Politics

Why Commerce City Could Be Ground Zero in Redistricting Battle

Commerce City could become a battleground in the redistricting fight.
Commerce City could become a battleground in the redistricting fight. YouTube
Colorado's growth over the past ten years has earned the state a new congressional district — its eighth. The preliminary map for that district, created by the Colorado Independent Redistricting Commissions and released in late June, encompasses an area of striking contrasts. Stretching from the northern part of metro Denver into Weld County, it includes communities that skew liberal and others in the ultra-conservative camp.

It also boasts a large number of Latino residents, a group that's the focus of All on the Line, a national nonprofit affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. According to Marco Dorado, All on the Line's Colorado state director, "One of the things we've been hearing in many of the hearings that have been held so far is that the preliminary map falls short of really ensuring that the Latino community of interest is kept whole in the proposed 8th District."

The main reason, he adds, is that "Commerce City is basically split up between the 8th District and the 4th."

Dorado's use of the term "community of interest" is purposeful. The language is part of amendments Y and Z, successful 2018 ballot measures that created the Colorado Independent Redistricting Commissions, whose two panels — one congressional, one legislative — are charged with making the redistricting process as equitable as possible. According to the amendments, "'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."

Here are the Colorado Independent Redistricting Commissions' six main charges for redistricting:
• 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
Making the 8th politically competitive is of peak importance for Kristi Burton Brown, the recently elected chair of the Colorado Republican Party. After the new district was confirmed in April, she released a statement contending that it was "great news for Colorado and great news for Republicans. Come 2022, Coloradans will send another strong, conservative leader to D.C. to fight for our state."

In contrast, Dorado believes that the commissions' bullet points are listed in descending order of significance, making political competitiveness its lowest priority. Moreover, he feels that slicing up Commerce City runs afoul of the idea that communities of interest should be preserved, since it would split the Latino community between two districts, thereby diminishing its voice.

"We're not following the Constitution if half of the community is put in the 8th District and the other half in the 4th District," he says. "It's doing the Latino community a disservice and makes no sense given the community growth in Denver."

Recently released 2020 statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau underscore this view, Dorado suggests, and he and other advocates hope to make this point at upcoming public hearings, including one in Commerce City scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, August 24, at Commerce City's Eagle Pointe Recreation Center (click to access the calendar, which has details about this meeting and several more taking place around the state over the next week).

But time is short, as is clear from the schedules for the congressional and legislative panels of the Colorado Independent Redistricting Commissions:
The first draft of the 8th Congressional District map.
Congressional Commission:

September 5: Nonpartisan staff posts the first staff plan online. This plan will include the processed and tabulated final census data.
September 6: Nonpartisan staff presents the first staff plan to the Commission.
September 7-11: During this timeframe, the Commission holds additional hearings in each existing Congressional district to allow public input on a map drawn using final census data. Hearing details will be forthcoming. Once these additional hearings are complete, the Commission could approve a final plan for submission to the Colorado Supreme Court at any time.
September 15: Nonpartisan staff posts the second staff plan online (if necessary).
September 16: Nonpartisan staff presents a second staff plan (if necessary).
September 23: Nonpartisan staff posts the third staff plan online (if necessary).
September 24: Nonpartisan staff presents a third staff plan (if necessary).
September 28: Deadline for the Commission to approve a final plan or the unamended third staff plan is submitted to the Colorado Supreme Court.
October 1: Deadline for nonpartisan staff and outside legal counsel to prepare and file the final plan with the Colorado Supreme Court.

Legislative Commission:

September 13: Non-partisan staff posts the first staff plan online. This plan will include the processed and tabulated final census data.
September 14: Non-partisan staff presents the first staff plan to the Commission.
September 15-22: During this timeframe, the Commission holds additional hearings in each existing Congressional district to allow public input on a map drawn using final census data. Hearing details will be forthcoming. Once these additional hearings are complete, the Commission could approve a final plan for submission to this Court at any time.
September 23: Non-partisan staff posts the second staff plan online (if necessary).
September 24: Non-partisan staff presents a second staff plan (if necessary).
October 3: Non-partisan staff posts the second staff plan online (if necessary).
October 4: Non-partisan staff presents a third staff plan (if necessary).
October 11: The Commission approves a final plan.
October 15: Nonpartisan staff prepares and files the final plan with the Colorado Supreme Court. 
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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