On April 26, the U.S. Census Bureau confirmed what has long been suspected: Colorado's population gain over the past decade has qualified the state for a new congressional district, its eighth. And although the process of determining where that district will be located is supposed to be nonpartisan, political organizations are already jockeying for position in an effort to tilt the process to their advantage before November 2022, when the district's first representative will be elected.
Take Kristi Burton Brown, who was chosen late last month as the new chair of the Colorado Republican Party. In response to the announcement, she released a statement that portrays the new seat as a gift to the GOP.
"This is great news for Colorado and great news for Republicans," Brown maintains. "Come 2022, Coloradans will send another strong, conservative leader to D.C. to fight for our state. Colorado Democrats are solely focused on an extreme agenda that prioritizes raising taxes, packing the Supreme Court, and destroying our healthcare system — meanwhile, Colorado Republicans are presenting an agenda that aims to lower taxes, protect our environment, and support our students and parents."
Democrats, meanwhile, are taking a more subtle approach, as epitomized by the comments of Marco Dorado, the Colorado state director for the national organization All on the Line, a nonprofit affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. Rather than openly advocating for a progressive district that will be a slam dunk for any Dem, Dorado is instead pushing for the district to be drawn along the Front Range — which just happens to be the state's most liberal area. And he uses the population increases in that part of Colorado as justification.
"The Front Range has seen so much growth over the past ten years," says Dorado, a DACA recipient and strong supporter of the DREAM Act who's been previously profiled in this space. (Disclosure: Dorado is a longtime family friend.) "And there are many communities of interest that could be represented there."
Dorado doesn't use the phrase "communities of interest" at random. The term is part of amendments Y and Z, 2018 measures that created the Colorado Independent Redistricting Commissions, which are charged with making the redistricting process as equitable as possible. According to the measures, "'community of interest' means any group in Colorado that shares one or more substantial interests that may be the subject of federal [or state] legislative action, is composed of a reasonably proximate population, and thus should be considered for inclusion within a single district for purposes of ensuring its fair and effective representation."
This philosophy extends to the separate congressional and legislative commissions created by Y and Z, which each have twelve members — four Democrats, four Republicans and four unaffiliated panelists.
All on the Line strikes a similar public posture. "Our campaign is focused on making sure that this redistricting process is fair, transparent, and prioritizes public participation as it relates to where this district should go," Dorado continues. "We're really working to make sure that people in the communities across the state, and across the Front Range, are able to make their voices heard about how they would like to be represented and take an opportunity to participate."
The latest U.S. Census Bureau data is general rather than specific at this point. But stats in our April 2019 post about population growth in the state confirm the huge bump experienced along Colorado's urban corridor. Figures for all 64 counties in the state from April 1, 2010, through July 1, 2018, showed that the state's population rose by more than 388,000 people over that span, with 116,000 of the new residents settling in the City and County of Denver.
That's not all. According to the bureau, the Denver-Aurora-Lakewood metro area consists of ten counties — Adams, Arapahoe, Broomfield, Clear Creek, Denver, Douglas, Elbert, Gilpin, Jefferson and Park — and between 2010 and 2018, each of these experienced substantial growth.
Here are the county population numbers on July 1, 2018, followed by the numerical increase since 2010:
Adams: 511,868, up 70,265
Arapahoe: 651,215, up 79,212
Broomfield: 69,267, up 13,378
Clear Creek: 9,605, up 517
Denver: 716,492, up 116,334
Douglas: 342,776, up 57,311
Elbert: 26,282, up 3,196
Gilpin: 6,121, up 680
Jefferson: 580,233, up 45,690
Park: 18,556, up 2,350
Of these counties, two — Douglas and Elbert — voted for former president Donald Trump in the November 2020 election. And El Paso, the state's largest conservative county, has grown plenty, too, gaining nearly 90,000 new residents between 2010 and 2018. But during that period, the population actually fell in fifteen strongly Republican Colorado counties: Baca, Bent, Conejos, Hinsdale, Kiowa, Kit Carson, Las Animas, Logan, Moffat, Otero, Phillips, Prowers, Rio Blanco, Rio Grande and Yuma.
The commissions will be balancing the numbers and interests in the months to come. In the meantime, Dorado points out that they've "set up a very robust mechanism to accept public comment, and we're currently in a public-comment period." People can share their thoughts with the congressional committee until May 13 and the legislative committee through May 29. The comment form is accessible here, and this link outlines more opportunities for public engagement, of which there will be many even after May. Each commission is constitutionally required to hold 21 public hearings across the state, for a total of 42, before maps are submitted to the Colorado Supreme Court for its approval.
Those maps were originally supposed to reach the Supremes in September, but because of census delays related to COVID-19, the dates are "in limbo," Dorado says. "But the final deadlines for the court are December 15 for the congressional committee and December 29 for the legislative committee."
Until then, there'll be plenty of infighting — though a lot of it will take place behind the scenes.
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