DENVER (AP) – The Colorado Supreme Court upheld Democratic-drawn congressional maps Monday, putting Republican Rep. Mike Coffman’s conservative-leaning district in play next year and choosing the Democrats’ argument that politicians should be in competitive seats.
The ruling closes the book on what was an acrimonious battle this year, starting with the Legislature’s failure to agree on new congressional lines as both parties accused each other of being unwilling to compromise. The parties went to court and Denver District Judge Robert Hyatt picked the Democrats’ map, saying it best reflected demographic changes during the last decade.
The state Supreme Court issued a brief statement upholding Hyatt’s ruling and said a written opinion would come later.
Democratic attorney Mark Grueskin said he hoped the high court’s decision sent a message to other states working on redistricting that are considering drawing competitive districts at a time when Congress’ public approval continues to deteriorate.
“This is an incredibly important moment to say this process isn’t about solidifying the hold that incumbents have on their office,” Grueskin said.
The chosen map alters Coffman’s 6th district in the southern Denver suburbs by moving Republican-leaning portions of Douglas County into the Eastern Plains seat now held by Republican Rep. Corey Gardner. The map also puts the city of Aurora entirely in Coffman’s district, eliminating its current split between the 6th and 7th. Those changes make his district nearly evenly split among Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters, giving Democrats a shot at winning the 6th district for the first time since it was created after the 1980 census.
Coffman said in a statement that he believes he still has an edge to hold onto his seat because of his Aurora roots.
“I’m disappointed that I’m losing so many of my constituents but I’m excited about running in the new district,” Coffman said in a statement. “I grew up in Aurora, went to school in Aurora, started a small business in Aurora, and I still live in Aurora.”
Democratic state Rep. Joe Miklosi, of Denver, is challenging Coffman.
Grueskin said the Democrats’ map also acknowledged the demographic changes in the state since 2000, which Hyatt noted in his ruling last month. For example, Hyatt said Douglas County shares common interests with counties in the 4th district on the Eastern Plains experiencing drought conditions and an expansion of oil and gas development. Hyatt also said it was important for Aurora, the state’s third-largest city, to be represented by a single member of Congress.
The new map also puts Larimer County, which linked to the agricultural Eastern Plains, with the 2nd district held by Democratic Rep. Jared Polis. Judge Hyatt said in his previous ruling that the change allowed the University of Colorado in Boulder and Colorado State University in Fort Collins to be represented by a single person who could focus on higher education interests.
Republicans argued the new maps make unreasonable changes to make more races competitive. They had advocated for minimal changes to the current district lines, which must be redrawn every decade to account for population shifts.
“I’m very disappointed,” Republican attorney Richard Westfall said. The map “does a great disservice to Douglas and Larimer” counties.
There would be no more appeals, he said.
The maps make three districts competitive, with each nearly evenly split among Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters. Those districts are the 3rd, 6th and 7th.
Democratic state Rep. Sal Pace is challenging Republican Rep. Scott Tipton, who represents the sprawling, rural 3rd district on the Western Slope. Democratic Senate President Brandon Shaffer is challenging Gardner in the 4th district, which still leans Republican under the Democratic proposal.
Republican state Sen. Greg Brophy, who served on a legislative panel that tried to redraw districts this spring, criticized the new map, saying the district court judge’s ruling would “serve as a disservice to the state and the citizens of Colorado.”
“And it was all done to give Democrats a political advantage and aid in their power grab,” he said.
By Ivan Moreno, Associated Press
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