Saturday, April 16, 2011

Drawing lines over the drawing of lines

The Colorado legislature began its arguments yesterday over the new congressional redistricting plans drawn up by its redistricting committee. I found the arguments over the plans fascinating. Yes, they fell along party lines, but not for precisely the same reasons.

The Democrats are accusing the Republicans of engaging in a pretty typical form of partisan gerrymander: packing all the Democrats into as few districts as possible while making the rest safer for Republicans. And indeed, most of the Republican plans (you can see the maps here) draw a district for Denver and a district for Boulder and a few relatively-liberal nearby ski counties. These would give Jared Polis and Diana DeGette very safe districts but make it harder for Democrats to win the other five districts.

Interestingly, the Republicans aren't accusing the Democrats of doing the converse. Rather, their accusations are more geographic in nature. As Western slope Republican Rep. Don Coram said, "I'm looking at a map that more than likely would have seven congressmen living within a mile of DIA." Looking at the maps, he's not nuts:

Again, the argument isn't that the districts would give an unfair advantage to Democrats or would be too competitive. It's just that it's theoretically possible for every district to be represented by someone from the Denver metro area. I'm not sure whether that would actually happen, but it seems likely that pretty much every primary in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th districts would be a fight over urban vs. rural values.

I should probably add here that I don't have strong views on which is the "right" kind of map. Granted, the 3rd district in the above map looks kind of ridiculous, encompassing Western Slope cities like Cortez and Durango as well as Pueblo on the Front Range and Lamar near the Kansas border. Hell, the district borders five other states. But try drawing up seven "normal" looking districts that respect "natural" communities and still contain the requisite 700,000 or so residents. It ain't easy.

Besides, efforts to draw districts to form permanent majorities rarely have much staying power. People move. Districts change. And candidates and parties adapt. Back in 2002, very few people expected that Colorado's 4th CD would be remotely competitive. Bush beat Kerry by 17 points there in 2004. But four years later, Betsy Markey took it. Still, these sort of efforts can make a difference in the short term, but the outcomes are not always obvious.

Mostly, I'm just enjoying the show.

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