Around midday Wednesday, state Democrats floated a redistricting map that would keep Fort Carson and Schriever Air Force Base in the 5th Congressional District.
The move probably didn't come as much of a surprise to anyone who packed into Manitou Springs City Hall last Saturday, when Democratic state Rep. Pete Lee hosted a town hall meeting on the redistricting issue. He started off by reading a letter from state Sen. Rollie Heath, the Boulder Democrat who's co-chairing the Joint Select Committee on Redistricting.
"Safe districts discourage participation in the election process, and discourage voting," he recited. "At every public meeting that the committee held, we were asked to draw competitive districts to ensure that neither party has an unfair advantage in any district."
To Democratic ears, that meant, among other things, sending Fort Carson and Schriever into the 3rd District. But in this room, not one person spoke in favor of the Democrats' proposed map.
El Paso County is a military community, was the message, and they don't want to see it divided.
"You would lose our strength, you would lose our solidarity," said County Commissioner Sallie Clark. By representing all five of the county's military installations, she argued, Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn has maintained a unique position in Washington — one that's helped land him on the House Armed Services Committee.
"If you split off two of our military bases," she said, "you dilute his ability to get things done. ... It would really dilute our ability to get dollars to El Paso County."
And that kind of money-talks argument was no match for the quaint notion that voters deserve closer races in each congressional district. As Senate Majority Leader John Morse had put it earlier in the week, Democrats wanted to create "as many competitive districts as we can, because we think that that is in the best interest of the people. We think that that is what the people want."
Morse had also mentioned that having five military installations in one congressional district means one vote, whereas "if we split them and have one or two of those installations in a second congressional district, then we would have two votes." By sharing representation of those installations, he added, the rest of Colorado might recognize the importance of the state's military.
After the original map was scrapped on Wednesday, Morse sounded frustrated by the situation.
"I don't buy into the arguments that we have to keep El Paso County whole," he said. "We can, and this map certainly does, but I don't think that's in El Paso County's best interest."
He added that at least the new map (visible at coloradosenate.org) showed his party was willing to negotiate. It was a similar message that Republicans put forth earlier in the day, when GOP Sen. Greg Brophy of Wray called their revised map "an olive branch."
But Morse, for one, made it sound like Republicans were more interested in posturing than progress.
"I am sure the Republicans will still complain about this one, because it's not in their best interest to have competitive districts," he said. "It's in their best interest to draw districts that they can hold for life."
As of press time, House committee hearings on both maps were scheduled for Thursday. But amid all the bellyaching and back-and-forth, the smart money was still on the outcome winding up in court, as happened 10 years ago.
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