Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Bender’s “final four” appointments round out Reapportionment Commission

The ongoing legislative battle over Congressional Redistricting remains the “hot” topic in the news – Public asked, again, to weigh in on Congress maps” – with a final opportunity for Citizens weigh in on competing redistricting maps by publicly testifying at the Congressional Redistricting Committee hearing scheduled for today (Thurs, May 5) at 2:00 p.m. in House Committee Room 112 at the Colorado Capitol.

The latest news?  Both the Pueblo Chieftain (“Redistricting“) and the Grand Junction Sentinel (“Redistricting redux“) editorialized in favor of the Republican redistricting map.

From the Pueblo Chieftain editorial:

The proposal, House Bill 1319 by Rep. David Balmer, R-Centennial, and Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, is the best redistricting map yet to surface this year. Its first committee hearing is set for 2 p.m. today.

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 legislative district Reapportionment Commission was finalized yesterday afternoon with the press release announcing Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Bender’s appointments.

Chief Justice Bender’s appointments are:

  • Dolores S. Atencio – A Democrat from Denver in the 1st Congressional District. Atencio is a partner at Garcia Calderon Ruiz, LLP, and practices litigation and employment law.
  • Mario M. Carrera – An unaffiliated voter from Parker in the 6th Congressional District. Carrera is the vice president and general manager of Entravision Communications Corporation.
  • Robert D. Loevy – A Republican from Colorado Springs in the 5th Congressional District. Loevy is a professor of political science and American government at Colorado College.
  • Steve Tool – A Republican from Windsor in the 4th Congressional District. Tool is a former state legislator where he served on the Joint Budget Committee.

Chief Justice Bender’s “final four” appointments join Governor Hickenlooper’s previously announced three appointments

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 …

and the earlier legislative appointments (four total: two from each chamber, from each side of the partisan aisle, for an automatic 2:2 tie):

Governor Hickenlooper’s press release announcing his 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.”

Chief Justice Bender’s appointments fulfilled the letter of Governor Hickenlooper’s request; in terms of party registration, the 11-member commission now consists of 5 Democrats, 5 Republicans, and one unaffiliated member.

However, appearances can be deceiving…

As previously noted, the single Republican appointed by Governor Hickenlooper, 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).

Similarly, one of the Republicans selected by Chief Justice Bender, former Rep. Steve Tool (R-Windsor) has a record of hewing rather closer to Democrat positions on the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) and Healthcare Policy & Planning issues; although the his policy leanings may have less impact on reapportionment decisions, his continued activity as a lobbyist may influence his willingness to upset potential clients.

On the positive side – in a departure from the practice of his predecessor, the openly partisan former Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey – Chief Justice Bender’s appointments did at least achieve a relatively close partisan balance on the commission, at least pro forma.  The conduct of the commission over the next several months will demonstrate whether the apparent balance is borne out in practical terms, but the commission’s membership at least raises hopes that one side will not dominate and steamroller the other, and Colorado may end up with districts more representative of the state.

Some  have speculated that Chief Justice Bender’s willingness to ensure partisan balance on the commission may be due in part to the much greater scrutiny placed this year on Reapportionment Commission membership, the state legislative district reapportionment process in general, and – in particular – the role of the judiciary in determining Congressional and legislative district boundaries.

If so, then Clear The Bench Colorado has continued to provide a useful service beyond the judicial retention elections, which we certainly hope (and intend) to be the case.

Additional references:

  • Constitutional Provisions Controlling Reapportionment/Redistricting (official Colorado state website, which collates relevant constitutional language on Congressional redistricting and state legislative reapportionment)
  • Redistricting in Colorado (Ballotpedia site – although the site contains several errors, some of which are being corrected, it does provide useful context and historical background on past restricting battles.  As with any Wiki site – contributions come from a variety of sources and are frequently edited – proceed with some skepticism)

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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