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Students walk to and from classes on the campus of the University of Colorado, in Boulder, Colo., Monday April 20, 2015. The University of Colorado is open to the public on this 4/20 marijuana holiday for the first time in three years. The university has blocked public access in recent years in an effort to snuff mass smokeouts to mark the unofficial marijuana celebration. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

State lawmakers want to change the makeup of the board overseeing the University of Colorado system to make sure that residents of the newly drawn 8th Congressional District have adequate representation on the panel.

To do that, the legislature next year will likely eliminate one of two at-large seats on the nine-member Board of Regents to make room for an 8th District seat based in the north Denver metro area. 

The Colorado Supreme Court approved a new state congressional map earlier this month with a new 8th District based in the northern Denver suburbs and stretching along U.S. 85 into Greeley, the result of booming population growth over the past decade. It means greater representation for Colorado in the U.S. House, and will likely spark a heated race to decide who will represent the district based in the north metro suburbs for the first time. 

But since members of the Board of Regents are elected based on Colorado’s congressional districts, that creates a conundrum.

Currently, seven of the nine members of the Board of Regents are elected from districts based on the seven-district congressional map, but state law doesn’t change the board automatically after redistricting. Democratic lawmakers are looking to pass a bill early next year to change the board’s make-up in time for the November 2022 election. 

“My intention is to make it so every congressional district has a seat,” said Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat. 

Here’s a look at what needs to happen: 

The state legislature needs to pass a bill 

The state constitution calls for a nine-member Board of Regents, with each member serving a six-year term. Current state law requires members be elected from each of the state’s seven congressional districts, with two at-large seats. 

The law doesn’t set a process for how the board should change when a new congressional district is created. Lawmakers could leave the board as is, but that would deprive 8th District residents of the kind of representation voters in other congressional districts have, Fenberg said.  

“It’s legal,” he said. “I just think it’d be hard to justify.” 

State lawmakers will likely follow the precedent set in 2001, when Colorado created a 7th Congressional District. The General Assembly passed a law eliminating one of the panel’s three at-large seats to create a new 7th District seat. 

The current representative for one of the board’s two at-large seats, Republican Heidi Ganahl, is running for governor. Ganahl’s term ends in 2023, meaning lawmakers don’t have to worry about affecting an incumbent as they create the new district. 

A bill to change the board’s makeup hasn’t been drafted yet. But lawmakers will have to take action early in the 2022 legislative session, which convenes on Jan. 12, to give parties time for the process of nominating candidates to the new district seat in the late winter or early spring.

This may not be the last time lawmakers are faced with deciding whether to create a new Board of Regents district as Colorado’s population continues to grow, Fenberg added. “Eventually, theoretically, we’ll face this problem again.” 

Four open seats in 2022

Four seats on the Board of Regents will be open next year due to term limits or because incumbents have announced plans to step down. 

Democrat Jack Kroll, who represents the 1st Congressional District, announced earlier this year that he would not pursue reelection in order to spend more time with his family. 

So far, four candidates have filed to run for Kroll’s seat:

  • Scott Mangino, a Denver Democrat and tech professional
  • Johnnie Nguyen, a Denver Democrat and CU Law grad. Nguyen has been endorsed by House Speaker Alec Garnett and other Democratic state lawmakers
  • Wanda James, a Denver Democrat, marijuana entrepreneur and campaign manager for Gov. Jared Polis when he ran for Congress in 2008. James has been endorsed by U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, a Lafayette Democrat and former CU regent, and former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb
  • Benjamin Pope, a Denver Democrat

The 5th Congressional District seat is also up for grabs after Colorado Springs Republican incumbent Chance Hill announced his resignation last week. In a Nov. 19 Facebook post, Hill said he is taking a job out of state to give his family better stability. 

“The recent passing of my mother (in August) and my father (in September) has brought the importance of putting family first into even sharper relief for me,” Hill wrote. 

Members of the board are unpaid. 

Polis will appoint someone to fill the vacant seat and that person will serve until a new regent is elected in November 2022. Applications for the appointment must be submitted by Dec. 6.

The person elected to the seat will serve out the rest of Hill’s term ending in 2025.

Ganahl’s seat, which is poised to become the 8th District seat, is also up for grabs.

And then there’s the 4th District seat, which is also open next year as Sue Sharkey, a Republican, is term-limited.

No candidates have filed to run for the 4th and 5th District seats so far. 

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