Redrawing the lines: CFB submits maps with ag and amendments top of mind
The Colorado Independent Redistricting Commission has released their first staff maps of both the Congressional and Legislative districts. Colorado Farm Bureau submitted comments to the commissions and included their own maps for discussion and guidance as they advocate for the state’s agriculture industry and rural communities.
The Congressional map will determine the districts represented by U.S. House Representatives, and the Legislative map will determine the districts represented by state legislators. With the passage of amendments Y and Z, which were supported by CFB, the new redistricting body was created, and the passage required maps to be drawn to align communities of interest and to increase competitiveness.
In the group’s submitted comments, president Carlyle Currier told the commissions it is “important to recognize that rural Colorado is distinct” and it is “different from urban and suburban areas for the way it uses land, its sparse population, its transportation and infrastructure needs, and its agricultural and natural resource-based economy.”
One of the new criteria for amendments Y and Z is competition. According to CFB vice president of advocacy Shawn Martini, is competition between districts so power could potentially be shifted between parties. It also requires that communities of interest be grouped together.
“For rural Colorado, that could be agriculture, as rural economy is a distinct community of interest,” Martini said. “That was one thing we appreciated in the preliminary draft of the Congressional map specifically was two rural-dominated districts that weren’t encompassing of Front Range communities that don’t share that agriculture and rural economy base that would water down that representation.”
That “watered down” representation is currently seen in the 4th district which included Douglas County, an area that doesn’t share a particular nexus with the remainder of the district. Martini said that leaves representatives like, for example, Ken Buck, attempting to be “servants to two masters.”
To aid the commission, CFB submitted their own versions of the maps as part of the public comment period. Those maps, Martini said, stay true to the spirit of the amendments but also recognize agriculture and rural Colorado as specific communities of interest. The maps also took into account the early stages of public comment submitted to the commission, making the maps responsive to those concerns as well. He said one of the main concerns was the splitting of counties making one county represented by two different districts.
“When you begin to draw the maps, that’s a hard thing to do to make them balance with all the other considerations,” he said. “I think we were pretty successful with only three counties in the two legislative maps that are split and most of the counties that have multiple districts warranted by population don’t have districts that extend beyond the county boundary.”
In the letter CFB sent to the commission, Currier pointed out the broad disconnect between “the wider population and the people that make up the industry that feeds it.”
“This separation from the farm and ranch means that 99 percent of the population does not understand how agriculture can be impacted by monetary policy, employment regulations, federal nutrition programs, environmental laws, international trade, land-use policies, wildlife management, public lands administration, banking regulations, transportation infrastructure, tax policy, public and higher education, accounting standards, wireless and broadband construction, national monument designations, the Endangered Species Act, oil and natural gas production, and even congressional and legislative redistricting, just to name a few,” Currier wrote, “This is just a short list of a much larger panoply of policy areas that impact agriculture. These stark differences often require ‘specialist’ legislators who understand this and can help mitigate it.”
Former state Sen. Greg Brophy said the proposed Congressional map is “a good start,” in that it treats rural Colorado as well as he said possible.
“I like the concept of having a seat that all of eastern Colorado is in, that doesn’t have any part of suburban or exurban parts of the metro area attached,” he said.
Brophy said the draft also keeps western Colorado together for a rural district as well. The Legislative maps, he said, were rougher. The committee is forced to make one of two decisions with regard to the state legislative map. The map can either give one large single Senate seat that covers all of eastern Colorado that excludes any exurban areas along the Front Range, or two can be drawn — as was done on the staff drawn map — that splits eastern Colorado but goes to I-25. This option would likely result in both seats going to legislators along the Front Range.
“The same goes for the state House,” he said. “Do you go for three rural Colorado-influenced seats or two fully eastern Colorado seats?”
The district maps are redrawn every 10 years. Brophy said for the past 20 years, the state legislative maps have been “gerrymandered” to fit Democrats and have been recognized as some of the most heavily gerrymandered maps in the nation.
“There have been multiple times since 2001 where Republican candidates for the state House have garnered well over 50% of the total votes statewide but did not achieve 50% plus one of the seats in the legislature,” he said. “That’s how you know the map is terribly gerrymandered.”
For example, under the new commission and amendments, a county like Douglas should not be grouped with eastern Colorado counties, as it doesn’t share the economic interests of oil and gas or agriculture.
The Commission’s final rounds of virtual public hearings begin Sept. 7-10 for the Congressional Commission and Sept. 17-18 for the Legislative Commission. More information is available at redistricting.colorado.gov.
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