- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2003

DENVER — In a move that could rewrite the nation’s redistricting rules, Republicans in the Colorado legislature pushed through a plan yesterday that would redraw the congressional district map to their advantage.The Republican-controlled state Senate voted 18-12 to replace the 2002 map with one that loads Republican voters into the evenly split 7th Congressional District, and also increases the Republican majority in the close 5th District.The vote, coming the day before the legislature adjourns today, sent the bill to the Republican-majority House, where it was approved in committee. A final vote on the House floor is expected today.Republicans say the state constitution gives them the right to adjust the current boundaries, which were chosen by a Democratic judge after the 2000 legislature failed to agree on a plan.”The state constitution mandates that the legislature draw the lines, and they haven’t this decade,” said Colorado Republican Party Executive Director Jack Stansbery. “So they’re doing it now.”But the bold and unprecedented move outraged Democrats, who accused Republicans of rushing the plan through at the 11th hour and predicted it would be overturned in court.”In the history of the United States, this has never been tried,” said Chris Gates, Colorado Democratic Party chairman. “If they muscle this through, they’re going to have to defend it in court.”The legislation also sent political analysts scurrying to determine whether a state legislature can change a congressional map after it’s already been used in one election cycle.”This is a very historic move, and it may indeed be a national first,” said Denver analyst Floyd Ciruli. “If the courts allow this, it would certainly open a Pandora’s box. You could have legislatures redrawing districts every time there’s a change in power.”Republican Gov. Bill Owens had not decided yesterday whether to sign the bill should it arrive on his desk, said his spokesman, Kristen Hubble. But Democrats already were warning the governor to back away from the proposal.”If Bill Owens wants to be president, he’ll veto it. Otherwise, it’ll hang around his neck like a millstone,” Mr. Gates said.Republicans have been fuming over the current redistricting plan since 2000, when Denver District Court Judge John Coughlin chose it over several other proposals. The plan benefited Democrats by locking up two districts in their favor.”It was incredibly beneficial to the Democrats,” Mr. Ciruli said. “The Republicans absolutely think they got a bad deal, and they want to get it fixed.”State Senate Majority Leader John Andrews argued that allowing the legislature to adjust the boundaries would be “vastly more democratic” than sticking with Judge Coughlin’s map.”Let me point out that the temporary map now in force was drawn by one individual [the Democratic Party state director] with zero, zero public testimony and arbitrarily selected by one individual [the unelected Judge Coughlin] with zero, zero public debate,” said Mr. Andrews in an e-mail to critics of the Republican plan.Republicans say the plan would better keep together neighborhoods and water districts while shoring up minority voting strength.Attorney General Ken Salazar, a Democrat, warned Republicans that their plan would lose in an inevitable court challenge. Historically, state legislatures have approved new redistricting plans every 10 years after each census.”Redistricting of Colorado’s congressional districts has already taken place for this decade,” Mr. Salazar said. “It’s my opinion that SB 352 is constitutionally infirm.”

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