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The latest draft of Colorado’s district map could become the final version

Preliminary House and Senate redistricting maps are seen on Aug. 24, 2021, at the Eagle Pointe Recreation Center in Commerce City. The Colorado Independent Congressional and Legislative Redistricting Commissions draw Colorado's legislative districts for 2021. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)
A supermajority of commissioners must agree on a final map by Sept. 28, or the draft released Thursday will be one step closer to being final

Colorado’s newest U.S. House district would be the state’s most competitive – and the most Hispanic – under the latest congressional map draft released Thursday.

The map would avoid putting any of the state’s seven incumbent House members in the same district. It would create three safe Republican districts, three safe Democratic districts, a 7th Congressional District that leans Democratic and a competitive 8th District that would be 38.5% Hispanic. Colorado received an eighth congressional district this year because of its population boom over the past decade.

“​​I believe the 8th Congressional District will be the battleground for the Latino population ... to elect a member of their choice,” said Scott Martinez, a Democratic attorney who has worked on past redistricting processes.

The map released Thursday could ultimately be the one that’s sent to the Colorado Supreme Court on Oct. 1 for final approval. If eight commissioners – a supermajority – can’t agree on a map by Sept. 28, the final staff-drawn proposal, drawn by nonpartisan staff members, will be automatically sent to the court. The court could choose to adopt that as the final map, or send it back to the commission with instructions for changes.

The newest map follows the configuration of the last draft map proposal released earlier this month with some minor modifications. It continues to include a sweeping L-shaped 3rd Congressional District that would group most of the Western Slope with southern Colorado, a prospect that drew fire from some southern Democrats, including many who complained that it would give Republicans an unfair advantage.

Commissioners have meetings scheduled for Friday, Saturday, Monday and Tuesday where they can vote to adopt a final plan.

“If the commissioners cannot agree on the map ... that map carries the day, and that becomes our political reality for the next 10 years,” said Tyler Sandberg, a GOP consultant and co-founder of the conservative education advocacy group Ready Colorado. “The rubber meets the road today.”

The new map includes these changes from the last draft:

  • All of Greeley and Commerce City would be in the proposed 8th Congressional District
  • Broomfield would be in the proposed 7th Congressional District, along with most of Jefferson County.
  • Clear Creek and Gilpin counties would be included in the proposed 2nd District, along with high country counties Routt, Jackson, Grand, Summit, Boulder and most of Larimer.
  • The proposed 3rd Congressional District would keep Roaring Fork Valley whole, including the towns of Aspen, Basalt, Carbondale, El Jebel, Glenwood Springs and Snowmass Village. A larger portion of southwest Eagle County is included in this version of the district.
  • Crowley County would be grouped with the Eastern Plains in the 4th Congressional District, along with most of Douglas County and eastern parts of El Paso, Arapahoe and Adams counties. It also would include parts of Larimer County to meet population requirements, primarily the cities of Loveland and Wellington.

Curtis Hubbard, a lobbyist for the Democratic group Fair Lines Colorado, praised a change in the latest draft that would put all of Greeley in the new 8th District.

“To their credit, the staff’s plan didn’t abandon a major concentration of Latino voters in Greeley to a district where their interests would be diluted,” Hubbard said. However, he questioned the logic behind grouping Jefferson County with Fremont County in the 7th District.

Although many advocacy groups have yet to weigh in publicly, they’re watching carefully to see if the districts reflect the state’s growing Latino communities.

Martinez, the Democratic attorney, said he was disappointed the map did not include a second district with a Hispanic population higher than 30%. The Hispanic population of the proposed 1st Congressional District would be 27.8% and 25.7% in the proposed 3rd District.

The Campaign Legal Center, a national nonprofit, criticized an earlier and similar map, saying it would dilute the power of Latino voters in southern Colorado by including them in the same district as white voters who have shown to vote against their interests.

Alex Apodaca-Cobell, a lobbyist for the Colorado Latino Leadership Advocacy and Research Organization, echoed those concerns about vote dilution in the 3rd District.

The map also has a similar partisan balance as the previous draft. And both Democrats and Republicans had criticisms of how they would fare under the proposal.

The Colorado Democratic Party said the map “fails to meet the will” of Colorado voters.

“We are concerned that the staff isn’t trying to make Republican-leaning districts more competitive,” said chairperson Morgan Carroll, who disputed the metrics used by the commission to measure competitiveness. “This map is providing Republicans with unearned advantages that don’t reflect where Colorado leans politically or deliver effective representation.”

Under the latest map, the proposed 7th District would have a 7 percentage point advantage for Democrats compared with a 6 percentage point advantage in the previous draft.

Sandberg argued the 7th District under the latest map proposal, home to Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Arvada, is no longer competitive.

“Anything more than two or three points on either side is really not competitive in our fractious politics, where swing voters are a shrinking population,” Sandberg said.

The 3rd Congressional District, which is represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, would lean solidly GOP under the latest proposal. Republicans would have a 9 percentage point advantage under the draft.

The congressional commission measures competitiveness by averaging results of eight statewide races between 2016 and 2020. But they haven’t defined what is considered competitive.

Meanwhile, the 8th District would be more competitive than the last map, with a scant 1.3 percentage point advantage for Democrats.

“But (the 8th District) as currently drawn could be a barn burner of a race,” Sandberg said.

The commission has been deeply divided in recent weeks about what direction to take. Recent commission meetings have been tense and run for hours, often with few decisions being made.

Toward the end of a nearly eight-hour meeting Monday, Commissioner Bill Leone, a Westminster Republican, accused Commissioner Simon Tafoya, a Denver Democrat, of drawing a map that is the “epitome of partisan gerrymandering,” prompting both men to speak over each other while the panel’s chairperson pleaded for calm.

Commissioner Danny Moore, a Republican from Centennial, made an emotional plea at the start of a meeting Wednesday.

“I was offended by the accusation, and believe that these words really erode the public trust that we’ve all worked so hard to build,” Moore said.

At the meeting on Monday, Jeremiah Barry, a nonpartisan staff attorney, also cautioned congressional redistricting commissioners against inaction, warning that without their input, staff members were likely to draw a map that left everyone unhappy. For instance, the panel hasn’t defined what makes a district competitive.

“I am convinced that if we have to do a third staff plan on our own, it won’t matter where we start,” Barry said. “There will be five people who won’t like that.”

Commissioners didn’t agree on any significant direction ahead of the release of the latest map, although they approved some motions to keep Denver, the Roaring Fork Valley and Colorado Springs and its military bases whole.

Some commissioners are optimistic the panel, after months of work and late-night meetings, can come together in the 11th hour. Moore reminded his colleagues Wednesday that they will all need to make compromises.

“No matter what map we draw, it’s not going to be perfect, and there are going to be pieces of things that we don’t like and things that we do like,” Moore said.

What’s next

The congressional commission has several meetings scheduled:

  • Friday at 2 p.m. to get a briefing on the new map and to consider map requests or amendments from commissioners that could potentially be voted upon on Monday or Tuesday.
  • From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday to discuss and potentially vote on previous maps or offer more map amendments.
  • At 2 p.m. Monday to discuss proposed maps and potentially adopt one.
  • At 6 p.m. Tuesday to potentially approve a final map, the last day for the commission to do so.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.