20 September 2011

Colorado General Assembly Districts Drawn

Yesterday, the bipartisan commission, made up of five Republicans, five Democrats, and one unaffiliated voter approved state house and state senate districts for the Colorado's General Assembly's 65 state house seats and 35 state senate seats, based on the 2010 Census that will take effect for the 2012-2020 elections. Three Republicans dissented from the House District map, two Republicans dissented from the Senate District map. The finally approved maps must be approved by the Colorado Supreme Court on October 14, 2011, but that is a mere formality in this case where the lines have been professional drawn to comply with the redistricting criteria, are more moderate than the proposals of either of the maps that the partisan members of the commission advocated, and each map received support from more than two-thirds of the commission members after a moderate amount of consideration of public commment on particular issues.

The maps adopted, drawn when the unaffiliated chair of the committee rejected both the Republican and Democratic maps, creates 22 state house districts and 11 state senate districts that are within 10 percentage points of partisan balance, by his measure, including a significant number that are within seven points. Thus, this map has more competitive districts than the respective partisan proposals.

Dan Willis has analyzed the maps and reached the following conlcusions:

There was and is a lot of debate over what is a "competitive" district. I will use my own yardstick in this regard and I differentiate between leaning D, leaning R, and very competitive. My process is use an average of the D & R votes for Treasurer and for CU Regent in 2010. If the result is +/- 5% of 50-50 that is leaning and if it is +/- 2% of 50-50, that is very competitive.

Using this standard the SD map has:
14 Safe R seats
3 Leaning R seats
9 Safe D seats
4 Leaning D Seats
5 Very Competitive

And the HD map has:
23 Safe R seats
4 Leaning R seats
15 Safe D seats
9 Leaning D seats
14 Very Competitive seats

Assuming that Safe and Lean R seats go to Republicans, and that Very Competitive Seats split 50-50, the "par for the course" outcome given this seat of districts is:

Colorado State Senate 19.5R-15.5D (current balance 20D-15R)
Colorado State House 34R-31D (current balance 33R-32D).

Put another way, if each party wins all of its safe and lean seats (or trade off losing equal numbers of each in each house) then the Democrats need to win:
* all five very competitive seats in the Colorado Senate (2.5 more than par for the course), and
* 9 out of 14 very competitive seats in the Colorado House (2 more than par for the course).

Actually, the Democrats have it somewhat better than that in the Colorado State Senate as they will have a built in edge from seats not up for election in 2012 and a little bit of an incumbency advantage in that year.

The situation is somewhat less bleak for Democrats than it seems for a number of reasons. First, the competitiveness of the districts is based on Republican candidate performance in 2010, a high water mark for Republicans in their Tea Party surge. Second, the 2010 election, as an off year election, always has lower voter turnout than Presidential election years like 2012 and the voters who vote in Presidential years but not in off year elections tend to be more liberal than voters who vote in every even yeared election. Put another way, Democratic voters tend to be less consistent voters than Republicans, voting only in bigger elections.

In reality, the partisan balance in 2012, when conditions are more favorable for Democrats than the 2010 elections that Dan Willis benchmarks used to handicap the maps above, will be almost exactly equal. Since the political makeup of Colorado has very even numbers of Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters, the suggests that on average, neither party is benefitting significantly from gerrymandering. Colorado has a vibrant two party system the Colorado General Assembly redistricting maps reflect.

Thus, the outcome of the 2012 elections for the Colorado General Assembly will come down to the quality of the individual candidates and their campaigns to an extent really unparalleled anywhere else in the United States. The winner will be the one with the most effective political tactics. This starts in earnest today, and each party starts the process of lining up a slate of candidates to run in the new districts over the next three months or so. Some disticts will have obvious incumbents or will be State Senate seats that don't go before voters in 2012, but each party has something on the order of a dozen serious candidate recruitment decisions to make over the next three months that are absolutely critical to political control of Colorado starting in the 2013 legislative session.

Of course, Governor Hickenlooper (D), Secetary of State Gessler (R), Treasurer Stapleton (R) and Attorney General Suthers (R), will share the capital's offices with whoever ends up in Colorado's General Assembly.

A state trial judge in the Denver District Court is hearing arguments in litigation to draw the boundaries for Colorado's seven Congressional Districts for 2012, since the Colorado General Assembly failed to reach agreement on map in the 2011 legislative session. Realistically, the trial court's decision, like the state legislative redistricting commission's decision, is very likely to be upheld on appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court. Personally, I know that I am also certain to end up in some reincarnation of a safe Democratic Denver centered Congressional District with Diana DeGette as the secure incumbent candidate. But, the way that other seats in the state are drawn could greatly impact the makeup of Colorado's federal delegation in the House of Representative following the 2012 election.

As a practical matter, the new districts also mean a major shakeup in the internal organization of the Democratic and Republican political parties who need to have political party bodies for every house and senate district and need to look at which districts are in single counties or multiple counties to set an agenda for their meetings over the course of the next year's political season.

I personally will be in Senate District 32, which are safe Democratic District, and inn House District 2, which will also be a safe Democratic District. So, I will have some freedom to focus my own efforts on more competitive races, on any ballot issue campaigns going on in 2012, and on the Presidential race in 2012.

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