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Drawing new congressional district lines

Brief by Central Staff

Politics – September 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

After every census, states learn how many representatives they will have in Congress, based on population. Colorado’s population has been growing, so it will go from six to seven seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

That decision is made in Washington. The decision about how the state will be divided into seven congressional districts will be made in Denver by the General Assembly — although those boundaries are often challenged in federal court after they’re adopted.

There are some rules. District populations must be equal — about 614,000 in Colorado’s case. Districts should avoid racial discrimination, respect municipal and county boundaries, and preserve communities of interest.

After the 1990 Census, Central Colorado and the San Luis Valley were generally in the Third District. (The only exception was most of Frémont County, in the Fifth District with Colorado Springs.)

The Third also comprised the Western Slope and extended east to include Pueblo County.

It struck us as a reasonable division. It spanned the Divide, thereby insuring that no one group of water interests prevailed. Plus, there were only two real cities in the district — Pueblo and Grand Junction — and neither was big enough to dominate the district, thereby insuring that rural voices got heard.

We recall that in the 1980s, Chaffee County was in the Fifth District with Colorado Springs — and since that’s where the vast majority of the votes were, that’s who got the attention from Rep. Ken Kramer and then Rep. Joel Hefley.

Now it’s time to redraw the lines and add a seventh district. Action 22, an organization that lobbies for southern Colorado in the same way that Club 20 advocates Western Slope interests, looked at two proposals — and couldn’t agree on supporting either one.

Option 1 would pretty much preserve the current Third District, but put Chaffee, Park, and all of Frémont in with Colorado Springs.

Option 2 would essentially create a district from all Arkansas River drainage, plus the San Luis Valley. The exceptions: Only southern El Paso County would be in this district, and Lake County would be with the Western Slope and Larimer County.

We can’t find much to like in either. As Chaffee residents, we wouldn’t be well served with Option 1, a district dominated by Colorado Springs. And given the monolithic Republican nature of the Springs, it wouldn’t be politically competitive either.

Option 2 should make for a competitive district, perhaps, but we have more in common with Gunnison County than with Prowers or Baca County, despite the Continental Divide.

So we understand why Action 22 couldn’t agree on an option — we don’t like either of them, either. Maybe we’ll get ambitious and draw our own proposal: one that would preserve Central Colorado and the San Luis Valley as an entity.