redistricting

Colorado redistricting commissioners, from left, Carlos Perez, Blanca O’Leary and Jolie Brawner, with more commissioners who joined remotely, discuss suggested changes to the preliminary draft maps with members from the public.

When it comes to redistricting Colorado’s state legislature and eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, we know the following:

The Democrats have hired lobbyists, paid political professionals, to work to shape the redistricting to favor the Democratic Party. The Democratic lobbyists are being paid with “dark money,” contributed by unknown persons, who want the Democrats to dominate future state legislatures and future Colorado delegations to the U.S. House of Representatives.

We know, too, the Republican Party has hired its own lobbyists, paid political professionals, to endeavor to mold the redistricting to favor the Republican Party. Similar to the Democrats, the Republican lobbyists are being remunerated with “dark money,” contributed by mystery donors, who want the Republicans to hold future sway over the state legislature and elect future Colorado members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Here’s what is troubling. We have yet to hear any news about high-powered lobbyists, paid for by either unknown “dark money” or publicly revealed “light money,” working for the adoption of “competitive districts” in Colorado. More “competitive districts” would help to end political party gerrymandering and put the state legislature and Colorado’s eight U.S. Representatives under the control of voters in state general elections.

It is distressing. Whether intentional or not, the news about redistricting is focused lately on the two major political parties wrangling over who is filing appropriate lobbying documents and thereby being properly transparent.

We would prefer the focus was on creating a maximum number of “competitive districts” so that the voters, and not the political parties, are in control of the partisan makeup of the state legislature and the Colorado delegation to the U.S. House.

The situation is emblematic of a larger problem in U.S. politics. Special interests, such as the two major political parties, are represented by paid professional lobbyists. The general electorate, however, which would profit from “competitive districts,” appears to be represented only by unpaid volunteers.

We do not object to the political parties legally lobbying the two state redistricting commissions. Although political party spokespersons will rarely admit it publicly, the parties want more “safe seats” for their party. Those are legislative districts or congressional districts drawn with so many party members in them that the district always votes for that party, no matter how the overall vote is going statewide.

Above all, the political parties must keep an eye out to make certain the other political party does not, through the redistricting process, gain a marked advantage in “safe seats.” That can give the other political party majority control of the state legislature or the state delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives, despite how voters are voting.

Hence both political parties need to have lobbyists watching to make certain the other political party does not gain an unfair advantage through biased redistricting.

The Democrats are lobbying for favorable redistricting through a non-profit group known as Fair Lines Colorado. The Republican lobby organization is named the Colorado Neighborhood Coalition.

Both Fair Lines Colorado, the Democratic lobby group, and the Colorado Neighborhood Coalition, the Republican lobby group, are registered as 501(c)(4) nonprofits and do not have to reveal the names of their contributors. That is what leads to the accusation they are controlled by “dark money.”

Redistricting is the process by which voting districts are created for the Colorado state legislature and Colorado’s eight person delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives. The process is initiated every ten years following the development of new population figures by the U.S. Census.

In 2018 Colorado voters approved creating two separate commissions to draw the new voting maps — one commission for the two houses of the Colorado state legislature and the other for the state delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C.

In our view, which favors the politics of moderation, the major task of both commissions, the state legislative commission and the congressional commission, is to reduce the number of safe Democratic and safe Republican districts and create as many “competitive districts,” or “swing districts,” as possible.

The important characteristic of “competitive districts” is that, from one election to the other, they swing back and forth between one political party or the other. This allows the voters, and not how the district lines are drawn, to decide the winner.

We hope the political hullaballoo over lobbying ethics charges will not distract the two redistricting commissions from keeping sharply focused on their main job. That job is creating as many “competitive districts” as possible so that voters, not the political parties, control the outcome of Colorado legislative and congressional elections.

Bob Loevy and Tom Cronin write on Colorado and national issues. Bob Loevy served on the 2010 Colorado Redistricting Commission for the Colorado legislature.

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