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Bickering Continues Over Colorado District Lines

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

DENVER (AP) – Colorado lawmakers are running out of time to strike a deal on new congressional district lines.

The Republican House and Democratic Senate debated rival congressional redistricting plans Monday with the Senate session going past midnight. With just two days to go, there’s no sign the parties have agreed on how to redraw lines as required after every census.

Both parties talked up their plans as best. The GOP wants only minor adjustments to a map that gives them a 4-3 U.S. House advantage over Democrats. Democrats, meanwhile, argue for more competitive districts in which either party has a chance.

“We are trying not to do violence to the existing map,” said Republican Rep. David Balmer, leading a House debate over the GOP plan.

A few hours later, the Democratic Senate muddled past midnight with no agreement, possibly closing the door on any agreement this term. There was more finger-pointing than cohesive argument as the clock ticked.

“This is embarrassing for the people you represent,” Republican Sen. Ted Harvey told his Democratic colleagues.

Democratic Sen. Gail Schwartz insisted that voters who attended public hearings want new lines to give either side a shot and produce more-moderate lawmakers.

“They wanted to be in a competitive district where their votes actually matter,” Schwartz said.

Even as both sides debated their maps, legislative leaders spent much of the day huddled behind closed doors trying to craft a compromise. If lawmakers can’t agree by Wednesday, they face a special session or a lawsuit because the districts must be adjusted to account for population changes.

Political competitiveness isn’t a new debate in Colorado, where lawmakers haven’t been able to agree on new lines for at least 30 years.

Last decade, when Colorado gained one new member of Congress because of population growth, a Denver district court judge picked a map that gave Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters nearly equal representation in the new district.

This time around, both parties argue they have legal precedent to push their plans through in court.

That scenario appears inevitable. A bipartisan panel set up to broker a map both sides could agree on was abandoned weeks ago, and even lawmakers who last week argued compromise is still possible seemed ready to throw in the towel Monday.

“It was infinitely more difficult than any of us could have imagined” to agree on a map, concluded the Democrats’ lead Senate negotiator, Sen. Rollie Heath of Boulder.

On that count, Republicans agreed that the bipartisan effort was naive.

“It looks like the committee is going to fail in its work and this is going to end up in court,” Republican Sen. Mark Scheffel said.

- By Steven K. Paulson, AP Writer

Associated Press writer Kristen Wyatt contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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