DENVER – Goodbye, Telluride. Hello, Gunnison.
The Colorado Reapportionment Commission abandoned its controversial plan to pair Durango and Telluride in the same state House district Tuesday. Instead, the even farther-away town of Gunnison will join Durango in House District 59.
The maneuver was part of a sweeping Democratic stroke that could imperil Republican political fortunes across the state for the next decade.
The 11-person commission had been evenly balanced, with five Democrats, five Republicans and an unaffiliated chairman, Mario Carrera. But in a series of votes, Carrera sided with the Democrats on a map that makes it much harder for Republicans to win elections to the Legislature.
“This is a politically vindictive map,” said Mario Nicolais, a Republican member of the commission. “It puts our leadership for Republicans all into districts together.”
The vote means big changes for Southwest Colorado’s House districts. Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, will say goodbye to a trove of conservative voters in Montezuma County. Instead, he will have to traverse Red Mountain Pass to get to his new town of Gunnison, which has more moderate to liberal voters.
Brown’s new district also includes Lake City, a town at the foot of Slumgullion Pass, one of the steepest in Colorado.
Montezuma County will join the Montrose-based district of Republican Rep. Don Coram.
Republicans had tried to float a last-minute plan that also would have created geographical challenges by pairing Archuleta County with counties to the north, beyond other treacherous passes such as Wolf Creek and Slumgullion.
Several senior Republicans find themselves in districts with other Republican incumbents, and they will either have to quit or face a primary election against their allies.
House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument, now shares a district with Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan.
Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman will have to face Sen. Keith King, the GOP’s go-to guy on education, in a new Colorado Springs district.
Cadman flung open a door and stormed out of the meeting after the vote.
Democrats said they were just following directions from the state Supreme Court, which rejected the commission’s earlier plan on the grounds that it split too many counties.
Bob Loevy, a Colorado College professor who served on the commission as a Republican, said he was “disappointed but not surprised.”
“I’ve studied the Reapportionment Commission. One of the flaws is it comes down to who has six votes on the last day, and that is what happened again,” Loevy said.
In retrospect, Loevy said, Republicans should have contented themselves with the commission’s first plan, adopted on a bipartisan vote in September.
But Republicans contested the map at the Supreme Court, and they won their argument when the court overturned the map.
“It’s so surprising to me that the way the commission has been set up that Democrats can turn that into a total domination of the process,” Loevy said.
Loevy blamed the process and not Democratic politicians for doing what the law allows them to do by submitting a last-minute map, he said.
Nicolais said Democrats “ambushed” Republicans by floating a decoy map last week and waiting until Sunday to file their real plan, even though the deadline for maps was supposed to be last Wednesday.
Former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, a Democratic commissioner, rejected the charge.
“Ambush? This game is going on in public. There’s no ambush,” Webb said.
Nicolais also filed a late map that rearranged the Four Corners, putting La Plata and Montezuma counties – and the two Ute Indian reservations – in the same district. Democrats and Carrera voted to reject that plan.
Southwest Colorado’s state Senate district remains the same, with the twin anchors of Durango and Montrose.