Reapportionment Commission takes shape with Governor’s picks – but Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Bender has last word with upcoming “final four” selections

The ongoing legislative battle over Congressional Redistricting remains the “hot” topic in the news – with an escalating “blame game” as to who “killed the bipartisan redistricting effort” and even disagreement on basic principles (“competitive” districts or communities of interest?).   Hint – only one of those is mandated by law – Colorado Constitution Article V, Section 47 Composition of Districts:

Composition of Districts.

(1) Each district shall be as compact in area as possible and the aggregate linear distance of all district boundaries shall be as short as possible. Each district shall consist of contiguous whole general election precincts. Districts of the same house shall not overlap.

(2) Except when necessary to meet the equal population requirements of section 46, no part of one county shall be added to all or part of another county in forming districts. Within counties whose territory is contained in more than one district of the same house, the number of cities and towns whose territory is contained in more than one district of the same house shall be as small as possible. When county, city, or town boundaries are changed, adjustments, if any, in legislative districts shall be as prescribed by law.

(3) Consistent with the provisions of this section and section 46 of this article, communities of interest, including ethnic, cultural, economic, trade area, geographic, and demographic factors, shall be preserved within a single district wherever possible.

Garnering less media attention, but of equal and parallel importance for the composition of Colorado’s state legislative districts (contrary to confused coverage, a completely separate process), the state Reapportionment Commission today took further shape with the publication of Governor Hickenlooper’s three appointments to the commission.  As reported by State Bill Colorado,

They are former state legislator, Gayle A. Berry, a Republican from Grand Junction, from the 3rd Congressional District; former Mayor of Denver, Wellington Webb, a Democrat from Denver, from the 1st Congressional District; and Arnold Salazar, a Democrat from Alamosa, from the 3rd Congressional District.

Governor Hickenlooper’s press release announcing the appointments noted that “[m]y three appointments have committed themselves to creating more competitive districts, which should therefore create more competitive elections wherever possible” and “expressed hope” that the sum of appointments from all three branches of government “would result in a commission with precise partisan balance.”  He expounded on this “hope” in an ‘open letter’ statement to Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Bender, who will make (and announce) the ‘final four’ commission picks by May 5th:

“When the Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court makes the final four appointments to this Commission, I hope he will make sure that there is a precise balance between Democrats and Republicans,” Hickenlooper said. “That means appointing at least one unaffiliated voter to the Commission.  Neither political party should have a majority in this process and we ought to encourage consensus on the Commission.”

However, it should be clear to all but the most naive observers that the “partisan balance” on the commission is mere window-dressing.  Hickenlooper’s “Republican” appointment to the commission, former Grand Junction legislator Gayle A. Berry (R- HD55) has worked for the past several years as a lobbyist – for Governor Ritter’s Energy Office, among others (click here for a list of her major clients).  The Western Slope’s “representation” on the commission  is rounded out by Arnold Salazar (yes, brother of Ken and John), the Executive Director of Colorado Health Partnerships, LLC and a member of Governor Ritter’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Healthcare Reform.

Further, although it is possible that Chief Justice Bender will honor the letter of Governor Hickenlooper’s request to round out the commission with apparent partisan balance and appoint an “unaffiliated” member, it is all but certain that the token “unaffiliated” commissioner will be an INDO at best (Independent in Name, Democrat in Orientation), if not an outright Democrat in unaffiliated clothing.  In fact, the leading candidate for the token “unaffiliated” slot is reportedly none other than former Gunnison Democrat legislator Kathleen Curry, according to the Denver Post:

Former state Rep. Kathleen Curry said she’s in the running for an appointment to a commission redrawing legislative boundaries.

“I applied and have been told by Justice Bender that I am being considered,” she said, in an email.

Republicans (and actual independents) may console themselves with what may appear to be a relatively close balance on the commission, but the reality is clear: once again, just like the last time around, Democrats will dominate the commission membership, with insurance picks provided courtesy of the Colorado Supreme Court.

On the bright side, the Republicans will be ably represented on the Reapportionment Commission by two of the sharpest and most knowledgeable minds available, thanks to inspired picks by both House leadership (Speaker Frank McNulty selected former Rep. Rob Witwer as his delegate) and Senate leadership (Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp selected attorney Mario Nicolais as his delegate).  According to the Reapportionment Commission staff, “this is the first time that legislative leaders have not appointed serving legislators” to the commission; if so, the selections are a welcome break from tradition and demonstrate some fresh, “out-of-the-box” thinking.

Conversely, the Democrat selections are “politics as usual”: Senate President Brandon Shaffer selected ueber-partisan Senator Morgan Carroll (D-Aurora), and House Minority Leader Sal Pace picked Boulder Democrat Matt Jones (D-Boulder), who served on the 1991 Reapportionment Commission and also co-founded and co-chaired the Democratic House Majority Fund.

Unfortunately, we are once again witnessing in slow motion the erosion of our liberty – aided and abetted by the Colorado Supreme Court.

Clear The Bench Colorado will, with your support, continue to promote transparency and accountability in the Colorado judiciary, informing the public to increase awareness of the substantial public policy implications of an unrestrained activism and political agendas in the courts.  We will continue to work with legislators and others interested in reforming the systemic shortcomings of Colorado’s “merit selection & retention” system to increase transparency and accountability to the public, and to provide useful evaluations of judicial performance.

However, we can’t do it alone –  we need your continued support; via your comments (Sound Off!) and, yes, your contributions.  Freedom isn’t free –nor is it always easy to be a Citizen, not a subject.

Ultimately, though – it’s worth the effort.

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