Summit lumped with Western Slope as reapportionment begins
Summit County was placed with the Western Slope region for the purposes of redrawing district lines for the Colorado State Legislature at a recent meeting of the reapportionment commission, the body charged with the task of state level redistricting.
Combined with Lake, Eagle, Pitkin and other western counties, Summit County falls into the third of six regions which will become the baseline for apportioning the state’s legislative districts.
For 10 years, since the last reapportionment in 2000, Summit County has belonged to Senate District 16, a Democratic stronghold encompassing Grand, Gilpin, Clear Creek and parts of Jefferson and Boulder counties. But the seat currently held by Jeanne Nicholson, a Democrat and former Gilpin County Commissioner, like most, is subject to change this year as the 11-member reapportionment commission moves through the process of redrawing district lines. The district as a whole will need to grow, but some observers say Jefferson County, one of the larger counties in the district, could lose a seat due to population changes reported in the 2010 census.
Based on population estimates, districts should represent close to 143,000 people, Nicholson said. Senate District 16 currently includes approximately 136,000 people. According to 2010 census results, Summit County has almost 28,000 residents, up from about 23,500 residents 10 years ago.
Nicholson said she would prefer to continue to represent the same or nearly the same district she was elected to serve through the remaining three years of her term.
“(My district) needs to grow,” Nicholson said. “I certainly like representing the community I represent right now. I think, since I don’t need to grow very much, it would make sense that I would continue to have the counties that I’m serving, but maybe a bigger portion of the two bigger counties (Boulder and Jefferson).”
But redrawing district lines can be a politically charged process, as was demonstrated during the heated partisan debates over Colorado’s Congressional district map, and even seemingly minor changes might swing the balance of power in favor of one party or the other.
Despite a number of years of Democratic representation, Senate District 16 currently represents a competitive party balance among its voters, something reapportionment officials are encouraged to strive for when forming districts. Nicholson won her seat over Republican Tim Leonard by just a few hundred votes in last November’s election.
The reapportionment commission began meeting in Denver earlier this month. This summer, likely some time in June, the commission will hold a meeting and a public hearing reviewing possible district maps for the third region, which includes Summit County. Later in the year the commission will travel the state to hold hearings on the proposed maps. The maps showing new Senate and House district lines must be submitted to the State Supreme Court by Oct. 7.
The commission is made up of appointees of varying background and political affiliations appointed by Colorado’s three branches of government.
Former state Rep. Gayle Berry, a Republican from Grand Junction, former Denver Mayor and Democrat Wellington Webb and Arnold Salazar, an Alamosa Democrat and executive director of Colorado Health Partnerships were appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat.
The Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court appointed a Denver lawyer and Democrat Dolores Atencio, Mario Carrera, an independent communications executive from Parker, Colorado College political science professor Robert Loevy, a Republican and former state Rep. Steve Tool, also a Republican to the commission.
State Sen. Morgan Carroll, an Aurora Democrat, Rep. Matt Jones, a Democrat from Louisville, Mario Nicolais, an attorney and GOPer from Lakewood and former Rep. Rob Witwer were all designated to the commission by current state Senate and House leadership.
The Denver Post contributed to the reporting of this story.
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