When we last discussed the Joint Select Committee on Redistricting, which we dubbed the “Kumbaya Committee” months ago in loving recognition of their long odds, we correctly predicted that their efforts were finished after a final meeting the night before. On Thursday, Democratic co-chair Rollie Heath announced that Democrats would likely introduce a bill sometime this week. Today, the Pueblo Chieftain’s Patrick Malone picks up the story:
Senate Democrats announced Monday that they intend to introduce a bill this week proposing new congressional boundaries. It signals the failure of a bipartisan redistricting committee to reach a compromise.
Last week, Republicans on the Joint Select Committee on Redistricting offered to work on a joint map with Democrats on the committee. Democrats countered that Republicans hadn’t fully explained the proposals they had introduced, and insinuated that they couldn’t because House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, was the architect of the proposals.
“When you don’t have authority, there’s no place to start talking,” said Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, who co-chaired the redistricting committee. “That group (of Republicans) had no authority to negotiate with us.”
McNulty said Republicans on the committee had authority to work toward a bipartisan map, but Democrats would not participate in the process…
Okay. We’ll start there. As you all know, the “Kumbaya Committee” was doomed from the outset. Part of this inevitable failure resulted from the fundamentally different approaches that went into the drawing of the Democratic and both Republican sets of proposed maps: Democrats truly went back to the drawing board to come up with wholly new and generally more competitive district boundaries, while Republicans focused on small, incremental changes to the existing map favorable to their incumbent majority of the congressional delegation. The Democratic theme was “city integrity, rural county integrity, and competitiveness,” while Republicans pushed the line of “district integrity and communities of interest.”
More important than this difference in principle, though, was the undermining of the Republican committee co-chair’s proposed maps by House Speaker Frank McNulty. McNulty’s maps were drawn up in secret with help from old-time Republican redistricting hands, and were dropped by surprise on the committee the day they exchanged their maps. The GOP co-chair, Rep. Dave Balmer, was never able to answer questions about these maps, and it was obvious in the course of the hearings that Balmer’s authority to negotiate was hopelessly compromised.
This is what precipitated the Republican demand to abandon all proposed maps, and “start fresh” on a “new map”–the propriety of Republican proposed maps, and even the ability to answer questions about them, had broken down in confusion. Democrats had no reason to believe that Republican co-chair Balmer was in control of his side of negotiations by this point. Over the weekend, the Denver newspaper’s editorial board castigated McNulty for going around Balmer to introduce his own maps, and the subsequent inability to explain revisions to them in the committee, saying Balmer was “basically bounced from the job.”
The “start fresh” tactic by Republicans also had strategic pitfalls for Democrats. For one thing, any such on-the-fly process would inevitably favor existing boundaries out of expediency, and that’s not where Democrats wanted to negotiate from. Worse from a long-term perspective, it would have had the effect of putting Democrats on the record making concessions that may or may not have been well thought out. If you accept that the likelihood of actually producing a workable map in this way is really quite small, and Republicans apparently are ready to bypass the guy you’re negotiating with…the risks of continuing to try probably did outweigh gains.
Despite all of this, some parts of the “Kumbaya Committee’s” process were helpful to all sides, and we’d say the voters at large most of all. The traveling committee hearings produced a wealth of testimony from stakeholders that will help guide the legislature with the coming map bills. If the legislature can’t come up with a bill for the Governor to sign, either now or in the event of a special session, the same input from around the state will help inform the courts who will have to play the grownups once again. So the “Kumbaya Committee” was not a total waste.
And really, folks, it was as much Kumbaya as you could have possibly hoped for.