Three years ago, Colorado voters approved the first major overhaul to the decennial redistricting process — redrawing congressional and legislative district boundaries — in a half century.
With the new maps submitted to the state Supreme Court for review, it is apparent that Coloradans made the right choice.
More than the maps themselves, the process marked a big win for Colorado. It worked so well I would not be surprised to see several other states take a similar approach before 2030.
Plenty of Democrats and Republicans with vested interests surely disagree with this conclusion. Republicans bemoan maps that leave almost no path to a majority in either the state House or state Senate. Democrats decry a likely downtick in their comfortable margins in either chamber.
Similarly, Democrats seem ill-content with a relatively safe hold on only half the state’s eight congressional seats; yet Republicans see the only truly competitive seat tilting toward a Democratic 5-3 advantage.
The loudest complaints come from legislators and candidates drawn into or out of districts, depending on your perspective. The steam coming out of state Sen. Kerry Donovan’s ears could prove to be a whole new source of alternative energy for the state.
Both sides crying foul is the best indicator of a fair redistricting process.
I should know, I did a lot of screaming and yelling 10 years ago. That Democratic members of the commission never registered much of a complaint should have been a good indicator how well those maps would treat them for the subsequent decade. To prove the point, more than a few Democrats recently vocalized their preference for the past process that put them in control.
Precisely because Democrats gerrymandered the maps so well 10 years ago a regression should be expected. Yes, this state is a blue state. But not so blue that the current 20(D)-15(R) state Senate or 41(D)-24(R) state House reflect that partisan breakdown of the state. Every statewide race over the past two election cycles demonstrated a much closer divide.
As for Republicans, the truth is that no map at any level could cure what ails the state GOP. The have been hemorrhaging party registration for years while contemporaneously alienating unaffiliated voters.
They spend so much time putting out their fires with gasoline, they may as well adopt David Bowie’s “Cat People” as the official party anthem at the next state assembly. It would be a better use of their time than debating kamikaze candidate nominating procedures.
As an unaffiliated voter the bipartisan gnashing of teeth is the best, most balanced outcome I could have hoped for when these commissions embarked.
Ideally I would love to see the partisan duopoly collapse and give rise to better alternatives; yet that is unlikely while minor parties such as Libertarians and Greens fail to mount competitive challenges and campaign finance regimes kneecap unaffiliated candidates. Consequently, creating more conflict between Democrats and Republicans for our votes is the best practical solution.
More competitive districts make for more responsive candidates. More competitive chambers make more representative policy choices.
Despite the good work of both commissions, the Colorado Supreme Court will be inundated with challenges over the next few weeks. A myriad of parties will plead for changes. Hopefully, the court will not be swayed.
As it turns out, and as the commissioners learned through experience, pleasing everyone all the time — or, for that matter, maximizing every constitutional criterion — is impossible. That is even more true when anything less than everything is not enough for two opposing sides.
With that in mind, the new commissions and the new process seem to have hit upon an excellent equilibrium. The din from both sides seems to have reached an equilibrium where they cancel each other. That is how we know the maps are fair. That is how we know Colorado won.
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq
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