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Colorado Supreme Court OKs New Legislative Districts

DENVER (AP) — Democratic-drawn maps approved Monday put Republican leaders in the state House and Senate in the precarious position of facing members of their own party in a year that could change the split Legislature's balance of power.

The Colorado Supreme Court's decision to approve the maps gives Democrats a sweep in the once-a-decade redistricting battles. The new congressional maps the court approved last week were also drawn by Democrats and give them a chance to unseat Republican Rep. Mike Coffman next year in a district never held by Democrats.

The court did not immediately issue a written opinion on the state legislative maps, which were drawn in a process that became tense with partisanship during the last meetings of the 11-member redistricting commission.

Republicans criticized the maps, calling them "politically vindictive" because they pair Republican incumbents in the same districts. The most notable are House Republican Leader Amy Stephens and Senate Republican Leader Bill Cadman, both of whom will be in the same districts as members of their own party in El Paso County.

"I'm surprised the court would put its seal of approval on the most partisan state map in thirty years," said Rob Witwer, one of the Republicans on the commission.

Pairing Republican incumbents in contests could increase Democrats' five-vote advantage in the Senate and jeopardize the GOP's one-vote edge in the House.

Republicans said the proposals were driven by partisanship, not constitutional criteria.

State districts are redrawn every decade to reflect population changes. The criteria used for drawing maps includes keeping cities, towns and communities of interest together, and avoiding diluting minority voting power.

Democrats insisted they were following the state Supreme Court's order to minimize county and city splits. They said the incumbent pairings were not politically inspired, but the result of having to follow the guidelines of the court, which had rejected previous maps from the commission.

"Protecting current incumbent politicians is not a factor in law," said Democratic Sen. Morgan Carroll, another member of the commission.

Democrats noted that members of their own party are also paired with fellow Democrats in districts — but it's in three cases, compared with seven for Republicans. In four districts, Democrat and Republican incumbents are paired together.

"There will never be a map, and there has never been a map, that will make everybody in Colorado happy," Carroll said.

The new maps for the Colorado House and Senate also mean that 38 of the Legislature's 100 districts will be considered competitive in the coming years. Because of the state's growing Latino population, 24 seats would be in districts where Hispanics would account for at least 30 percent of the vote.

Bob Loevy, a political science professor at Colorado College and Republican member of the commission, said his feelings about the maps were "quite mixed." He said he approves that there are more competitive districts, but he criticized Democrats for what they did to Republican incumbents in leadership.

"I'm very disturbed by the decapitating gerrymandering that took place," he said.

Republicans said in a court filing last week opposing the plans that the five Democrats on the commission, along with the lone unaffiliated voter who was the panel's chairman, voted to thwart GOP efforts to present amendments and maps that Republicans considered superior. Republicans also argued that Democrats were given different, later deadlines to submit plans and that the GOP commissioners did not have time to scrutinize their proposals. Democrats said Republicans submitted late maps, too.

"We did everything we could within the bounds of good faith," said Mario Nicolais, another Republican on the commission. "I think if we wanted to, we would've done things like the Democrats did," he said.

But Loevy said it may not be all bad for Republicans in the end, noting that Republicans now have 35 seats in the Legislature that are considered safe, compared with the Democrats' 25.

"The long-range view is that Republicans didn't do badly," he said.

- By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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