Earlier this month, a renewed effort to “reform” the state’s process for redistricting and reapportionment of Colorado’s congressional and state legislative districts respectively–a reboot of a redistricting ballot measure that the courts threw off the 2016 ballot. The group of former legislators and other public officials behind the effort haven’t changed much from last year, being led by former GOP House Speaker Frank McNulty and including others like former Rep. Kathleen Curry–who disaffiliated from the Democratic Party before losing a bid re-election as an unaffiliated candidate.
One of the major reasons the last initiative failed was a perceived failure on the part of organizers, while claiming the effort was “bipartisan” and aimed at including all stakeholders, to include large portions of the community in the process of developing the initiative. Voting and civil rights organizations complained that the plan would limit minority representation in the redistricting process. In the end the initiative for 2016 was disqualified because the Colorado Supreme Court determined its scope to be to broad for the state’s “single subject” requirement.
Yesterday, the Colorado Independent’s Corey Hutchins posted a must-read recap of last year’s failed effort, and how it morphed into the so-called “Fair Districts Colorado” campaign currently taking shape. And although the packaging has been updated, it doesn’t seem like the product has gotten any better. We can’t excerpt the whole story, so make sure you click through and read the whole thing:
A coalition that launched a revamped plan it says would take partisanship out of how state and federal political districts are drawn is facing suspicions about its motives in a state with a bitter history that has left its district maps stained with bad blood…
In Colorado, this redistricting plan isn’t new— but readers could be forgiven for thinking so.
Initial write-ups on the proposal in mainstream newspapers and the alternative press did not point out that the effort isn’t new. The plan is similar to one put forward in 2015 and 2016 by some of the same people involved in this latest effort.
…Knocked down last year, the group — then called End Gerrymandering Now — vowed it would try again. It included former GOP House Speaker Frank McNulty and former GOP Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, as well as former Democratic Secretary of State Bernie Buescher, PR pro Rich Coolidge, and ex-lawmaker Kathleen Curry, a Democrat who later became unaffiliated.
All of them are working on this new proposal in a campaign they are now calling Fair Districts Colorado. They launched a new website last week…
Across the nation there is a plausible case to be made that congressional and state legislative districts in many states have been skewed to favor the party in charge of the process. Because Republicans made big gains in state legislative races across the nation in 2010, adding to control they already enjoyed in many state houses, this has frequently meant districts drawn to favor the Republican Party–with attendant consequences that include suppression of traditionally Democratic communities of color.
But not in Colorado. In our state, an era of Democratic dominance in state legislative politics that began with 2004’s “Colorado Model” takeover of the General Assembly put Democrats in charge. In the 2011 redistricting/reapportionment process, two different drafting and approval processes tried to balance the statutory and constitutional requirements of new district maps with an unwritten priority of keeping districts as competitive as possible. If you followed the high-drama but ultimately successful 2011 process in Colorado, and witnessed the results in subsequent elections carried in the redrawn districts–featuring races all over the state hotly contested to the bitter end and decided by hundreds of votes–you can see the wisdom of their approach gainfully at work.
And above all, the maps drawn in 2011 for Colorado haven’t been that bad for the party out of power when they were drawn. The proof of that is as easy to find as Colorado’s majority Republican congressional delegation and control of the state senate. Are we saying the process in Colorado can’t be improved upon? Of course not. But it’s a lot better than the horror-story gerrymandered states people read about. And that’s a point voters in Colorado need to understand.
Which brings us back to End Gerrymandering Now “Fair Districts Colorado,” and the usual suspects fronting the renewed effort to “fix” our system:
After reading the fine print in the ballot measures, Denver lawyer Mark Grueskin, who has represented Democrats in redistricting fights, says he sees this latest effort as a way to actually embrace gerrymandering while saying it’s doing something else. It creates a system, he says, that is driven by political insiders and executed behind closed doors, making competitiveness a mere whisper in the process.
“The proponents are lucky that the initiatives aren’t subject to the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission because I think there’s some misleading advertising that’s going on here about what this is, what it does, and how it’s going to hurt the goal of fair and effective representation in Colorado,” he says…
Grueskin, the election lawyer, sees a disconnect in what Fair Districts Colorado is saying publicly and what’s in the proposed ballot language of the ballot measures.
For instance, two thirds of the new 12-member commission would be chosen by the state’s two political parties instead of by the governor, chief justice and legislative leaders as is done now. In other words, he says it would put more power into the hands of political insiders who are accountable to partisan politics rather than voters. [Pols emphasis]
As for “Fair Districts Colorado’s” insistence that they did more “minority outreach” this time? Hutchins points to an exchange on Twitter between two former lawmakers fronting the campaign who happen to be (sorry but we are obliged to to point it out) white dudes and former state Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, now a top official at the progressive organizing group Wellstone Action. Which we can only describe as embarrassing.
So to be clear for posterity, that’s former Sen. Ron Tupa of Boulder “whitesplaining” to one of the state’s leading Latino public figures and organizers about all their totally awesome outreach to communities of color. Followed by former House Speaker Frank McNulty…
Well, he kind of blew it there, didn’t he?
One of the reasons Hutchins’ excellent reporting in this story is so important is the possibility that well-meaning but inexperienced grassroots activists could be taken in by the political usual suspects in charge of this campaign and their fair-sounding arguments. That’s a particular danger after President Donald Trump has energized a whole new movement of bottom-up activism. The lesson here is that all “reform” is not created equal–and sometimes what is called reform only makes the problem worse. Perhaps even by design. For Frank McNulty in particular, who lost the his one-seat speakership in 2012, this isn’t about the voters at all. This is a grudge match.
Stay tuned though, because there will be plenty more fireworks on the long road to this latest campaign’s fate.