As a Democrat from Boulder and a Republican from Fremont County, the two of us do not typically see eye to eye on policy issues. Yet we are partnering to sponsor two companion measures introduced last week in the Colorado Senate.
The issue that unites us has historically been one of the most divisive in Colorado, with fierce partisan battles and political gamesmanship demonstrated decade after decade.
The issue? The once-per-decade exercise in drawing boundaries for legislative and congressional districts.
The way that our congressional and legislative maps are drawn has significant bearing on the voice that every voter has with their state and federal representatives.
Colorado’s existing systems for drawing those maps (known as redistricting and reapportionment) are controlled by elected officials and political appointees. The status quo has resulted in oftentimes divided affairs that have lacked transparency, protected incumbents and led to charges of back-room dealing.
And the hard-fought process has created a small number of competitive seats in a state that is near-evenly divided between Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters.
Neither of the state Senate districts that we represent has been considered to be competitive anytime in recent memory — one predictably progressive and one consistently conservative. So it may seem unexpected for us to advocate for more competitive districts.
But all Coloradans deserve a fairer and more transparent process for drawing district boundaries. And all Coloradans deserve effective representation where politicians have to work to earn the support of every voter in his or her district.
Under the existing system, rural communities, minority communities or cities and towns can be split up to dilute their influence and protect entrenched interests.
With a new Census around the corner and dramatic growth set to give Colorado an eighth Congressional seat by 2022, now is the time to address the problems in our existing system.
Senate Concurrent Resolutions 4 and 5 will ask voters to reform the process for how congressional and legislative maps are drawn and ensure more competitive elections.
Notably, the map-drawing will be overseen by new independent commissions made up of Colorado citizens. Commission members will not be politicians or appointed by politicians.
The commissioner-selection process includes a requirement for unaffiliated voters to be members on equal footing with Republicans and Democrats. Unaffiliated voters comprise the largest group of voters in Colorado, and our proposals will bring them to the table in a meaningful way for the first time.
The commissioners will ensure that district maps meet neutral criteria to protect communities of interest — including racial and ethnic minorities and rural communities — and strive to keep cities and counties intact.
Additionally, the commissioners will be directed to maximize the number of competitive districts to the extent possible. More competitive districts will force politicians to work to earn the support of more voters — including those in rural and minority communities — and represent their interests in office.
Maps will be drawn by non-partisan staff, ensuring fairness and transparency. Map-drawing will prioritize compactness and contiguous geographic areas.
Throughout the new process, there is a commitment to reflecting Colorado’s voters and putting decisions in the hands of citizens instead of politicians. And checks and balances are included to avoid partisans “gaming the system.”
Robust ethical, transparency and public-participation guidelines will be put in place to ensure the commissions follow open meetings, open records and other sunshine laws.
These measures reflect a recent compromise announced by groups from across the political system that had been working on competing efforts to reform the way we draw maps. More than 80 individuals and organizations have already signed on in support of these proposals, and we’re hopeful that other lawmakers will join us in moving them through the General Assembly.
Once through the legislative process, these measures will be referred to Colorado voters for approval this November. Please join us in supporting these important reforms to Colorado’s political map drawing.
Kevin Grantham, R-Fremont County, is president of the Colorado Senate and represents District 2. Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder represents Senate District 18.