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Littwin: Did Colorado Democrats give up too much with redistricting?

The answer is no. Mostly. Despite a disappointing-to-Dems legislative map. Despite the U.S. Senate’s refusal to counter voter suppression laws and gerrymandering.

Did Colorado Democrats who signed on to and voted for Amendments Y and Z in 2018 — ordering the formation of independent redistricting commissions — do the right thing in giving up their power to draw their own congressional and legislative lines for the coming decade?

The answer is yes, although maybe not an unqualified yes, and even though some Democrats are lamenting their decision. As one Democratic state lawmaker put it to the Sun’s Jesse Paul a few months back, “We’re (expletive) idiots.” 

It was the right thing even as Republicans are passing voter suppression laws in states across the country.

It was the right thing even as gerrymandering proliferates in mostly red states but also in some very blue states.

Mike Littwin

It was right — but just barely — given that Senate Democrats (thank you, Joe Manchin) will likely be unable to pass an election reform law that would put the rest of the country more in line with Colorado. Senate Democrats, who have 50 votes and Kamala Harris’ tiebreaker, would need, at minimum, to carve out a voting rights exception to the filibuster rule in order pass an election reform bill that would address voter suppression/discrimination, liberalize access to voting and make gerrymandering far more difficult. It has already been voted on once in the Senate, with the expected results. 

But as we know, West Virginia’s Manchin insists he won’t touch the filibuster, regardless of the fact that not passing election reform may doom his party in 2022. And Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is, well, not exactly telling. 

In boxing, they call this throwing in the towel, unless, of course, you want to go all Trump and insist the fight has been fixed. (Funny/sad note from Virginia, where the Republican candidate for governor, Glenn Youngkin, has pulled slightly ahead of Democrat Terry McAuliffe in the polls in Tuesday’s tossup election. As I write this Tuesday morning, some Republicans are even now preparing to claim voter fraud should Youngkin, who is supported by Donald Trump, lose.) 

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And so, Colorado, with a clear Democratic edge these days — in 2020, Biden beat Trump by 13 points, and John Hickenlooper beat Cory Gardner by 11, while Democrats won convincing majorities in both houses of the legislature — gets a map that, with one added seat because of population growth, could leave the state with a possible 4-4 district split, although I wouldn’t be surprised if after next November, Dems have a 5-3 advantage. The worst thing about the map is that it ultimately protected all seven incumbents, with the only tossup in the newly created 8th Congressional District.

But the hard fact is that the only way to make progress in areas like voting rights is for the party in power to cede some of that power. Would Republicans do the same? They haven’t in nearly all the states they control. And I doubt they would do so if they were in power in Colorado. I’ll quote longtime GOP pol Greg Brophy, who said Republicans didn’t deserve the commission’s map. 

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And you could make the case, as some Latino groups did in arguing before the state Supreme Court, that the redistricting maps short-changed Latino influence in the state, which could be interpreted as discriminatory. I thought the Latino advocacy groups had a strong case, but I wasn’t surprised when the Supreme Court rejected it. 

Of course, Colorado redistricting doesn’t concern only Coloradans. In our never-ending election cycle, the focus has long been on 2022, in which Dems might well lose their slim majorities in both the U.S. Senate and the House. The party in power nearly always loses seats in the midterms, and Democrats can hardly stand to lose any. You may remember Barack Obama’s infamous midterm shellacking. Will 2022 be a repeat?

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

There’s a thought — or at least hope — among Democrats that 2022 could be a different kind of off year  because of the Trump factor. Most former presidents fade away. Trump is obviously not like most former presidents or, for that matter, like any former president.

He may be the most divisive politician in the country, but he’s already running hard, it seems, for another term in 2024. And I see way-too-early predictions showing how he just might be re-elected. 

All of that is subject to change, of course, but what has to depress Democrats in Virginia — where Joe Biden beat Trump by 10 points last year — is that Trump’s toxic presence and the constant revelations about the Jan. 6 insurrection seem to be having little impact on the governor’s race. It’s not just a governor’s race, it will also be seen as a key indicator for the midterms and one which looked, a few months ago, as if McAuliffe would win easily.

You can put part of McAuliffe’s problems down to Joe Biden’s cratering voter approval numbers. You can put part of it down to the success Youngkin has had in making race theory — an obscure-until-2021, higher-academic subject not taught in Virginia public schools or, as far I know, any public schools — the most critical issue in the tossup contest.

You can also put part of it down to Manchin and Sinema, who could have given McAuliffe a huge lift if they had agreed to pass Biden’s now $1.75 trillion climate-change, safety-net package in time to make a difference in the election. And you can put it down to the fact that Democrats seem not to have convinced enough voters that Trump’s Big Lie, now an accepted orthodoxy in the Republican Party, is a real threat to American democracy.

And so, in response, Colorado took a responsible step forward. And if the commission-drawn congressional map isn’t everything Democrats hoped for, it was at least a vote for fairness. And is that really (expletive) idiotic? I guess it depends on whether the voters even notice.


Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.


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