The Denver Post's Monte Whaley reports:
A new proposal to give rural Colorado residents more clout in the legislature by changing the way senators are apportioned goes hand-in-hand with the 51st state movement, proponents of both ideas say.
"As long as something changes and gives us some voice in what happens in this state, there is more than one way to skin a cat," Phillips County administrator Randy Schafer said…
Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, is advancing a new plan that shifts the emphasis to the state Senate.
His proposal would give one state senator to each of the six largest counties by land mass — Las Animas, Moffat, Weld, Mesa, Gunnison, and Rio Blanco. The remaining counties would be paired off, and one senator would be elected from each group.
We'll start with the bottom line that this story omits: the two "plans" mentioned in this story to "reweigh" legislative districts in favor of "greater rural representation," whether the so-called "Phillips County" plan to apportion House districts by county or Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg's referred measure to similarly alter Senate districts, are unconstitutional per the 1964 Supreme Court decision of Reynolds vs. Sims. This decision overturned the state of Alabama's legislative apportionment, stating that "the right of suffrage is denied by debasement or dilution of a citizen's vote," and that "the Equal Protection Clause requires substantially equal legislative representation for all citizens in a State regardless of where they reside."
What we're trying to say, as nicely as we can, is that Rep. Sonnenberg's proposal would solve the "problem" of rural "underrepresentation" by taking Colorado back to pre-civil rights era Alabama. When the principles of equal protection were impediments to "rural traditions" like racial segregation. George "Segregation Forever" Wallace was governor of Alabama when this case was argued. The 2009 Tuscaloosa News obituary of Charles Morgan, the attorney who prevailed in Reynolds vs. Sims sums up the importance of the decision:
One of [Charles Morgan's] many landmark litigations was Reynolds vs. Sims, an Alabama case dealing with the apportionment of the state legislature that he won in the U.S. Supreme Court in 1964.
Ever heard of the “one-man, one-vote” principle? Well, it was established in part by the precedents set in that case, which dealt a decisive blow to the rural lawmakers who wielded power out of proportion to the number of people they represented. [Pols emphasis]
We've been accused of taking an unfairly dim view of the push by rural counties to secede from the state, or failing that, force the adoption of a "compromise" like the one described above–all in the name of ensuring rural citizens that, despite their small and in some cases dwindling numbers, their voice is "heard" in state government as urban areas become dominant. You know, like white rural Alabamians did in the early Sixties.
A look at the history of the issue should explain why we think this is not just silly, but also deeply wrong.