Colorado Congressional Redistricting, Episode V (Abdication) – or, Why bother with a state legislature?

In the latest development in the sad, sorry saga of Colorado Congressional Redistricting this year, Representative Ed Casso (D-Commerce City) announced Friday his intent to abdicate the legislature’s constitutional responsibilities – preemptively giving up any future legislative role in defining Colorado’s Congressional district boundaries, and completely removing the process from any public accountability.

Currently, the Colorado Constitution, Article V Section 44, unambiguously assigns this responsibility to the legislative branch:

Text of Section 44:Representatives in Congress.
The general assembly shall divide the state into as many congressional districts as there are representatives in congress apportioned to the state by the congress of United States for the election of one representative to congress for each district. When a new apportionment shall be made by congress, the general assembly shall divide the state into congressional districts accordingly.

Casso proposes to remove this responsibility from the elected legislature, outsourcing it instead to an appointed (and unaccountable) commission, much like the process by which state legislative district boundaries are drawn by the state Reapportionment Commission.  Casso’s stated intent is to, quote, “permanently remove the politics associated with this process.”  However, as experience has shown with the Reapportionment Commission, particularly the battles over partisan affiliation of the legislative, gubernatorial, and judicial appointments who make up that commission’s eleven members, outsourcing has not removed the politics from the process; it has only removed the politics from public view.

Casso’s proposal also highlights a disturbing trend of outsourcing legislative responsibilities to boards, commissions, and bureaucrats who conduct public business out of the public eye and without public accountability.

This ‘Progressive’ ideal of “Expertism” – that if we simply hand over control to “experts” who will dispassionately analyze the facts and generate “ideal” solutions – is diametrically opposed to the founding American principles that the Citizen is sovereign, not merely a subject of the ruling class, however composed.

To the extent that this trend foists legislative and executive branch responsibilities onto the judicial branch, it also accelerates a dangerous trend of politicizing the judiciary, already exacerbated by the Colorado Senate’s intentional strategy of sending Congressional Redistricting to the courts, decreasing prospects for fair and equal treatment in the courts and undermining the foundations of the rule of law.

Casso’s legislative outsourcing proposal, since it seeks to overturn part of the Colorado Constitution, would have to overcome several obstacles before  it could become law:

Casso’s proposal would require a two-thirds majority vote in the House and in the Senate to place a question on the November 2012 ballot asking voters if they would prefer that an appointed commission take the reins of the redistricting process away from state lawmakers.

Colorado voters would then have to agree to sign away their rights to maintain accountability over the Congressional Redistricting process.

Abdication or Accountability?

In fact, there are only TWO mandatory responsibilities of the legislature:

  1. annually, draw up a state budget; and
  2. decennially, draw up Congressional district boundaries.

Casso’s proposal would remove one of those two mandatory, constitutional legislative responsibilities.  If Casso truly believes that he and his legislative colleagues aren’t up to the task (resembling a student council, handing off all of the difficult decisions to the adults in the principal’s office), why bother with a state legislature at all?

As an alternative, perhaps providing an incentive to legislators to do the job for which they were elected might be effective.  Here’s a proposal:

Until state legislators discharge these mandatory duties (for which they are elected and paid), NO OTHER legislation may be enacted or go into effect – PERIOD.

Think they might be able to work something out under those terms and conditions?

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 to educate voters and provide information of relevance related to the judicial branch, and to provide useful and substantive 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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