A high-profile bipartisan group of former lawmakers and state officials are reworking and resubmitting a ballot initiative that would transform the process through which voting districts are drawn in Colorado. The news comes after the project was unveiled last month with a splash, drawing approval from newspaper editorial boards but sharp criticism on the left — mainly from champions of ethnic minority communities who argue the new plan would unconstitutionally tamp down gains in electoral power made by the communities in recent decades. James Mejia, spokesman for the proposal, said the rollout hasn’t been pretty, but that it was likely never going to be very pretty. “Hey, my compliments to the people have been involved in this and pushing it forward, really,” he said. The proposal was submitted Nov. 17 and labeled Initiative 55 by the Legislative Council.
The ad-hoc group behind the plan includes mostly former lawmakers and officials. Republicans include former Gov. Bill Owens, former Secretaries of State Donetta Davidson and Gigi Dennis and former Speaker of the House Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch. Democrats involved include former Gov. Dick Lamm, former Secretary of State Bernie Buescher and former Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver.
The group is proposing to move the congressional redistricting process out of the hands of elected lawmakers at the General Assembly by establishing a commission made up of four Republican, four Democratic and four unaffiliated members who would work with legislative staff to draw new map lines. The commission would also take over the process of drawing the maps for state legislative districts, a feat now performed by a commission whose members are selected by legislative leaders, the governor and the chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court.
Among the priorities the commission would be tasked with considering in drawing its maps, maintaining cohesion among communities of interest sits at the bottom. Communities of interest include “ethnic, cultural, economic trade area, geographic and demographic factors.”