Politics

Huge Contrasts in Proposed 8th Congressional District

A home just off the highway outside Plattesville, and one of many newish apartment complexes in Thornton.
A home just off the highway outside Plattesville, and one of many newish apartment complexes in Thornton. Photos by Michael Roberts
Today, June 29, preliminary Colorado Legislative maps were presented to the Colorado Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission, following the Colorado Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission's release last week of a draft version showing its first plan for a new 8th Congressional District — an area that stretches from the northern part of the Denver metro area into Weld County.

The independent commission's proposal, which must pass through a lengthy vetting process before the new district's boundaries can go to the Colorado Supreme Court for approval by the end of the year, seems to be an effort to placate competing interests in both the Democratic and Republican parties. But our June 26 tour of select communities in the designated area — Brighton, Fort Lupton, Plattesville and Thornton — demonstrated wide ideological disparities that are likely to make representing everyone in this area an enormous challenge...if, of course, the map as drawn makes it to the final round.

On April 26, the U.S. Census Bureau confirmed what had long been suspected: Colorado's population gain over the past decade was so large that the state would be adding a new congressional district to its current seven. And although the process of determining the new district's location is supposed to be nonpartisan under the terms of Amendment Y, which the state's voters approved in 2018 (along with Amendment Z, which set up a Colorado Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission), political organizations immediately began jockeying for position.

"This is great news for Colorado and great news for Republicans," new Colorado Republican Party chair Kristi Burton Brown proclaimed after the announcement that the state would be getting an eighth seat. "Come 2022, Coloradans will send another strong, conservative leader to D.C. to fight for our state."


A different take was offered by All on the Line, a nonprofit affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. Rather than openly advocating for a progressive district that would be a slam dunk for any Dem, Marco Dorado, All on the Line's director for Colorado, publicly pushed for the district to be drawn along the Front Range — which just happens to be the state's most liberal area. And he used the population increases in that part of Colorado as justification. "The Front Range has seen so much growth over the past ten years," Dorado told Westword in April. "And there are many communities of interest that could be represented there."

This last phrase echoes the language in the Colorado Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission's mandate, which calls for districts to:
• Have equal population, justifying each variance, no matter how small, as required by the U.S. Constitution

• Be composed of contiguous geographic areas

• Comply with the federal "Voting Rights Act of 1965," as amended

• Preserve whole communities of interest and whole political subdivisions, such as counties, cities, and towns

• Be as compact as is reasonably possible

• Maximize the number of politically competitive districts
The resulting draft for the proposed 8th Congressional District does indeed encompass a fast-growing portion of the Front Range, as All on the Line had hoped. At its southern end, the district incorporates such burgeoning suburbs as Arvada, Westminster, Thornton and Broomfield. But it also stretches north to include Brighton, Fort Lupton, Plattesville, Milliken and Johnstown.

Our tour of the north metro suburbs offered ample evidence of the growth they've undergone, much of it as a result of gentrification. Thanks to the boom in RiNo and surrounding sections of Denver, many residents of neighborhoods such as Five Points, Cole and Whittier were priced out of their longtime homes and relocated to areas where housing and the cost of living generally are more affordable.

The result of this movement is clearly evident in Thornton, which is bursting with activity. New apartment complexes dot the landscape, as do scads of commercial developments. During our visit, the parking lots outside major retailers were crowded, as were the roadways, and signs of an economic comeback from the COVID-19 pandemic were as plentiful as the public artwork that give the community an increasingly cosmopolitan feel.


click to enlarge A sculpture near Thornton City Hall and a spruced-up utility box declaring the suburb to be a "chocolate city." - PHOTOS BY MICHAEL ROBERTS
A sculpture near Thornton City Hall and a spruced-up utility box declaring the suburb to be a "chocolate city."
Photos by Michael Roberts
A similar kind of expansion is taking place in Brighton, where open fields and agricultural businesses are juxtaposed with chain stores, fast-food restaurants and new development projects. But the conservatism of many residents was also on display.

As we approached Brighton, a giant truck covered with stickers celebrating the genius of former President Donald Trump roared past shortly before we encountered a billboard announcing that "There IS Evidence for GOD!" — a message that was amplified by a photo of a Caucasian baby whose cuteness was clearly intended to serve as an argument against abortion.

click to enlarge Clockwise from upper left: A typical billboard outside Brighton; a symbol of Adams County's agricultural roots near Riverdale Regional Park; a mural on the new Family Dollar store in Fort Lupton; and the signage welcoming travelers to Plattesville. - PHOTOS BY MICHAEL ROBERTS
Clockwise from upper left: A typical billboard outside Brighton; a symbol of Adams County's agricultural roots near Riverdale Regional Park; a mural on the new Family Dollar store in Fort Lupton; and the signage welcoming travelers to Plattesville.
Photos by Michael Roberts
The number of homes and businesses in Brighton with American flags proudly flying was impressive — but the percentages were even higher in Fort Lupton. When we stopped by, a big event was taking place at a Family Dollar store with a patriotic mural on one side (a giant pioneer and a huge bald eagle flank the likeness of a Native American with arms crossed) and Disney characters on the other.

In Plattesville, a town of nearly 3,000 (as of 2019) across the Weld County line, displays of the Stars and Stripes were frequently accompanied by Trump-Pence signs that have clearly gone unmolested for months.

Brighton, Fort Lupton and Plattesville all boast a strong Latinx influence, and the signage outside many of the restaurants and businesses in these communities is in Spanish. That could skew where this proposed district might lean.

The majority of the population in the proposed 8th lies in metro Denver, which leans left, while the politics in the less crowded north is epitomized by a group that's been advocating for Weld County to secede from Colorado and join the State of Wyoming.

Will this dynamic be kind to candidates who attempt to straddle progressive and conservative viewpoints? Or will Democrats win, leaving those on the far right to feel angry and disenfranchised? Both of these prospects are possible in what could become Colorado's 8th Congressional District.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts