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Denver’s Redistricting Problem

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Capitol Hill neighborhood (credit: CBS)

Capitol Hill neighborhood (credit: CBS)

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

The state of Colorado has grown accustomed to problems associated with redistricting issues. Every ten years, if the population of the state changes or moves around, we are legally bound to redraw the lines of our Congressional districts and our State Senate and House districts.

The redistricting processes that were dictated after the 2010 census kept to tradition by being partisan, contentious and leaving the participants on both sides with hard feelings.

But the key ingredient to the problem on the Congressional and State level was the nature of the battle between political parties. Many citizens wondered aloud what the processes would be like if the participants were all from the same party. Theoretically, it would go much smoother, enabling the process to happen with little to no problems.

Anyone who previously believed in that conventional wisdom has been proven terribly wrong by the Denver City Council this past week.

Redistricting, it seems, can be contentious even when everyone is seemingly playing on the same team.

The Denver City Council is not elected based on party. That’s a common civic design, but it’s also practical because Denver is overwhelming Democratic.

But even though everyone is theoretically on the same political side of the aisle, council members still find plenty to fight about when it comes to re-drawing lines for council districts.

The fight in Denver has brought out very contentious feelings and controversial comments, mostly surrounding the idea of ethnic and racial politics.

On one hand, there are people who want to see Latinos in Denver to have a significant voice in their own council district. City Councilwoman Debbie Ortega said in a newsletter that Denverites have the right to be represented by someone who “looks and talks like them”. Ortega has since tired to explain those comments, but it’s clear from other leaders that having a Latino majority in some districts is a preferred strategy.

However, the flip side of that coin is also a problem. Some Latino leaders are angry that some proposed maps attempt to put most of Denver’s Latino community into two districts, which some see as a way to limiting the impact the Latino community can have in other districts.

I believe the conflict exposes the problems with looking at any district plan based on race or ethnic guidelines.

While significant problems regarding racial discrimination did occur in the past, Denver is past those days. Denver is now a city made of neighborhoods, not of particular ethnic groups.

I believe it is an insult to Latinos and African Americans to assume that every member of those communities sees city issues the same way or have the very same civic priorities.

A young Hispanic man living near 32nd and Federal may have much different civic priorities than a middle aged Hispanic woman living near the Stapleton neighborhood. To assume they think the same about Denver politics because they share an ethnic background is absurd.

For the city of Denver, the redistricting debate should be resolved with one word, neighborhoods. Citizens of neighborhoods are much more likely to have greater issues in common, regardless of race, ethnicity or even income levels.

If council members can have the courage to put neighborhoods together, regardless of any other criteria, they will arrive at the most fair way to redraw the lines. Summoning that type of courage is not easy, nor common.

And with the start of the process looking the way it does right now, those courageous choices look even less likely.
About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.

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