As the Colorado Independent’s Corey Hutchins reports–eerily similar to the way a similar effort collapsed in a heap ahead of the 2016 elections, cracks are rapidly appearing in the well-publicized “coalition” backing a measure to make byzantine changes to the state’s process for congressional redistricting and legislative reapportionment–in the name of making the system “fairer,” a popular national refrain going into 2020, but in reality moving Colorado in the opposite direction:
Two former Democratic politicians, former Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia and ex-lawmaker Abel Tapia, have pulled their names as supporters of a campaign that seeks to change the way Colorado draws its political boundaries…
Garcia told The Colorado Independent it became clear to him that the Fair Districts campaign and its efforts are “more controversial and potentially partisan” than he realized. [Pols emphasis] As president of the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education, Garcia said he has taken pains to avoid public involvement in partisan issues.
The campaign, announced in early September and spearheaded by the League of Women Voters of Colorado, came under immediate scrutiny, Critics say it is little more than a rebranding of an effort that failed to make the ballot last year, and that it did not do enough meaningful outreach to communities of color. The group, anticipating the backlash, says its members did more outreach this time than last.
But critics of the group pointed to a lack of minority support on the Fair Districts webpage of endorsers, which lists more than two dozen supporters. None are black, but four listed on the page were Latino, including Garcia, Tapia, GOP Rep. Clarice Navarro-Ratzlaff and former lawmaker Larry Trujillo.
That was until Garcia’s and Tapia’s names disappeared.
Organizers responsible for this latest redistricting campaign in Colorado spent considerably more time and money on the roll-out than in 2015, and clearly hoped the new effort would not be tainted by the failure of the previous initiative. Unfortunately, the fact that it is essentially the same campaign fronted by the same Republican usual suspects like former House Speaker Frank McNulty and ex-Rep. Rob “The Blueprint” Witwer was impossible to conceal–and once other white dudes working for the campaign like Sen. Ron Tupa started publicly lecturing former Sen. Jessie Ulibarri about how great their “minority outreach” was, the proverbial writing was on the wall.
We fully expect that the pullout of former Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia and Sen. Abel Tapia will lead to further disintegration of the so-called “Fair Districts Colorado” campaign. If it does reach the ballot now it will be hobbled by the same taint of political insider game-playing as the Initiative 55 campaign was in late 2015. If this isn’t the death knell for this campaign going into 2018, it’s a very bad prognosis.
Although the issue of gerrymandering is of major importance across the nation after a decade of huge GOP legislative gains and the next round of district-drawing coming up fast, in Colorado the story of the state’s current legislative and congressional maps is very different. Although certainly improvements can be made to the status quo, the emphasis on fair and competitive districts that prevailed in the 2011 redistricting/reapportionment process in Colorado has given the state many close races where candidates had to earn their seats–and division of power that accurately reflects the state’s diverse and evenly divided electorate. That’s not the way it works everywhere, but it’s critical that Coloradans understand that this is yet another way things are different here politically.
Different, and better.
And as long as that’s the case, political usual suspects looking to tinker with the system for their own advantage should be viewed with the suspicion they deserve. Once again, that suspicion is turning out to be entirely warranted.