Archive for the 'Colorado redistricting and re-apportionment' Category

Talk-radio hosts shouldn’t simply nod as Ramirez accuses Carrera of drawing legislative maps out of spite and retribution

Monday, December 5th, 2011

We all know the process of hammering out new state legislative districts is difficult for everyone involved: the governor, legislators, judges, and regular people, as well as the journalists reporting on it.

So even conservative talk-show hosts, like Jason Worley and Ken Clark on KLZ’s Grassroots Radio Colorado, should at least make a pass at presenting the issue with some measure of decency and fairness.

I know, it’s talk radio, but still.

This should start with Worley and Clark mentioning, however briefly when they discuss this issue, the fact that Democrats and Republicans agree that competitive districts are good for Colorado, because competition makes politicians on both sides of the aisle more responsive to their constituents, so they’ll do the things they want them to do, like create jobs, boost education, and listen to each other at least as well as my 14-year-old listens to my 11-year-old.

As has been reported previously, it’s not just the Democrats who recognize that competitive districts are desirable, but it’s also former GOP Chairs Dick Wadhams and Bo Callaway. Also, in December, then GOP Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp told the Colorado Statesman, “Citizens want a fair and open process with competitive districts.” The Fort Collins Coloradoan reported that Rep. Amy Stephens wants competitive districts, as does Sen. Steve Ward, R-Littleton, who told the Associated Press (April 24, 2008),“It’s the lack of competitive districts that have led to the polarization of politics.”

And both Republicans and Democrats can find aspects of the new legislative maps, currently under review by the Colorado Supreme Court, that increase competitiveness. So key elements of both parties would agree that this is a good thing, though, obviously, many leading Republicans believe that the latest set of maps give Democrats an unfair advantage overall.

But, as The Denver Post reported Sunday, not all Democrats are happy with the new districts either, and hearing their fellow Democrats say that the maps were drawn to meet the Supreme Court’s requirements to keep more counties whole doesn’t seem to satisfy them either.

But Worley and Clark failed to tilt their rhetoric anywhere near fairness and decency during a broadcast Tuesday.

Regardless of where they stand on this issue, Worley and Clark do no one any good when they nod, like Soviet generals, as Rep. Robert Ramirez, with no evidence, accuses reapportionment committee chairman Mario Carrera Tuesday of approving maps that would allegedly hurt Ramirez’s chances of re-election because of their old dispute over whether to allow undocumented children of illegal immigrants to qualify for in-state college tuition.

Retribution and spite, that’s what was motivating Carrera on the maps, Ramirez told told Grassroots Radio Colorado.

I mean, no matter where you sit on the political spectrum, you have to hope that a baseline level of evidence and facts are required before talk show hosts engage in a conversation like this one, which occurred on Grassroots Radio Colorado Nov. 29:

RAMIREZ: You know, its funny because the one vote this year that you guys actually praised me on, and we have seen different eye to eye on a couple things, was the ASSET vote. The in-state tuition for undocumented…. or illegals.  And he [Carrera] actually came to visit me the morning before that vote, brought me a letter and basically said please vote for this. It’s really important and I really want it. And I think we need to do this. It’s good for the Hispanic people. Blah blah blah blah. And really I went into that vote open-minded, thinking okay let’s see if there is something constitutionally we can do here. And they never found that. It was never there. Well then I hear…I overheard a Democrat [sic] commissioner talking to another commissioner hearing that while they were working on the maps, Carrera was discussing with people that he was upset with my vote on ASSET. And then I heard from a couple commissioners that he directly told them that he was mad about my vote on ASSET. So when I got my first map drawn, the primarily adopted, I am like wow ok so this is true, it’s working. But the new map with Carrera, and they dumped a 70 percent Democrat [sic] voting margin group in and took out my highest Republican voting margin. It was very obvious that he was playing the partisan game.

CLARK: So not to put words in your mouth. I’ll let you finish this Rep. Ramirez, but in your opinion you believe that pretty much everything he has been doing has been from a I’m mad at you for this, I’m mad at you for that, how dare you question me on this, and moving towards vindictiveness. And he is using the maps to get back at people he’s mad at.

