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Colorado Supreme Court Hears Congressional Map Appeal

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An image from Thursday's hearing (credit: CBS)

An image from Thursday’s hearing (credit: CBS)

DENVER (AP) – The battle to redraw Colorado’s congressional districts reached the state’s highest court Thursday as Republicans appealed to prevent a Democratic takeover in the GOP stronghold held by Rep. Mike Coffman.

Republicans centered their argument before the judges on whether parts of suburban Douglas County south of Denver belong in the rural 4th District on the Eastern Plains, making Coffman’s district more favorable to Democrats.

“This is a square peg in a round hole,” said Richard Westfall, an attorney representing Republicans.

Denver District Judge Robert Hyatt ruled last month that the map proposed by Democrats to redraw congressional lines best reflected demographics and communities of interest that have changed during the last decade. He said Douglas County shares common interests with counties in the 4th District experiencing drought conditions and an expansion of oil and gas development.

Republicans had argued for minor changes to the current districts, an approach Hyatt blasted, calling it a disservice to voters and saying it disregarded the shared interests of communities.

“It wasn’t even credible,” Mark Grueskin, an attorney representing the Democrats, said about the Republicans’ argument.

Along with Republicans, Douglas and Larimer counties also appealed the ruling. The state Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling in the next two weeks.

The Legislature was supposed to redraw congressional districts this spring but failed to reach an argument. Instead, both parties accused each other of being unwilling to compromise.

If Republicans lose their appeal, Democrats could mount a serious challenge to Coffman in 2012.

Republicans have held Coffman’s 6th Congressional District since it was created after the 1980 census. Hyatt’s ruling makes Coffman’s suburban Denver district more Democratic by putting Republican-leaning portions of Coffman’s district into the eastern plains seat held by Republican U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner. It also puts the entire city of Aurora in Coffman’s district. The city is currently split between the 6th and 7th districts.

Democratic state Rep. Joe Miklosi launched a challenge against Coffman when it became apparent over the summer that his district could be in play.

Hyatt said the Democrats’ proposal makes three districts competitive, with each nearly evenly split among Democrats, Republicans, and unaffiliated voters. Those districts are the 3rd, 6th and 7th. The judge said he favored having competitive districts because it would make candidates work harder to win over voters.

Democratic state Rep. Sal Pace and Democratic state Senate President Brandon Shaffer are also running for Congress next year. Pace is challenging Republican Rep. Scott Tipton, whose rural 3rd district on the Western Slope would become slightly more competitive than it already is under the Democrats’ proposed congressional lines.

Shaffer is challenging Republican Rep. Cory Gardner in the 4th district, which still leans Republican under the Democratic proposal.

Republicans said in their appeal that Hyatt relied too much on the factor of competitiveness, which not a constitutional guideline, instead of looking at communities of interest. Hyatt said in his ruling that competitiveness is a discretionary factor the court can consider.

Republicans also objected to the Democratic map because it puts Larimer County, which the GOP considers to have agricultural interest with the Eastern Plains, within the 2nd District held by Democratic Rep. Jared Polis. Hyatt said that would make it so the University of Colorado in Boulder and Colorado State University in Fort Collins can be represented by a single representative who could focus on their shared higher education interests.

Westfall maintained the Democratic-drawn map picked by Hyatt makes unnecessary and drastic changes, saying that it can’t be that “every 10 years you get to reset and see what new interest is out there.”

Justice Gregory J. Hobbs Jr. praised Hyatt’s ruling during Westfall’s arguments.

“I thought the chief judge did a much better job than what you’re characterizing,” Hobbs said.

Hobbs highlighted Hyatt’s recognizing of the city of Aurora as a community of interest. The city, which is the state’s third largest, would be entirely in Coffman’s district under the Democratic proposal, instead of being split between the 6th and 7th district.

“The point is, we need to in this process, isolate the interests that need to be represented in Congress, and that’s what we did,” Grueskin said.

By IVAN MORENO, Associated Press

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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