Colorado's congressional redistricting commission debuted the "starting point" congressional district map, with eight districts instead of seven and that will be altered and adjusted over the coming months, before settling on a final version of the map this fall.
The map revealed Wednesday represents a best attempt by the commission's staff at creating a population-balanced 8-district arrangement, and which generally follows the redistricting requirements: contiguousness, compactness, compliance with the 1965 Voting Rights Act, respecting communities of interest and existing political subdivisions, and finally, where possible, promoting competitiveness.
The map would add the new 8th Congressional District in the northern part of the Denver metro area, where population has grown significantly over the past decade.
It would create three districts where the Hispanic composition is near 30%, including in the new eighth district. It would also create four solid Democratic districts, three solid Republican districts and one competitive district.
To be sure, this is not the final 8-district map that will be used for the next decade.
In the coming weeks and months, the state's redistricting commissions will tour the state to gather public input on the preliminary draft map, which is required to be considered when adjusting the final version of the map.
One major drawback to the map released Wednesday: It was drawn using imperfect data that has a margin of error, and which is not what will be used to make final adjustments later this year, because the U.S. Census Bureau doesn't have the decennial census data ready yet, as a result of problems collecting the census data in 2020 caused by the global coronavirus pandemic.
Colorado's redistricting commissions, like other states, has used survey and estimate data in lieu of the more precise decennial census data to get started. Normally the decennial census data would be available by early in the redistricting year.
The state's legislative redistricting commission will release their preliminary draft map next week, and will be holding meetings alongside the congressional commission to gather public input on their forthcoming map as well.
The constitutional amendments that were passed overwhelmingly by Colorado voters in 2018 to create the new independent redistricting commission system require the upcoming public hearings to be held all around the state.
A cacophony of reactions from Colorado's political class came quickly after the maps were released.
Colorado Democratic Party chair Morgan Carroll raised an eyebrow at the preliminary plan's partisan breakdown but stressed that it is preliminary, with months to go before the lines will be finalized.
"Regardless of political affiliation or ZIP code, every Coloradan deserves quality representation in their government," she said in a statement.
"While this preliminary plan seems to put a thumb on the scale for Republicans, it is too soon to know how the commissioners will change them. In the end, it will be critical that the final maps reflect Colorado’s communities of interest and public input across Colorado. We encourage Coloradans from all across the state to participate in the public meetings over the summer and submit their testimony on the maps."
Joe Jackson, executive director of the Colorado Republican Party, stressed that the process is just beginning.
"The preliminary congressional map is a starting point," he told Colorado Politics. "It is clear that the staff who developed the map did no favors to any party or incumbent. We look forward to seeing Coloradans engage the process during the public hearings."
Craig Hughes, a top Democratic strategist, said the map takes a bizarre approach to some of its boundaries.
"It looks to me like they tried to get a 4-4 map in a state Joe Biden won by 13.5%," he said. "I would hope that in the public process they’d take a look at some of the communities of interest and take a hard look at how they’re divvying up (congressional districts) 2 and 7, because that seems to be problematic."
"They’ve stretched themselves into contortions to make a 4-4 map," he added, "without, frankly, creating that many competitive districts."
Republican strategist Dick Wadhams, a former chairman of the Colorado GOP and the campaign manager for winning Senate and gubernatorial campaigns, said the preliminary map holds several districts that could be up for grabs — with the right candidate.
"At first blush, I think the commission did a very good job. It shows the process is working so far. It strikes me it’s better to have this commission than to have it in the hands of some partisan board, like we used to have," Wadhams said.
"Republicans have got to look at the quality of the candidate in the general election. We have failed so many times — we nominate the most unelectable candidates. We can be very competitive under these maps if we have strong candidates."
U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, the Silt Republican running for a second term in the Western Slope-based district, struck a confident note.
"I'm going to win in 2022 and help take back the House regardless of whatever map the commission draws up," Boebert told Colorado Politics in an email.
Alan Philp, a Republican consultant and registered redistricting lobbyist representing a 501(c)4 nonprofit called the Colorado Neighborhoods Coalition who helped craft the constitutional amendments that created the new independent redistricting commission system in Colorado, said the process is playing out as intended, and that now is the time for people to tell the commission what they think of the draft map plan.
As for complaints from Democrats that the plan seems to give favor to Republicans, Philp said there will be complaints from any number of people and parties in the state's political world, but that the commission will have months to carefully separate what's is valid and needs to be adjusted, and what is focused on the interests of politicians.
"What the commission and their staff now have to endure is months of the 'squeaky wheel' syndrome," Philp said. "That started today with the reaction from one or more parties complaining, and they think the louder they complain, the more they’ll change the maps."
U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, an Arvada Democrat serving his eighth term, said he supports the concept of the new district being placed in the northern part of Denver's metro area.
"Colorado's growth is reflected in the receipt of an 8th congressional district. I support drawing the new 8th in the North Metro area, as specifically outlined in the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's proposed map," he said. "We expect the preliminary map to change over time and we hope the Commissioners will focus on issues of legislative concern and communities of interest as is required under the Constitution."
"It's no surprise to see the initial redistricting map center Adams County for the new CD8. Not only does this help keep cities and school districts whole, it captures diverse communities of interest and creates a district focused on working class families. This district deserves solutions and federal legislation that could provide action on water, climate change, transportation, economic opportunities and growth. There are the issues that have been top of mind for my constituents in SD24.
Colorado Sen. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, says he's "mulling it over" on whether to run for CD8. He had initial interest in running for Congress back in 2018 when Rep. Ed Perlmutter was going back and forth about running for re-election or running for governor. In the end, Perlmutter decided to run for Congress again and Moreno's bid died a quick death, along with several other prominent state lawmakers who were interested in the CD7 seat.
Moreno said Wednesday he still has a lot to do at the state and local level and not invested in the idea just yet.
Moreno is term limited in the state Senate in 2024.
Rep. Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock, has been rumored to be interested in a congressional run for several years. The map released Wednesday puts him into CD7 instead of CD4, which is where Castle Rock is now.
He told Colorado Politics in a statement that "This looks like a district that a bold, independent, liberty-loving Republican can win and that a 'Democrat-like' Republican can easily lose. I will be praying on it and will do my best to follow the path God wants me on while citizens have a chance to have their voices heard on these districts."
State Rep. Don Valdez, D-La Jara, currently lives in CD 3 and launched a bid for the CD3 seat in February. However, the map released Wednesday shows Costilla County as part of CD4, putting him squarely into a solidly-Republican district.
"This is a great starting point for the congressional redistrict process and the commissioners and staff did a good job of taking public comments in to consideration, Valdez told Colorado Politics. "I will continue to run for the Congress to stand up for our democracy and voice for our water, land and Rural Colorado voices everyday.
I look forward to listening to people in Rural Colorado as the redistricting commissions plan to have meetings throughout the state."
Kent Thiry, the former CEO of DaVita and one of the main backers of the independent redistricting commission amendments, said it's important to remember who the redistricting process, and in particular the independent commission process, is designed to serve.
“These congressional seats belong to the people, not to a political party or interest. The commission will be remembered for how well it serves the people of Colorado by protecting communities, ending gerrymandering and ensuring districts are fair and reasonable," Thiry said.
And like some others, he also stressed the value of competition being incorporated in the new maps: "It’s still early in the process, but it appears the commission is responding to the mandate that it draw competitive districts whenever and wherever possible.”
Colorado Politics reporters Marianne Goodland and Ernest Luning contributed to this article.