RAMIREZ: Well, if you look, Ken Summers originally the only people that were really badly damaged that he could do anything with on the original maps were Republicans who had voted against the ASSET bill. And now it’s just, how dare you go against my word, so I’m really going to mess with you. I think it is. I think his pride has got in the way. And it’s unfortunate because I truly thought that he was a man of integrity. And he is proving that not so.

WORLEY: So now we can use M for Vendetta. M for Vendetta, we’ll have a new movie title going. Mario for Vendetta.

RAMIREZ: The main thing I wanted to say was, I wanted to thank Mario Nicolais. I wanted to thank the people who were actually trying to do their job. The Republicans that are on there. And it’s not a just a partisan thing. I’ve watched them, I’ve listened to them. And when you go to one of these meetings and you see the eye rolling of Atencio, Web, Matt…oh gosh…Matt Jones and Carroll. I mean literally, whenever a Republican or a conservative or a non-Democrat would say anything at these meetings they just [sign noise], roll their eyes, and really disrespect them. You never saw that from the people on the Republican side. They would get back at them.

WORLEY: I have heard Ms. Atencio is kind of nasty.

RAMIREZ: Oh absolutely. Without saying. I want to say that I appreciate the commissioners that are in there really trying to really be honest and hold true to the Constitution. Because the original map they gave me wasn’t a better map. It was a little worse than when I ran last year. But it was an honest map. And it followed the rules like you guys were saying earlier. We follow the rules. We go out there and try to do what’s right and then every time the Democrats…and we know they are going to do it, sweep in the last minute with lies.

Correction: Post reported that Bo Callaway (and even Dick Wadhams) supported competitive congressional districts

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

It’s worth saying again, given that about 30,000 newspaper layoffs have occurred in the past three years, how much a community loses when a veteran journalist loses her job.

For example, someone like me has to spend hours poring over Nexis to discover that former Gov. Dick Lamm and former GOP chair Bo Callaway secretly agreed in 1980 that Colorado should have competitive congressional districts.

But Post reporter Lynn Bartels simply has to check her brain, not Nexis. She was a Rocky reporter when it published the story back in the year 2000. After having asserted that Bartels failed to report the Lamm/Callaway story Friday, I regret to report today that, in fact, Bartels wrote a piece about it in December.

“I didn’t need to pore over LexisNexis,” Bartels points out. “I worked with Michele Ames and read her story at the time.”

And not only that, she quoted the current Colorado GOP chair, Dick Wadhams, openly saying he supports competitive districts, like Callaway did scretly:

“I think you get better elected officials that way, but I’ve never figured out how we get there,” [Wadhams] said. “You’d have to split El Paso County and Denver County, and I’m not sure either side would go for that.”

So my assertion that The Post, and other local media, had not reported what Colorado Republicans think about competitive districts was also wrong.

We’re fortunate we’ve still got Bartels and other veteran journalists in town. I wish we had more.

Reporters should find out if there’s any agreement between Dems and the GOP on competitive districts, as there was in 1980

Friday, April 29th, 2011

Reporters don’t have much time to pore over Nexis, like I do, and they might argue that even if they had extra time, they wouldn’t want to spend it researching stories about redistricting, which seems to end the same way every ten years anyway.

But I found an old news article about redistricting that reporters would benefit from knowing about.

Rocky Mountain News reporter Michele Ames interviewed Colorado GOP Chair Bo Callaway and Democratic Governor Dick Lamm about the redistricting process of 1980, during which they occupied parallel universes and otherwise didn’t concur, like we’re seeing of the partisans today.

But Ames discovered that, twenty years after their legislative battle, the two were willing to admit they secretly agreed on redistricting, even though the Colorado legislature deadlocked on the redistricting matter and it was sent to court.

Lamm told the Rocky (Dec. 29, 2000):

“Bo approached me during this battle and he said, ‘Let’s divide up this state in as close and as even districts and make all the candidates earn their elected office,” Lamm said. “He was right and I admire him for it.”

