Colorado Is Latest State to Review Maps

Posted January 17, 2003 at 5:08pm

Add Colorado to the list of states where Congressional redistricting may be revisited this year.

Although no redistricting bills have been introduced so far in the Colorado General Assembly, insiders in both parties believe that the politically sensitive issue is likely to resurface later in the session, now that Republicans have gained control of both chambers of the Legislature. They expect redistricting to come up shortly before the session ends in May, after lawmakers have tackled the budget deficit and the drought.

The current Congressional map was drawn by a state court, after the state Senate — then controlled by Democrats — and the House — then as now controlled by Republicans — were unable to agree on a plan.

The prospect of a renewed fight over redistricting has frozen the ability of some certain or would-be Congressional candidates to prepare for the 2004 cycle.

“It’s the biggest political obstacle on our horizon,” said Alan Salazar, chief of staff to Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who is contemplating a run for Senate next year.

Of the state’s seven Congressional districts, the likeliest to be affected by a new Republican-driven redistricting plan is the new 7th in the Denver suburbs. That’s where new Rep. Bob Beauprez (R) eked out a 121-vote victory over former state Sen. Mike Feeley (D) in a “fair fight” district last year, and Republicans would love to solidify Beauprez’s precarious position.

“The court really bought into a plan [for the 7th] that was drawn by the state Democratic Committee,” said Jack Stansbery, executive director of the Colorado GOP.

After the court released its map last year, political professionals in both parties took to calling the 7th “the Perlmutter for Congress District” — because it appeared to have been drawn to benefit former state Sen. Ed Perlmutter (D), who was contemplating running for Congress but decided not to.

Perlmutter is still considered a possible candidate for the 7th district seat, as is Jefferson County District Attorney Dave Thomas, who lost the Democratic primary last year to Feeley. Feeley may also want to try again, but his wife is expecting their first child soon and he may not feel the time is right, state political operatives said.

Although Republicans now control both houses of the Legislature and have Gov. Bill Owens (R) in the statehouse, Stansbery conceded that the GOP’s hair-thin 18-17 edge in the Senate means that a new redistricting plan is no sure thing.

“I think it will be introduced, I just don’t know the chances for its success, given the margins we have in the Senate,” he said.

Colorado may not be the only state where legislatures revisit redistricting this year. Thanks to their newfound clout in the Georgia and Texas statehouses, Republican lawmakers in those states are also contemplating redrawing the Congressional maps to benefit GOP incumbents and challengers.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is reviewing the constitutionality of the Mississippi Congressional district map, and a federal judge in Pennsylvania is considering a challenge to the district lines in the Keystone State.