The Joint Colorado Independent Redistricting Commission held a public hearing about preliminary maps for the state’s now-eight congressional districts, 65 state House and 35 state Senate districts Saturday in Durango.
About 100 residents of La Plata and the surrounding counties were in attendance, with more joining over Zoom.
Amendments Y and Z, which were approved in 2018, transferred responsibility for redrawing congressional and legislative districts to two newly created independent commissions instead of the Colorado Legislature and politically appointed Reapportionment Commission.
The Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission and the Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission are each made up of 12 members – four unaffiliated, four Republicans, and four Democrats. Colorado is one of the first states to use independent commissions to redraw its districts.
According to a presentation prepared by the commissions, the preliminary maps were created based on criteria including population, contiguousness, preservation of communities of interest and maximizing the number of politically competitive districts.
Nonpartisan legislative staff members drew the preliminary redistricting maps and presented them to the two commissions in June. The commissioners are now holding hearings, such as the one on Saturday, on the preliminary maps around the state to gather public comments.
The legislative staff members will then use information gathered from public comments and census data to redraw the maps again and present them to the commissions. The commissions will then present the new maps at another round of public hearings before they are approved and submitted to the Colorado Supreme Court.
Lori Schell, who represents Durango and the 3rd Congressional District on the Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission said one of the main issues the commissions have been hearing about at public hearings is water rights, as well as which direction large swaths of the state should be split up.
“The big issue we’re right now considering is is it east-west or north-south,” she said.
While the idea was unpopular among those who chose to speak at the La Plata County hearing, commissioners said the idea of a congressional district spreading across the southern half of the state – much of which is comprised of agricultural land – was advanced at a hearing in Alamosa on Friday.
Several changes to the preliminary legislative redistricting maps drew heavy support at the Durango hearing.
On the preliminary map, Colorado House District 52 is comprised of Archuleta, La Plata and northeastern Montezuma counties. Several speakers objected to the idea of splitting up Montezuma County across two districts, while others supported the idea of adding San Juan County to District 52 because of its shared interests with La Plata County.
Similarly, a number of speakers objected to how the preliminary maps lump Archuleta County into Colorado Senate District 8 instead of District 7, which includes La Plata, Montezuma and San Juan counties.
Many who testified at the hearing suggested an alternative map – referred to those in attendance as the “competitive map” – worked on by Diane Mitsch Bush and James Iacino. It removes Fremont, Teller and half of Park County from the 3rd Congressional District, while adding Gilpin and parts of Boulder and Larimer counties. Proponents of the map suggested that this district would unify more of Colorado’s public lands and resort towns under the same district, while others denounced it as gerrymandering.
Another suggested change to the preliminary map’s version of the congressional district was to reincorporate the counties that make up the San Luis Valley, such as Saguache, Rio Grande and Alamosa counties, which are currently part of the 3rd Congressional District.
“The need for that population equality is really challenging,” Schell said. “We’re hearing different things in every meeting. ... We’re all taking copious amounts of notes, and I just need to take a day and sit down with everything we’ve heard.”