DENVER (AP) – Former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb denounced Republicans Monday for proposed legislative maps he argues dilute minorities’ power, ignore constitutional requirements and seek to give the GOP a comfortable lead in the Colorado House.
The comments from Webb, a Democrat, are the most critical yet from a member of a bipartisan commission working on the once-a-decade process of drawing new state House and Senate districts to account for population changes. Both parties are watching closely because the process can influence the Legislature’s balance of power for the next 10 years — and Democrats and Republicans have had plenty to complain about what the state redistricting commission has done.
In a strongly worded seven-page statement, Webb accused Republicans on the panel of trying to create “Republican leaning strongholds where none existed before.” One of Webb’s harshest accusations involves a district in the Denver suburb of Aurora, where he claims Republicans drew a district described as having a strong minority influence. Webb contends that’s only because it includes thousands of black and Hispanic inmates at the Arapahoe County jail, who won’t be voting.
“At worst, the proponents unapologetically used the minority community as pawns for political advantage,” Webb said. The House district Webb is referring to is currently held by Republican Rep. Spencer Swalm.
In his comments, Webb singled out Republican Mario Nicolais, an attorney and one of the key map drawers.
Nicolais denied that he drew the Aurora district with the inmates in mind and that he was basing his map only on census data.
“I know that he has some very strong beliefs about minority populations and I’m glad to address those with him,” he said.
To redraw districts, panelists are required to follow constitutional rules, including keeping communities of interest together and keeping cities and towns whole as much as possible. The target district size for the Senate is 143,691 residents and for the House it’s 77,372.
Webb is unhappy that Aurora, the state’s third largest city with 325,000 residents, will be fractured because it has only one whole House district.
Webb accused Republicans of ignoring the rules to gain an advantage and claimed Nicolais has proposed Senate maps that are a “partisan ploy under the guise of constitutionality.” Webb said Nicolais and his fellow Republicans are seeking a “supermajority” in the House.
“I think that’s an inaccurate representation but he’s entitled to his beliefs,” Nicolais responded.
Officials from each party have also expressed dissatisfaction with proposed maps, but mainly those drawn for the chamber where they want to gain control. Republicans currently have a one-member advantage in the House and Democrats control the Senate by five votes.
The commission is made up of five Democrats, five Republicans, and one registered unaffiliated, Mario Carrera, who is considered the swing vote on proposed maps and serves as the panel chair. Webb said that Carrera, “in a desire for fairness,” has helped Republicans by voting for their maps. Carrera is not commenting on the process.
Democrats say the House maps approved for the Denver area and outlying suburbs, including Arapahoe, Adams and Jefferson counties, give an edge to Republicans.
“The net result is that it shifts power toward the Republicans and essentially makes them a supermajority,” said Rep. Matt Jones, a Democrat serving on the commission.
But Senate Republicans aren’t pleased with what the commission has proposed for their chamber, either.
“It is clear the Democrats have feigned outrage over the reasonably fair House maps while positioning themselves to bask in a 10 year majority in the State Senate,” Sen. Mike Kopp, the Republican leader in the Senate, said in a statement last week.
Commissioners have given preliminary approval to all proposed House and Senate maps and will spend a month traveling the state getting public input and changes are still possible. By Oct. 7, they will submit a final plan to the Colorado Supreme Court, which will make a ruling in December.
– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)