All kinds of concerns, from the geographical to the economic to the political, were on the table at the Colorado Reapportionment Commission public hearing Friday night at Fort Lewis College.
The commission is required by law to adjust the House and Senate district lines using 2010 federal census numbers to keep the population of each within a certain target average.
At issue in this part of the state is where to draw the lines between House Districts 58 and 59.
About 30 people from La Plata, Montezuma and Archuleta counties attended to share their views with the four commissioners. It was one of 25 meetings that will take place around the state during August.
Montezuma County Clerk Carol Tullis looked at it from a practical standpoint.
“Please keep our precincts whole if possible,” she said. “If you split precincts, it would be very costly to Montezuma County to have to buy new equipment, find a place for voters to go and get new election judges, particularly in Mancos. We’re a big area geographically, but population-wise, very small.”
The strongest reaction came in response to a suggestion to put Montezuma, Montrose, Hinsdale, Ouray and Dolores counties into a traditional rural-community, agriculture-oriented District 58 and the tourism-based La Plata, Archuleta, San Juan and eastern part of San Miguel Counties into a mountain-recreation-town district.
“I always wondered why Montezuma County was divided. It’s an artificial, forced divide,” said Jack McGroder, who works in economic development. “Splitting San Miguel County is the only natural divide in the area. We should accept the good Lord giving this to us ready-made.”
Opposition was strong, with arguments against having a district where the representative would have to drive over Red Mountain Pass to serve his constituents and the political restructuring of bringing strongly Democratic Telluride into the 59th and moving strongly Republican Cortez out.
“Everything north of Red Mountain flows north to Grand Junction,” said Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, who has to cross Red Mountain to serve the northern part of her Senate district. “Everything south flows to Durango, Farmington and Albuquerque. The Department of Local Affairs, director of Water Resources, state demographer and state economist all use Red Mountain Pass as the divide.”
Most agreed to support the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute Indian tribes in whatever they requested. The Southern Utes now are in the 59th District, and the Ute Mountain Utes are in the 58th.
“We are Colorado’s longest continuous residents and sister tribes,” Southern Ute Chairwoman Pearl Casias said. “But we each have our own unique lifestyle, our own distinct needs. We would like the final plan to allow each of the two Ute tribes to have its own representative.”
Roberts, who represented the 59th District in the House for four years, supported the tribal councils’ request.
“There’s a real benefit to having the two tribes in two House districts,” Roberts said. “They’re the only two reservations in Colorado, and the other representatives are so unfamiliar with them and the idea of tribal sovereignty. Having two voices to educate the other 63 about what it’s like, the distinct nature of the tribes and tribal sovereignty is invaluable.”