Don’t Weep for the “Kumbaya Committee”

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.

45 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. BlueCat says:

    Did anyone foresee a much different ending?  Raise your hand if you didn’t think this would just wind up in court.  Again. Suprise, suprise.  

    • BlueCat says:

      My cold and flu medication is making me goofy.

    • Was McNulty’s decision to go scorched earth with his message and rally his caucus to do the same. They could’ve taken the maps as an opening bid, but instead decided to personally insult their Democratic colleagues in the Senate. It’s a weird negotiating strategy in a divided legislature, if your professed goal was to pass a bill.  It signaled that a) McNulty thinks he can insult his way to successful legislation; b) he wants the process to break down, but blame to be assigned to the Democrats; or c) he really has a short temper and impulse control problems.  

      • If both parties appear before a court with their current maps as proposals, the judge is more likely to go with the less radical map that probably comes exceedingly close to exact population targets, because some of the court’s restrictions correspond with some of the Republican map drawing guidelines.

        Democrats, if it got to the court, would be wise to submit a somewhat similar map, or one along the lines of Dan Willis’s maps, adjusted for exact population equality.

        If Heath wants to go ahead with a Dem-only proposal, I would strongly recommend to him having his ducks lined up in a row on the House side first.  Getting the right Republican from the right committee on his side would be wise; anything less would be a grandstanding waste of time.

      • BlueCat says:

        would go so far out of his way to publicly set Balmer up and leave him hanging out to dry.  If Balmer wasn’t really supposed to be negotiating in good faith shouldn’t McNulty have let him in on the joke? I say a little surprising because we’re talking about McNulty, after all, a pretty puzzling guy since becoming speaker.  

  2. 20th Maine says:

    which includes this bit that you forgot to include in your post:

    But you also keep the West Slope together. You give Jefferson County and Aurora a little more respect than they’ve had in previous redistricting attempts. You try to give the Eastern Plains a reasonable role in the 4th. Yet all of that remains up in the air.

    That last sentence reads: “Democrats couldn’t figure out the obvious.”  So while Republicans could have handled their internal politics better, Dems could have drawn a better map.

    I don’t think the GOP necessarily wants to go to court because of their track record there.  Nonetheless, they have drawn a map that would be hard for any court to discount.  

    Evidenced by the crazy maps they drew, it appears that the Dems are really, really confident that they will do well in court.  

    Or, per Phoenix’s comments, Dems will draw a slightly different version of the GOP map.  Afterall, it’s based on a Dem drawn map that was confirmed by the courts 10 years ago.  And while populations have changed,  communities of interest have not wildly moved from where they were back then.

    Ultimately, the Dems have handed the GOP a gift.  They will either stand their ground and lose – or mirror the GOP map with the politically winning argument of “us too.”  If they had drawn something within a mile of reason, like Dan Willis’ map, things would be much different.

    • We don’t know what Heath plans to submit as a proposal.  One would hope that he’s not daft enough to submit the current maps, since it seems obvious they’re going nowhere.

      We don’t know that Dems will submit a map resembling either of the two basic proposals on the table right now.  There’s an opportunity right now – if we can get past egos and politics – to submit a completely new set of maps that says “neither of our initial proposals worked – here’s something based on the feedback”.

      Also, if it goes to court, the Dem proposals must be at least modified in order to be acceptable to the judge, who is bound to a stricter set of rules and must create a map with exactly equal population distribution – close doesn’t count.  So in court a Dem map would have to be different, at least a little and again, no reason to insist that it be based on either of the two current frameworks.

      (Short summary, lest I go too far in to Steve Harvey-land: You missed the second part of my sentence – Dems in court must create a map similar to the GOP’s, OR something completely different but still following the court requirements…)

      • Dan WillisDan Willis says:

        There have been several good maps submitted to the Redistricting committee by general public folks like myself. Perhaps they could attempt to submit one of these.

        Now, that I finally figured out how to keep Greenwood Village in CD6 without compromising the rest of my map, I think the GOP would sign off on it. If the Dems are willing to abandon the southern district, probably their biggest point of contention, they would like my map too.

      • 20th Maine says:

        I should have connected the dots better.  My reference to Dan’s map was a nod to your comments.

      • cologeek says:

        when you’re prose gets too dense to make sense.  That’s never been a problem with you, so write away!

        Otherwise, I’m in agreement with you.  There is no overriding reason to make the radical changes to the map that the Dems were proposing.  They just didn’t make sense.

        • You’ve got a false premise in there…

          There is no real reason why the districts should be the same as they are right now, any more than there is a reason to make them different.  I can think of any number of states whose district lines both Congressional and State legislature need a serious throwing out.  Our current CD7 isn’t much to be recommended for example.

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