 Callaway was also quoted:

 “The best thing for the state of Colorado is more competition,” Callaway said. “Make them really run. Make them win your vote. I believed it then, and I still do.”

This became known as Callamandering, and the Rocky supported it in an editorial about 10 years later, saying competitive districts “give life to the proper spirit of politics” (Rocky, May 28, 2001).

And here’s another interesting piece of the article.

In 2000, then House Speaker Carl Bev Bledsoe (R-Hugo) openly supported the concept of competitive districts. He told the Rocky:

“If you’re interested in good government, you’re interested in competition. It makes both parties stronger,” Bledsoe said. “Then, whoever wins, it holds their feet to the fire.”

Despite this nod toward good government, the Colorado Legislature couldn’t agree in the year 2000, and the congressional map was again drawn by the courts.

But it did make me wonder, this time around, are Colorado Republicans saying they don’t want competitive districts? I realize, of course, that competitiveness is in the eyes of the beholder, and it obviously can be used as a smokescreen for partisan manipulation, but still, it’s hard to disagree with Callaway, Lamm, and Bledsoe above.

Please correct me if I’m wrong, but The Denver Post has yet to report, in its print edition, what the GOP thinks about competitive districts. Numerous Democrats are on record as supporting it. (The search function on the Spot blog is down, but I couldn’t find anything there.)

Clearly, The Post, should find out what GOP lawmakers think and let readers know.

We’ve seen some comments about competiveness from GOP lawmakers in other news outlets, and they are not consistent.

In December, GOP Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp told the Colorado Statesman, “Citizens want a fair and open process with competitive districts.” The Coloradoan reported that Rep. Amy Stephens favors competitive districts as well.

The Colorado Senate website, run by Democrats, quoted Sen. Mark Sheffel (R-Parker) as saying  at an April 20 hearing, “I wanted to raise the point that if we’re talking about this competitiveness that I would urge caution.”

Sen. Greg Brophy (R-Wray) was quoted from the same hearing:

“I think we already have a competitive state and I worry that on the other side of that competitive coin, that it just breeds more polarization among the electorate.”

But fellow Republicans reportedly disagree with that:

“It’s the lack of competitive districts that have led to the polarization of politics,” said Sen. Steve Ward, R-Littleton, told the Associated Press (April 24, 2008).  He was running to replace Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo at the time.

Denver journalists would be doing democracy a favor if they would do some reporting and find out if there’s any agreement, somewhere, some way, between Colorado Dems and Republicans on the competitiveness issue. The first task is to get the thoughts of both sides on the table.

Reporters should give us more facts about specific redistricting issues and less he-said-she-said confusion

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

If you’re a political reporter, when it comes to redistricting, there’s allegation after allegation after allegation, and you probably wonder if, by reporting on it, you’re confusing readers rather than helping them understand things.

One obvious way to clarify the debate is to correct false accusations, if they’re actually false. An outsider might think that’s easy, but as we know, the facts in politics are often in dispute, leaving even the best of reporters as frustrated as the rest of us.

Another way reporters can shed light on allegations is to add factual information to help readers gain a broader perspective.

A case in point is Frank McNulty’s allegation that Democratic maps were designed to further the political careers of Senate President Brandon Schaffer and Sen. Morgan Carroll.

McNulty’s allegation was reported in The Denver Post, Durango Herald, Longmont Times-Call, and elsewhere.

In The Post, a response to McNulty’s allegation was offered by Sen. Rollie Heath (D-Boulder). Heath was quoted as saying he resented McNulty’s remark. In a second Post story, in which McNulty’s allegation was repeated, The Post reported that Schaffer was not thinking about a run for Congress now.  The Post also reported that Schaffer said the proposed Democratic districts were competitive.

The Time-Call, in a longer article specifically on McNulty’s allegation, offered a number of responses to it, including Health’s statement that the 4th District would “still be very heavily weighted Republican” and Shaffer’s view that Democratic proposals are “fair and competitive.”

The Herald stated categorically:

“Under Heath’s map, voters in Shaffer’s 4th congressional district would be 27 percent registered Democrats and 37 percent Republicans.”

