Opinion: Keep the Western Slope whole

Last week, the General Assembly’s 10-member redistricting committee released their proposed maps outlining Colorado’s new Congressional boundaries. The maps offered by the Democrats and Republican members of the committee are as different as night and day.
The Republican maps start from the fact that Colorado has the same number of congressional districts in 2011 as we did in 2001. So adjusting boundaries in bipartisan manner to reflect population shifts is not that difficult. The maps presented by the Republicans were drawn in accordance with the basic principles that were intended to guide the committee in its deliberations: keeping communities of interest together, changing existing lines as little as possible, maintaining county integrity — basically getting the numbers where they need to be with as little disruption as possible.
The Democrats, on the other hand, submitted maps that represent a blatant gerrymandering effort, an insultingly obvious power grab and a deliberate attempt to isolate rural voters from effective representation. The Democrat maps split up the Western Slope, putting Mesa County in the same district as Boulder and separating us from Montrose. They redraw the map so that the population centers of each district are concentrated on the I-25 corridor; in fact, under the Democrats’ plan, the congressperson from every Colorado district could live within 10 miles of Denver International Airport. Far beyond the bounds of Colorado common sense to conceive of a common economic or cultural interest shared by Grand Junction and Boulder, by Rifle and Breckenridge, or Delta and Vail. And yet the Democrat maps lump these hugely divergent communities into the same district, solely for shallow political purposes. They know as well as we do that the economic drivers of these regions are dissimilar and often at odds with each other, and yet they cannot seem to help themselves. When given an opportunity to use the system to their own political advantage, rather than for the good of the people of Colorado, they jump on it and ride it into the dirt. It is hard not to feel deceived by this. At the beginning of the legislative term, there was a great sense of bi-partisanship; that at the end of the day, both parties really wanted to do right by the people of Colorado and would, whenever possible, put aside ideological differences and work together for common sense solutions. As a result, many of us trusted the redistricting committee to do the right thing, set aside political considerations, and help redraw the state’s congressional map in a way that accomplished what it needed to with as little disruption as possible and still maintain effective representation for each region. We also thought they would be willing to help save our state and taxpayers money by offering reasonable input that would prevent the expense of a special session, or prolonged court battle. Unfortunately, they proved us wrong. They proved that politics comes before the citizens of Colorado. Most angering to me, they showed how little regard they have for the good people of the Western Slope. They heard you at the public hearings, pleading for them not to split up the Western Slope, not to jeopardize our water, not to deny a voice to our farmers, ranchers and energy industry. They heard all of that, and they didn’t care. What they did care about was the misplaced and misappropriated concept of “competitiveness,” a term not found in the state constitution or in any statute governing the redistricting process. This idea suggests that a district must be carved up to ensure that neither party has an advantage — in other words, they noticed that Republicans won CD 3 this time, so therefore it is too Republican, and the map needs to be adjusted to include more Democrats. Funny how this concept doesn’t seem to apply to the Denver area. Redistricting should not be about “competitiveness”; it should be about representation. Can anyone honestly believe that Boulder county and Mesa County can be effectively represented by the same person, with such different economies, priorities and values? Can anyone really imagine that a Boulder resident would want to be included with the ranchers, drillers and miners of Garfield, Mesa or Delta counties? We are all Coloradans. As such we do share some traits that make us uniquely Coloradan. But at the same time, neither Boulder, nor Denver share the exact same brand as Mesa County. Jared Polis cannot ride for the brand of the Western Slope and Eastern Slope at the same time nor can Scott Tipton, and they should not be expected to. If this issue goes to court and one of the maps offered by the Democrats or a compromise map that achieves the same purpose, is accepted, the result will be devastating for rural and western Colorado. Not only will our water, energy production and other vital economic interests be threatened and our voice muzzled but the trust that our residents hold in the system will be forever shaken.
Steve King represents Colorado State Senate District 7 which includes Mesa County and part of Garfield County.