Final legislative redistricting maps put Routt County in one of Colorado’s most competitive districts
The first independent commission to redistrict Colorado legislative districts has — for the most part — wrapped up its work, sending final state House and Senate maps last week to the Colorado Supreme Court.
The maps put Routt County into competitive elections in both the House and Senate, according to the Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission’s definition of competitiveness — a margin within 8.5% in eight previous statewide elections dating back to 2016.
The county’s house district, District 26, would be one of the most competitive in the state, favoring Democratic candidates by about 2.7% across those elections.
“Is it perfect? No, but is it workable?” Routt County Republicans Chair Pete Wood asked. “It’s certainly competitive in terms of candidate races in 2022 for the House seat.”
The maps show Democrats will likely maintain control of both the state House and Senate when these districts are first used in the November 2022 election cycle.
The house district as currently drawn includes just Routt and Eagle counties, but both had a population growth that lagged behind the state, requiring the commission to include Moffat and Rio Blanco counties, as well, in the new district to maintain the appropriate population.
“Routt and Eagle will continue to share our mountain resort legislative voice and look for legislative opportunities with our western neighbors,” said Catherine Carson, chair of the Routt County Democrats.
The process isn’t over, as the maps still need to be approved by the state’s highest court. Any challenges to the maps are due to the court by Friday, ahead of a hearing scheduled for Oct. 25.
The court needs to make a decision by Nov. 15 and could send maps back to the Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission, which would require a hurried redraw of the maps — including more public comment — to remedy any error the court finds.
One party needs 33 seats to control the Colorado House and 18 seats to control the state Senate.
Using the commission’s definition, 30 of 65 House districts are solidly blue, 19 are solidly red, and 16 are competitive. Of those, Democrats are favored by more than 5% in six races and Republicans by that margin in one race.
Nine districts, including Routt County’s District 26, are close races, with neither party favored by more than 5%.
Based on previous election results, 15 of 35 senate districts are strongly blue, nine are red, and 11 of them are considered competitive. Of those races, three races, including Routt County’s Senate District 8, favor Democrats by more than 5%, while none favor Republicans by that margin.
Redistricting Commissioner Robin Schepper, who represented Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District as a Democratic member on the commission, said she has some ideas for how the process could be improved before being undertaken again in a decade.
“We had no idea how much work it would be for our staff and for (commissioners),” Schepper said. “We knew that there would be a lot of meetings and a lot of work, but probably more than any of us expected.”
Schepper said looking back, she wished they had started the process earlier simply because of the amount of material commissioners needed to take in during the process. It also would have been helpful for all commissioners to have briefings about the specific aspects of redistricting, such as of the Voting Rights Act.
“I think it would have been helpful to have better briefings, not just in public hearings about different areas of the state, but actually getting economic and other types of briefings in different policy areas,” Schepper said. “When you hear from regular people, it is very helpful, but regular people often are talking about the issues most important to them, and I think it’s important to the commission to have a broad perspective of what’s happening in the state.”
For example, many of the commissioners from the Front Range know little about agriculture, while more rural commissioners like Schepper were not necessarily versed on all the issues districts in more populous areas need to consider, she said.
While virtual meetings made things convenient for commissioners to tune in from around the state, Schepper said she wished they had more in-person meetings to establish better rapport and trust among commissioners.
During the process, Schepper said it was very difficult to be the lone commissioner trying to represent Northwestern Colorado, especially when public comment at meetings in Steamboat Springs and Craig produced strong opinions that were not necessarily consistent.
These differences are an example of what Schepper said are the “growing pains” Colorado is currently experiencing.
“The issues of having a mountain resort community, in Steamboat and lots of Routt County, is not the same that you have in Craig, for example, that is facing the shutdown of the coal mine,” Schepper said. “When you have diverse interests like we do in Northwest Colorado … any legislator is going to have a challenge representing interests that are not necessarily always aligned.”
Wood said he hasn’t had any candidates approach him to run in the new House or Senate districts at this point. Carson said there would be an announcement later in the week about a potential House candidate.
Rep. Dylan Roberts, a Democrat from Avon who currently represents Routt County in the state House, has announced he will run for the open Senate District 8 seat. Sen. Bob Rankin, whose district currently includes Routt County, lives within the new District 5 boundaries but wouldn’t be up for reelection until 2024.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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