On Nov. 6 Colorado voters will have the dubious privilege of voting on 13 statewide initiatives, not to mention a host of local measures. We can rage and tut-tut all we want about such cumbersome, special-interest-driven governance — but let’s not go there. Instead, let’s focus on a pair of complementary and (so it appears) non-partisan issues, Amendments Y and Z.
The two have garnered support from civic-minded folks from both sides of the political spectrum. That’s no surprise, since they’re designed to remove redistricting from partisan politics, and assure “fairness, representation and accountability for Colorado.” As constitutional amendments, the two initiatives must each be approved by 55 percent of the voters to become law.
Writing about the campaign’s kickoff in the Colorado Independent on Aug. 28, Corey Hutchins noted “The campaign has the backing of all four living Colorado governors and from groups and personalities from the state’s progressive left and conservative right.”
Its intent: “To change the way Colorado draws and approves district lines for politicians by giving commissioners on a map-making panel who are not affiliated with a political party more say in the process.”
In other words, no more partisan maps that benefit the party that controls the state legislature at redistricting time, when boundaries for state lawmakers and the United States House of Representatives are redrawn. Redistricting takes place every 10 years, after the decennial U.S. Census. If passed, the amendments will replace gubernatorial, legislative and Supreme Court appointees with an independent commission of four Dems, four Repubs and four unaffiliated voters. Members would be selected by a panel of three retired judges appointed by the chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court. Approval of new maps would require a supermajority of eight commissioners, including two unaffiliated commissioners.
The campaign has attracted serious money, much of it from Republican-leaning donors. DaVita CEO Kent Thiry ponied up $600,000, as did Democratic mega-donor Pat Stryker. The Colorado Association of Realtors gave $25,000, the GOP-friendly Colorado Leadership Fund gave $250,000, and the Action Now Initiative (funded by billionaire philanthropists Laura and John Arnold) contributed $250,000. That’s small change for the change-oriented Arnolds, who have given away around $700 million in the last 10 years. Small donors include Bob Beauprez, Pete Coors and CU Regent Heidi Ganahl.
The campaign’s pitch seems to be aimed at independents, Democrats and civic do-gooders who are uncomfortable with the messy clashes and temporary patches of partisan politics. Yet Republicans are likely to be the immediate beneficiaries of the amendments.
Right now, we have a Democratic governor and a split legislature. Republicans have a one-vote margin in the Senate, while Democrats have a comfortable majority in the House. Given present political trends, it’s more likely than not that Dems will control all three in 2020.
Census junkies project that Colorado will get another seat in the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2020 census, making redistricting a much bigger deal than usual.
Should Y and Z pass, Democrats will have thrown away their chance at drawing maps that might turn Colorado blue for the next 10 years, all to advance fair and equitable government.
In politics, 10 years is a lifetime. No sane politician cares about fairness and equity in 2030; that’s for former governors and, to quote my Republican friends, clueless snowflakes.
Look, I’m all for civic betterment, but the GOP controls the House, the Senate and the presidency because they play hardball when they’re out of power. In the Obama years, clever gerrymandering in GOP-controlled states helped deliver congressional majorities, while cynical voter suppression strategies targeted likely Democratic voters. Not exactly good government, but it worked.
When I was running for elected office back in 1997, I asked Leadville Republican legislator Ken Chlouber for advice. I told him about all my brilliant plans to make Colorado Springs a better place to live, but an exasperated Chlouber cut me off.
“I’m sure you’ve got some great ideas, John,” he said, “but let me tell you something: If you don’t get elected, you don’t get to govern.”
Predictably, I lost.
If Democrats want to govern, they need to be a little tougher, a little more focused on the short term, and a little more ruthless.
In other words, no more snowflakes.