming a member.

MORE: The votes to eliminate draft state Senate maps Sunday revealed some divisions among commissioners. 

During a second round of voting, five commissioners — Democrats Heather Barry, Robin Schepper and Blanca Uzeta O’Leary and unaffiliated voters Amber McReynolds and Samuel Greenidge — did not cast a vote to advance any of the four Senate maps now on the table. 

That group wanted to move forward with a map proposed by McReynolds. The only Democrat who didn’t vote for that map was Commissioner Gary Horvath. 

The commission also eliminated a Senate map submitted by the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy and Research Organization and Colorado Black Leadership Coalition, sponsored by Democratic commissioners Uzeta O’Leary and Schepper. 

Those dissenting commissioners raised concerns about whether other maps would lead to effective representation of communities of color, pointing to legal challenges to the congressional map now before the Colorado Supreme Court. 

Commissioner John Buckley, a Republican, called on his colleagues to consider changes to the maps to get more support from the panel’s Democrats. 

“My intention in this process is that Republicans and Democrats would come together in a spirit of compromise,” Buckley said. 

Legislative commissioner John Buckley III (center) 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)

EVEN MORE: After the Colorado Democratic Party sent an email to supporters last week accusing two commissioners of drawing maps to benefit Republicans, the commission has received a flurry of comments against the coalition maps.

Nearly 200 people wrote in urging the panel to reject maps drawn by Republican commissioners Aislinn Kottwitz and Hunter Barnett, after the party accused the two of “working with non-disclosing and unregistered GOP operatives lobbying to shove through a last-minute set of maps” to make them more favorable to Republicans. 

Kottwitz and Barnett are working with another Republican, two unaffiliated commissioners and a Democrat on their maps. 

According to party spokesman David Pourshoushtari, the email was referring to a complaint filed against the Colorado Neighborhood Coalition, a Republican-aligned group working on redistricting, and three of its representatives — Alan Philp, Greg Brophy and Frank McNulty — for allegedly failing to properly register or disclose lobbying activities.

That complaint, which is under investigation, doesn’t cite instances where Kottwitz or Barnett interacted personally with Philp, Brophy or McNulty. Pourshoushtari said there are a few other instances where Philp has apparently tried to influence commissioners. He cited tweets from Democratic-aligned lobbyist Curtis Hubbard that call out Philp for drawing a map for the Colorado Farm Bureau (Republican Commissioner Constance Hass sits on the Farm Bureau board) and for sending Kottwitz a single email back in July. 

Kottwitz and Barnett didn’t respond to a request for comment, but at Sunday’s meeting Kottwitz referred to the party’s email as she presented one of the coalition maps.

“I serve with an affiliation behind my name, but serve as one body for the greater good of all citizens of Colorado,” Kottwitz said. 

The feedback keeps coming

Most comments received by Colorado’s Independent Redistricting Commissions addressed both congressional and legislative maps. (Sandra Fish, special to The Colorado Sun)

As we mention above, there are still plenty of comments coming in to the two redistricting commissions as the legislative commission winds down its work this week and the Colorado Supreme Court hears arguments about the state’s new proposed congressional map.

Since convening, the commissions have received nearly 5,900 comments online through Monday morning. Nearly half of those addressed both commissions, while 39% were about the congressional map and about 13% about legislative maps.

The top five ZIP codes represented in the online comments are in Steamboat Springs, Broomfield, Fort Collins, and Larimer and Douglas counties.

(A shoutout to Julia Jackson from the commission’s nonpartisan staff for sending us a spreadsheet of these comments on Monday morning, after a long weekend of work and two more long nights ahead.) 

Oral arguments set for Tuesday 

The Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center is seen on Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Denver. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

Lawyers for the Colorado Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission and those representing seven other groups or individuals will make their cases to the Colorado Supreme Court Tuesday afternoon.

The court scheduled up to 90 minutes of arguments during a hearing that begins at 1 p.m. Commission lawyers will get 30 minutes of that, with an option to reserve 10 minutes for rebuttal.

Attorneys for the following will each get to make 10-minute presentations:

Those six groups were among 14 that filed briefs with the court last week. 

It’s worth noting that three Democratic groups appear to diverge in their desires for the congressional maps. 

Fair Lines Colorado’s brief said the 7th District was the only one it objected to. All On The Line Colorado, which is associated with the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, raised objections to the 8th District’s boundaries. And the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee objected to how the commission’s process unfolded in general, and asked the court to consider proposals in other court briefs.

Natividad’s objection was the only one filed by a Republican. One other filing in support of the plan was from several northern Colorado Hispanic religious groups, represented by Republican attorney Doug Benevento, the former No. 2 at the Environmental Protection Agency under President Donald Trump.

The arguments will be held in person, with COVID-19 precautions in place, and will also be streamed online.

MORE: Legal challenges pour in as Colorado Supreme Court is set to review new congressional map

Headlines: What else you should be reading

>> 2020 CENSUS: The U.S. Census Bureau will conduct a follow-up survey to gauge the accuracy of last year’s head count. The follow-up is aimed at gleaning how the once-a-decade survey may have undercounted certain populations, particularly people of color, but will now be delayed, raising questions about the usefulness of the critical survey, according to NPR’s Hansi Lo Wang

>> REDISTRICTING & PARTISANSHIP: The Washington Post talked to experts who predict redrawn congressional districts will result in even greater partisanship after the 2022 midterm elections. 

>> HOW TEXAS IS GETTING REDDER: The New York Times has some great interactive maps on how Texas lawmakers are ensuring the state’s congressional delegation will be even more Republican after redistricting is done.

A word of warning: Next week will be the final edition of Remapping Colorado 2021 after a wild, two-month-plus journey that, as the legislative commission’s attorney Richard Kaufman said Sunday night, unfolded under “really, really horrible time constraints.”

Meanwhile, let us know if you have any last-minute questions.

—Thy and Fish

Special to The Colorado Sun
Twitter: @fishnette

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

Twitter: @thyanhvo