Updated: March 9, 2011 at 12:00 am
A legislative committee tasked with drawing a redistricting map this year was handed a pretty direct message from El Paso residents Wednesday night — keep our county together.
“The less change the better, as far as we’re concerned,” former county commissioner Duncan Bremer told the committee.
The committee will provide the Legislature with recommendations for redrawing the boundaries of Colorado’s congressional districts, which means that the lines of the 5th District, which includes El Paso, Teller, Chafee, Lake, Park and Fremont Counties, is going to change.
The district is overpopulated by more than 7,000 Coloradans, and so must shrink. That’s why so many locals advocated keeping El Paso together.
Resident upon resident told the 10-member commission that the biggest reason to keep El Paso County whole is because it’s the only county in the country with five military bases, and that those bases are a fundamental part of the local economy.
“I would keep them consolidated because that’s the only way to make the point in Washington how important these bases are to the county,” said former congressional candidate and Democratic activist Jay Fawcett.
Other residents who spoke had different concerns. Several said the most important aspect to consider is economic and geographical similarities, and advocated keeping the Front Range corridor together. If the district population must be cut, several suggested cutting populations on the eastern plains or the mountain towns of the district.
“Our needs are very different up there. We’re in the mountains. We’re not in the big city,” said Teller County resident Carol Clark. She requested that her county be incorporated into Congressional District 3, which holds much of the Rockies and the West Slope, as well as Pueblo.
Manitou Springs Mayor Marc Snyder agreed with Clark’s sentiment.
“We have more in common with Pueblo than we do with folks in Chafee County and Lake County,” said Snyder.
Springs resident Marguerite Terze added, “We need to balance the interests of the communities more highly than just the lines.”
Only two El Paso County legislators were at the meeting, and both said it was productive.
“This was good. We’re making our way across the state, and it’s working,” said Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker. Scheffel is the only committee member whose district includes El Paso County.
Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, attended the meeting, and said afterward that he wholeheartedly agrees that the district needs to include all five of El Paso County’s military bases.