As the redistricting debate moves ahead, I hope journalists include specific facts in their reporting to put allegations  like McNulty’s in perspective, even if those allegations can’t be proven wrong per se.

In this McNulty case, to my way of thinking, the Herald’s numbers were the most informative, though an entire article could, and should, be dedicated to different types of voting numbers.

Overall, we’ll benefit more from in-depth coverage of specific aspects of the redistricting debate than he-said-she-said reporting and more he-said-she-said reporting after that.

Public’s understanding of current redistricting squabbles requires background on GOP “midnight gerrymander”

Friday, March 11th, 2011

When it comes to redrawing Colorado’s congressional districts, there’s strategeric strategery, which you’d expect, and then there’s stratospheric subversion of rule of law.

Reporters covering the redistricting process should be sure not to confuse the two. And so far, they’ve done a good job.

The starting point for confusion at this point could come regarding the GOP bill, HR 1276, introduced last Friday to change a law passed by Democrats last year.

The temptation for a reporter might be to frame this year’s GOP bill (introduced by Sen. Ellen Roberts and Rep. J. Paul Brown) as a partisan response to the equally partisan law passed by Democrats last year. But the two are not equally partisan, if you know the history involved, which I’ll explain.

Last year’s Dem law, introduced by Sen. Weissmann, repealed a 2004 GOP law laying out prioritized criteria that courts should use to map out Colorado’s congressional districts, if the Legislature can’t agree on a congressional map.

But the 2004 Republican law was directly connected to what’s known as the 2003 “midnight gerrymander,” which, on balance, was not run-of-the-mill strategeric strategery but stratospheric subversion of rule of law and the spirit of fair elections.

So, to be fair, this year’s GOP bill (HR 1276) needs to be described as an outgrowth of the midnight gerrymander. Or at least this perspective should be offered, as it was in recent coverage in The Denver Post, the Colorado Statesman, and the Durango Herald.

Here’s the background, based on this and other reporting:

After the last census, when it was time to re-draw congressional districts, Republicans and Democrats in the state Legislature didn’t agree on new boundaries, and so District Judge John Coughlin selected one of several maps proposed in 2002. The map he selected was upheld by the Colorado Supreme Court.

Then, in 2003, after an election had occurred, GOP state legislators passed yet another election-map law with new boundaries that could have given the GOP six safe congressional seats in Colorado and just one to the Dems.

This brazen effort became known as the “midnight gerrymander” because GOP legislators rammed their election-mapping bill through the state legislative process during the last three days of the session, bypassing committees and ignoring normal rules.

Ken Salazar was Colorado’s Attorney General at the time, and he declared the GOP legislation unconstitutional, but Gov. Bill Owens signed it anyway in May of 2003.

The Colorado Supreme Court threw the “midnight-gerrymander” law out in December of 2003, and restored the congressional map that had originally been approved.

After this major setback, Republicans in the state legislature passed a law in 2004 aimed at forcing the courts to create congressional maps that look essentially identical to those that would have been created by, yup, the midnight gerrymander! They did this by specifying that cities and counties be given top priority among criteria used by a judge to evaluate congressional maps.

So last year, the Dems repealed this law, leaving the courts to use essentially the same criteria that were in place before the midnight gerrymander. The status quo, pre-gerrymander, was returned, in which the courts are asked to follow federal law and weigh other non-prioritized criteria as needed.

This brings us to last Friday, when state Republicans introduced yet another bill (1276) to bring back mapping criteria that would result in midnight-gerrymader-looking congressional districts.

The bottom line for reporters is to be clear that while both Dems and Republicans are pushing for an advantageous congressional map, the cuurent strategery on GOP side has its roots in the midnight gerrymander.

And the story of that stratospheric subversion of rule of law, which could have given the GOP a 6-1 advantage in CO congressional seats, should be explained to public in redistricting coverage, because the gerrymander is sort of like the Big Bang of Colorado’s recent redistricting history, setting in motion the elements (laws, bills, map criteria) that are spinning around us today.