Just like that, Garfield County and the better part of the Western Slope appear to be headed toward reunification in the 3rd Congressional District, based on the latest direction from the state’s Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission.
But will it stick?
That’s the question Garfield County commissioners and other Western Slope leaders are asking after coming out in opposition to the first Redistricting Commission staff plans that were released Sept. 3.
The initial mapping, based in large part on newly released U.S. Census population numbers, split the Western Slope between the 3rd District (CD 3) and the 2nd Congressional District (CD 2), lumping the northwestern part of the state in with the Front Range urban centers of Boulder and Broomfield.
It also split the Garfield County communities of Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, putting them in CD 3, with the rest of the county in CD 2.
In the process, current U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, an outspoken conservative Republican from Rifle, would have been in CD 2 instead of her current CD 3.
Garfield County commissioners and their counterparts in neighboring counties reacted with letters to the Redistricting Commission, making accusations of gerrymandering and playing politics with the conservative parts of the state.
“I’m very disappointed in this,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said in voting Monday morning to ratify a letter to the Redistricting Commission opposing the new proposed maps. “The Commission is supposed to be nonpartisan, but this is very partisan.”
Only a few hours later, after a near three-hour virtual meeting of the Congressional Redistricting Commission, direction was given to staff to redraw the maps using a proposal put forth by Commissioner Martha Coleman, a Democrat from Larimer County, during a lengthy Map Analytics Committee meeting on Sunday.
In addition to some changes in the Greeley area based on public comments submitted from that region, Coleman’s proposal reunited both Garfield County and all of the counties bordering the Utah state line in CD 3.
That would include Garfield, Rio Blanco, Moffat and Mesa counties in a newly reconfigured district that wraps all the way around the southwestern part of the state, along the southern border with New Mexico and also taking in Pueblo County and several southeastern Colorado counties.
The change is expected to be contained in the second staff plan to be released on Thursday, followed by another meeting of the Map Analytics Committee over the weekend and a Redistricting Commission meeting on Monday.
Followup meetings are planned through Sept. 28, when a final congressional redistricting plan is to be sent to the Colorado Supreme Court for a final decision later this fall.
The Monday Redistricting Commission meeting provided a glimpse into some of the procedural challenges as the independent commission — made up of four Republicans, four Democrats and four Unaffiliated voters — attempts to balance equal population between the state’s congressional districts, along with other important criteria.
Among those, districts are to:
Be composed of contiguous geographic areas;
Comply with the federal “Voting Rights Act of 1965,” as amended;
Preserve whole communities of interest and whole political subdivisions, such as counties, cities, and towns;
Be as compact as is reasonably possible; and
Maximize the number of politically competitive districts.
According to the rules, congressional districts cannot be drawn for the purpose of:
Protecting incumbents or declared candidates of the U.S. House of Representatives or any political party; or
Denying or abridging the right of any citizen to vote on account of that person’s race or membership in a language minority group, including diluting the impact of that racial or language minority group’s electoral influence.
Complicating the process following the 2020 U.S. Census is the fact that Colorado now qualifies for an eighth congressional district, which must be factored into the plan.
The Redistricting Commission looked at another map proposal put forth by Commissioner Simon Tafoya, a Denver-area Democrat, which he called the “headwaters map.”
Similar to the first staff plan, the Tafoya map would have split Garfield County between CD 3 and CD 2. However, it removed Boulder from the mix, placing it in a more urban-centric district.
Direction was given to staff, on an 8-4 vote, to use the Coleman map as a starting point for the second staff plan.
Garfield County’s Jankovsky said Tuesday that he appreciates the effort to reunite the Western Slope counties in one district.
“It is more aligned with what we asked for,” Jankovsky said, though he said he worries about the southeastern counties not meeting the “communities of interest” criteria with the Western Slope.
Noting that the state as a whole grew by 14% based on the new Census numbers, compared to 9% growth for Garfield County, Jankovsky also acknowledged the population numbers game that’s involved in redrawing the congressional districts.
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.