Jerry Kopel

Reapportionment, Part III

April 10, 2008

By Jerry Kopel

This is the third and final column on the history and future of legislative redistricting.

The 1991-92 Reapportionment Commission had an equal number of Republicans and Democrats starting with Chuck Berry and Jeff Wells as legislative Republicans and Matt Jones and Bob Pastore as House and Senate Democrats. Gov. Roy Romer appointed three Democrats, Ed Garner, Jim Monaghan and Peggy Ventura.

That left the final decisions up to Supreme Court Chief Justice Luis Rovira, who appointed three Republicans, Dan Ritchie, James Johnson, and Deedee Gale Mayer. Justice Rovira, who entered Republican political life as a University of Colorado student, appointed Gene Nichol as an Independent. Ritchie headed the commission and Nichol was vice-chairman.

Later on, Nichol became a Democrat, ran in the primary against Tom Strickland for U.S. Senator and lost.

The 1990 census gave Colorado 3,294,394 residents. That meant the average House district contained 50,683 people and the average Senate district was 94,126 people.

The 1991-92 reapportionment was a debilitating event for Denver. According to a report by Reid Reynolds, then State Demographer, "This is the second census in a row that recorded a population loss for Denver.

"The 1980 count was 492,694, down from 514,678 in 1970. Denver's 1990 count was 467,610, a loss of another 25,000." That was the largest population loss of any county. The next largest loss was Pueblo with 2,921 people. In 1965, Denver had 18 members of the House. In 1993 there were nine Denver House seats and one other House seat tied in with a 4,000 majority out of Arapahoe County.

That has now changed for future reapportionment based on the coming 2010 census, thanks to fill-in at Lowry, Stapleton, Green Valley Ranch, and land obtained from Adams County. Denver has added population for the past two years, to reach 588,000. The increase in 2007 was the largest population gain of any county.

Problems with the state Supreme Court 1992 review were minor. The court was unhappy with divided Pitkin County and the City of Aspen and the division of Snowmass Village and the Aspen Gove subdivision from Aspen, holding there were less drastic alternatives that could have satisfied the equal population requirement.

The commission on further review gave the court solid reasons for its original decision, put the Aspen Gove Division with Aspen and continued to keep Gunnison, Hindsdale, Chaffee, Lake and Park counties with Aspen. Justice Joseph Quinn dissented, joined by Justice Mary Mullarkey.

The reapportionment saw the next five elections as all Republican legislatures except the Senate in 2001. During that decade, the Senate was 46 percent Democrat and the House was 40 percent Democrat.

* * *

In 2000, the population of Colorado climbed to 4,301,261. This meant the average House seat served 66,173 residents and the average Senate seat served 122,893 residents.

The eleven member Reapportionment Commission consisted of five Republicans and six Democrats, with Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey making the final pick and placing four Democrats on the commission.

On a four to three decision written by Justice Gregory Hobbs and released on Jan 28, 2002, the Colorado Supreme Court refused to approve the commission reapportionment plan.

"It appears ... the Commission... considered itself at liberty to start the cartography of reapportionment at any point of Colorado geography it might choose.

"Because of this approach the Commission faced the consequences of county divisions that appear inevitable to meet equal population requirements.

"But the constitutional criteria instead contemplates the Commission taking an overview of Colorado's population by county, then generating a map that respects the state's legal preferences for county integrity, then applying minimization of city divisions, compactness, contiguity and community of interest criteria to add portions of counties to other counties to forming districts when necessary."

This was just one of many "irritations". On a four to three vote the court remanded the reapportionment plan to the Commission and wanted a new plan within several weeks. The total concerns were too numerous to adequately cover here, but on Feb. 11th, the Supreme Court approved the revised plan. Justice Hobbs wrote:

"The readopted plan provides whole Senate districts to Boulder, Douglas, Jefferson, and Pueblo counties for which they qualify based on the year 2000 census data....and Arapahoe County."

Those five counties, which had seven senators under the original plan, now have 12 senators. And as Justice Hobbs pointed out near the end of the final decision "We (the court) do not redraw the reapportionment map for the Commission."

** *

The two Supreme Court decisions written by Justice Hobbs are important reading for anyone studying how to proceed in 2011 and 2012.

In the 2010 census, Colorado will likely have five million residents and possibly more. At five million, the average House seat will represent 77,000 residents compared to 44,461 in 1982. The average Senate seat will represent 143,000 residents compared to 82,571 in 1982. The citizens could place a change in the constitution on the ballot in 2010 to provide for additional legislators.

At 600,000 population, Denver will likely have at least eight House members and four and one-half senators. The Eastern Slope is going to lose legislators, the Western Slope will retain or gain legislators and the vast bulk of members will come from the Greeley to Colorado Springs corridor.

Whoever is Chief Justice on the state Supreme Court in 2011 will decide whether Democrats or Republicans control the Commission or whether an Independent will be appointed.

Justice Mullarkey's present term in office ends in January 2011. Justice Hobbs will be up for retention in the 2008 election. Based on the 2002 court decisions, the starting point for the new map will be Denver, Jefferson, Arapahoe and Adams County cluster.

(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)

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