A final vote from the Colorado Reapportionment Commission yesterday announced a consensus on the state's first new legislative maps in the past ten years. The commission is led by its sole politically independent member, Entravision CEO Mario Carrera -- and he's got some ideas about how to make the process work better.
The commission was flanked on both sides by five Democrats and five Republicans, who agreed on a set of revamped House and District maps that need only pass muster with the Colorado Supreme Court before garnering final approval. The new maps, on view below, focus specifically on balancing the representation of minority populations throughout the state and encouraging newly denoted "competitive" districts in areas without a clearly associated political party.
The final positive votes, 9-2 in the Senate and 8-3 in the House, ended a four-month process led by the singular political presence of Carrera, known by the laughable yet serious nickname "Super Mario" because of his power to affect the direction of political discussion with his swing-vote status. The Latest Word spoke to Carrera about the new maps, their legacy for the state, and the power and responsibility of maintaining a role in Colorado politics that is strategically without either affiliation or reservations.
Westword (Kelsey Whipple): What specific issues were you targeting in making changes to the previous districts?
Mario Carrera: With the changes in populations all throughout the state of Colorado, we are charged by the Constitution to have an equal population in each district, House and Senate, and not just split any boundaries. Then we make sure those boundaries are compact and contiguous. We took a look at the changes in population, where we lost and where we gained, and we honored those changes. The specific changes I noticed were that the growth in population was largely Hispanic. Of the total state gross increase in population, 42 percent of it was Hispanic. You now have 21 percent of the state in the Hispanic community, and combined with the African-American population, more than a fourth of the state is in the minority category. The previous maps didn't address their needs at all.
WW: What kind of political environment did you seek to create instead?
MC: Competitive districts were drawn, and by competitive districts I mean districts held to the same standard throughout the state as far as their ability to lean toward either party. People argue about this back and forth and try to look at this in a partisan way to favor a specific way of measuring. The one I agreed to was one that Commissioner [Senator Morgan] Carroll and Commissioner [Gayle] Barry, a Democrat and a Republican, submitted to the committee. For a history of party voting difference of 10 percent or less, we consider that district to be competitive. Within five points is highly competitive. Wherever possible, after meeting constitutional criteria, we tried to cater to those areas, and we ended up with 33 competitive areas out of 100 total. Combined between the House, 22, and the Senate, 11, that's a third of the districts.
WW: What do you hope the increase in party competition in those areas will mean for the state?
MC: I think in the next ten years, that's a great outcome to encourage better representation for Colorado. Based on the districts this creates, you now have candidates who will need to make sure to guarantee that there's a voter constituency there for them. If the constituency is fifty-fifty Democrat and Republican, the kind of representation we're going to get is not going to be a highly liberal or conservative person. It's going to be a moderate who can access the thoughts and issues of more people in that competitive area. With respect to minority populations, it will be the same in that case. A minority population of 30 percent is not going to have enough sway to change the entire vote, but they will now have the power to get their ideas considered seriously and added to the agenda.
WW: How do the new maps directly affect minority communities?
MC: There are 24 districts with 30 percent or more Hispanic influence, and there are nine that are 50 percent or more. So when you talk about 21 percent of the population being of Hispanic origin, you'll be talking about more balanced and correctly apportioned representation now. That's something I don't think we had in the past. With the districts set up this way, there will be more attention paid to the origins and backgrounds of the minorities living in them.
WW: Were there any issues that you were unable to address because of your role as a politically unaffiliated moderator?
MC: This is not a perfect process, and I don't think there's anything like that available right now, honestly. But the idea of having four Democrats, four Republicans and three unaffiliated would be a worthy goal. I think that would be an ideal setup to increase progress and the level of balanced voices in the future. When the initiative was first brought to the table in 1974, unaffiliateds were not really a part of the equation. We're talking about more than forty years, a significant amount of time in which the unaffiliated part of the electorate should have a political voice. The commission I am on had five Democrats and five Republicans, and I was the only unaffiliated person. What I want to encourage, what I think would be a better solution, would be to include a larger number of unaffiliateds so you don't have one lone person like me brokering the change. There was a significant amount of partisanship, and it remained that way throughout the entire process.
WW: How did you notice the level of partisanship fluctuate?
MC: Our first meeting was May 12, and from the beginning, it was clearly an opportunity to get to know ten other people. A lot of us were strangers to each other, and through the process and procedures that were established and agreed to, we were able to develop a tone and a feel for a civil discussion and a more fair understanding of what the outcome had to be. It took from then until now. Judging by the comments I've heard recently, even the most partisan people are quite moderate in their acknowledgment and in their reference to each other, so I think it was a highly intellectual exchange in the end. I'm glad it was 9-2 in the Senate and 8-3 in the House, not just a simple majority.
WW: How important was your role -- not as a chairman, but as a specifically unaffiliated chairman over two groups you've mentioned were highly partisan?
MC: I think people knew I was unaffiliated, not just secretly siding with one group or another. I made that clear early on to both sides. It wasn't so much what I did as what I was. Neither side wanted to alienate me by a behavior that was radical or extremely partisan. There's a reason I'm not in a party. I have issues with both. I really do think that the increase of unaffiliated, nonpartisan voices would greatly add to the progress of important decisions like this one.
WW: Was there a specific point at which your role as the sole unaffiliated member of the commission was pronounced?
MC: Yes, when I voted against the Democrats on the preliminary map. The process involves having a preliminary map to review and discuss statewide. We voted on a preliminary map in July and took it across the state for hearings. I voted against the Democratic proposal in the final version of regions 6 and 7, and it set a precedent that I really wasn't siding with anyone. In some ways, they probably didn't fully understand until then.
Continue after the break for PDFs comparing the House and Senate maps from 2001 and 2011.
More from our Politics archive: "Prison rape: Sheriff compares it to UFO sightings, other 'cultural delusions.'"
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.