DENVER | Democrats scored a big victory Tuesday with the approval of preliminary Colorado legislative districts that would force Republican leadership to battle their own party members for re-election next year.
The vote to approve Senate maps so angered Republican Sen. Bill Cadman that he left a committee room and slammed a door walking out. Cadman, the GOP’s leader in the Senate, had been watching the proceedings sitting next to Republican Sen. Keith King, who he will have to face next year if the state Supreme Court approves the maps.
The commission — made up of five Republicans, five Democrats and one unaffiliated voter — also approved a House map that would pit Republican House Leader Amy Stephens against a member of her own party.
Commissioners voted along party lines, with the unaffiliated panel Chairman Mario Carrera siding with Democrats.
The process of redrawing districts has been mostly cordial since commissioners began meeting in May, but it degenerated into tense bickering this week. Mario Nicolais, a Republican map drawer on the commission, called the panel chairman a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” insinuating he’s been on the Democrats’ side all along despite being an unaffiliated voter.
“I’m not in charge of party strategy for the Republicans nor for the Democrats,” Carrera said after the vote. “And I think the Republicans are holding me responsible for their lack of coordination and strategy.”
Nicolais promised to appeal the vote to the state Supreme Court with a report including Republican objections to the maps.
“We’ve been trying to work with Chairman Carrera the entire time and in retrospect he’s been working against us,” Nicolais said.
It’s still possible for the state Supreme Court to remand the maps to the commission, which has happened once.
Commissioners submitted maps in September. The court later ruled that too many counties were split in an effort to make one-third of the Legislature’s 100 districts competitive.
Republicans were the loudest objectors to the previous maps. The new set of maps may be even worse for them.
If approved, the maps’ impacts are likely to be felt next year in Colorado’s split Legislature. Pairing Republican incumbents in contests could increase Democrats’ five-vote advantage in the Senate and jeopardize Republicans’ one-vote edge in the House.
In addition to Stephens, three other House Districts would have Republican incumbents facing each other.
The maps voted on Tuesday also include more districts that are considered competitive than the previous proposals, Carrera said. Thirty-eight districts would be considered competitive — 14 in the Senate and 24 in the House.
Carrera, the vice president and general manager of Entravision Communications in Colorado, said the newly approved maps reflect the growing Latino population in Colorado. Twenty-four seats would be districts where Latinos would account for at least 30 percent of the vote.
Democrats insisted they were trying to follow the Supreme Court’s order to minimize county splits. They said having several incumbents facing each other next year is an unfortunate consequence of that.
Republicans also accused Democrats of ignoring deadlines to submit maps at the last minute so the proposals wouldn’t receive heavy scrutiny. Democrats said Republicans did the same thing.
“So I think it is very difficult for any of us to be holier than thou, when we were both were trying to achieve the same means,” said former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, a Democratic commissioner.
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