Payback for Democrats
To hear Senate Democrats’ indignation, you might think Republicans ended the legislative session by abolishing the constitution and repealing women’s suffrage. Of course, we did neither. But we did fulfill our constitutional duty to pass a congressional redistricting map.
After Congress determined that Colorado would gain a congressional seat following the 2000 census, the Legislature had several chances to craft a map.
Also in 2000, Democrats won the state Senate, providing them with greater leverage to shape the reapportionment. Unfortunately, it quickly became obvious Senate Democrats had adopted a strategy of “take our plan or we’ll take our chances in court.”
During two regular sessions and one special session in 2001 and 2002, only one reapportionment bill was allowed to pass the Senate. Sponsored by a House Republican and Senate Democrat, that bill left the House with boundaries favoring Republicans and left the Senate with boundaries favoring Democrats.
A conference committee met to negotiate a compromise, but only one party offered any alternatives. The minutes of that conference committee, to which I was appointed, show that Republicans offered five different amendments to break the stalemate. Democrat conferees didn’t propose a single alternative nor suggest amendments to Republican maps.
After blocking the Republican proposals, Democrats simply walked out of the committee and sued in Denver District Court. Before rendering a decision, Judge John Coughlin gave the Legislature one more chance, in January 2002, to fulfill its constitutional duty. House Republicans passed two maps to the Senate, where Democrats not only killed both but didn’t even bother to introduce a map of their own.
Apparently, Judge Coughlin didn’t like the first map Democrats submitted in court, so he gave them – and no one else – an opportunity to submit a second map, which he ultimately selected in his ruling.
The Democrat gamble paid off – temporarily. That is, until Republicans regained the Senate majority in 2002 and determined to enact a map legislatively. Now, those same Democrats who brazenly flexed their political muscle in 2001 and 2002 are suddenly horrified that Republicans might turn the tables.
In the final three days of the 2003 session, Republicans introduced and passed a map to redefine the state’s congressional districts. Democrats complained about the timing, but their leadership threatened to bring the Legislature to a grinding halt. Republicans chose not to let redistricting interfere with more urgent business, like the budget or school finance.
Nothing in the constitution says that once a Denver district judge picks a map, the state is stuck with it for the next 10 years. Nothing in the constitution says that the Legislature’s only chance to fulfill its duty is in the few months between the release of census data and the next election.
And nothing in the constitution says that maps must be drawn to purposefully negate the reality that Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 160,000 statewide.
The new map certainly isn’t perfect, but it was properly enacted by the Legislature, and it’s a darn sight better than the court-ordered jigsaw puzzle it replaced.
State Sen. Mark Hillman, R-Burlington, represents 12 counties on the Plains. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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