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Lawmakers kick off Colorado anti-gerrymandering campaign, with governor on board

May 17, 2018 Updated: May 17, 2018 at 9:09 am
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Senate President Kevin Grantham and House Speaker Crisanta Duran tap pens before referring measures on redistricting and reapportionment to the November ballot. Looking on are Kent Thiry of Fair Maps Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper, House Majority Leader Patrick Neville, Sen. Stephen Fenberg and Joe Zimlich of Fair Maps Colorado. (Photo by Marianne Goodland/Colorado Politics)

Senate President Kevin Grantham, a Republican, and House Speaker Crisanta Duran, a Democrat, signed resolutions Wednesday to ask voters to put more balance in how legislative and congressional districts are drawn.

In November Coloradans will decide if independent commissions should do that job or leave the task to politicians and judges after the census every 10 years. A tangle of partisanship and the courts marred the process in 2001 and 2011, but as a result Colorado's political districts are mostly ruled by political parties.

The parties decide the candidates who are almost certain to win, because of the mapmakers largely kept Democrats in districts with Democrats and the same with Republicans. Unaffiliated voters have no say redistricting or reapportionment.

The ballot questions will ask voters to create commissions made up evenly of Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters who rely on maps made by professional staff, rather continuing to allow majority parties and governors holding sway over that important job.

With voter approval, competitiveness would become primary considerations, weakening the role of political parties to hold office-holders to strict positions by the possibility of supporting a challenger in a party primary. A more moderate electorate could make parties pay for such a move in a competitive general election.

Gov. John Hickenlooper threw his support behind the ballot measures, too.

"Hopefully we'll create political districts that are fair, balanced and competitive," Hickenlooper said. "I think we will no shortage of people stand beside me - which I intend to do - to come out and support strongly and campaign to make sure this gets passed."

The group driving the ballot issue is Fair Maps Colorado, a bipartisan group led by Kent Thiry, the president and CEO of Denver-based DaVita HealthCare.

"Today we take a big step toward protecting one of the crown jewels of any state, which is the fairness and credibility of their elections, the fairness and credibility of their democracy, " Thiry said at the afternoon press conference at the Capitol.

He said the ballot initiatives, for the first time, fully engage unaffiliated voters, the largest bloc in the state. They will have equal representation on the commissions that draw the boundaries, the one that makes sure gerrymandering isn't reflected in the maps.

"This will not only allow everyone to have more of a real choice in who they vote for, but in addition gives elected officials a greater ability to compromise and govern," he said.

Duran and Grantham sponsored the resolutions, with Sen, Stephen Fenberg, D-Boulder, and House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock.

"I look forward to speaking to voters about the benefits of these measures," Duran said.

Besides competitiveness, the resolutions cite "fairness," she said."

"We don't talk about that as much as we should these days in politics," Duran said. "These measures will create commissions that will reflect Colorado's racial, ethic, gender and geographic diversity. They will eliminate any attempt to inhibit any citizens' right to vote."

Neville cited the proposal's "checks and balances" to prohibit partisan gamesmanship, the heightened standards to attract judicial review and protecting interests groups.

"I do believe the current hierarchies of communities of interest set by federal case law - with county and municipal splits, followed by ethnic, minority, agricultural groups - all remained intact. And with all that, I think these are good measures for the state of Colorado."

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