LETTER: The other side of the story from Commissioner Mario Carerra
Author: - December 2, 2011 - Updated: December 2, 2011
Dear Rep. McNulty:
Thank you for taking the time to write to me yesterday. While I believe you would agree that many of your colleagues have maintained a public distance from these proceedings, no one would suggest that our elected officials had a detached interest in the business before the Colorado Reapportionment Commission. You are no doubt aware that I was in regular communication with your appointed Commission member, former Rep. Rob Witwer and through my frequent meetings, calls and e-mail communications with your appointee, I am confident that you will have a great appreciation for the Commission’s work. However, I respectfully disagree with the conclusions you reach in your letter.
I am honored to have been selected as one of Chief Justice Michael Bender’s appointees to the Commission; and that honor is increased knowing that the Colorado Republican Party Chair, Ryan Call, recommended me. Moreover, it has been a privilege to be elected Chairman of the Commission by all five Republicans and all five Democrats.
As Chairman, I am pleased to have dedicated hundreds of hours over the past six months forging a bi-partisan compromise every step of the way for the composition of the 100 legislative districts for our first set of Adopted Plans. Memories are short but you may recall the Democratic Party and the five Democrat Commissioners also showed similar disappointment to yours at the completion of our Preliminary Map for the House in late July. And in spite of that, the Commissioners should be proud that our first set of Adopted Maps sent to the Supreme Court enjoyed bi-partisan votes of 8-3 for the House and 9-2 for the Senate maps. I was under no illusion that either party would draw a consensus map on their own, given their stakes in the outcome. With a clear vision our Commission worked together, within the bounds of the State Constitutional requirements, to create competitive districts and districts where growing minority populations could affect the outcome of the elections. These objectives were all worthwhile in the interests of the people of Colorado.
Unfortunately, the bi-partisan effort did not meet the Constitutional standards levied by the Court, and our Commission was tasked with adhering more closely to County and City boundaries — a result cheered in vocal Republican circles. In fact, it was Republican Commissioners Nicolais and Tool that submitted affidavits in opposition to the Bi-Partisan Adopted Plans. Yes, in a perfect world, Democrats, Republicans and Unaffiliated Commissioners would work together to eliminate County and City boundaries and adopt maps that most closely reflect the high Court’s Order. We strived to create that cordial environment and succeeded with the exception of the last two meetings.
The process of submitting and evaluating maps was simple before and after the Court’s Decision. As a Commission, we had an established practice and a system that was benefitted by a committed non-partisan professional staff. This was the same process that took place over the twelve Commission votes that occurred over the summer. And although we had earlier deadlines, late submissions throughout the process were well documented. For example: The non-partisan staff submitted one map on a Sunday before a Monday meeting, Republican Commissioners submitted four maps on a Sunday before a Monday meeting and Democrats submitted seven maps on a Sunday before a Monday meeting. For our last sessions, initial maps were submitted on Nov. 23rd and amendments or new maps could be submitted through Sunday. For this reason, unlike most of the meetings over the summer, there was purposely no vote scheduled in our agenda on the day Maps were presented, Monday. Instead, the Final Vote for Maps was held a day later on Tuesday, November 29th.
Finally, e-mails and other communication through the media have been used to suggest that Republican Commissioners were not aware of deadlines. Attached you have a copy of key electronic correspondence from our dedicated Commission Staff to your Republican Map Drawer on Friday, November 25th explaining that if there is a need to submit any additional plans over the weekend up to Sunday, November 27th, to please do not hesitate to reach out and let the Commission Staff know. So, it was clearly communicated and understood. What was not done with that information is also clear and unfortunate between the coordination amongst Republican Commissioners and the strategy that followed to effectively deliver Maps honoring the Court’s mandate.
Your letter makes clear your dissatisfaction that no additional amendments were allowed on Monday after five hours of debate. As an experienced politician, with five years in the General Assembly and prior years as staff in the US Senate, you are likely more attune to delay tactics, procedural tricks, and partisan games than I am. At the Commission’s last meeting on Tuesday, November 29th, I saw a map that met our Constitutional mandates and was ready to go. The map was debated. Every Commission member who wished to speak was allowed. When, finally, debate ended and the issue of maps was called to question by Commissioner Atencio, under the standard rules of procedure, a vote was taken.
I recognize that you are upset that I did not vote for the map introduced by Republican Commissioners. Simply put, the Republican Commissioners’ maps had many more County and City splits that were not in accordance with the mandate from the Court. I freely accept that a Commission tasked with a constitutional duty in full public view will be criticized, and personal criticism often comes with the job. I happen to agree with your Republican Party Chair that the characterization of me “has not been accurate” or “helpful.” I do not regret a single vote, even if the result of my vote caused less than satisfactory results for you as the leader of your political caucus.
What is unfair and unwarranted is for attacks directed at me to have embroiled the hardworking members of the Commission staff. Furthermore, attempts to impugn my integrity also threatens more collateral damage on bystanders not engaged in this political skirmish.
One of my goals as Chairman was to keep all Commissioners engaged and at the table so we could move beyond personal attacks and find solutions. The Denver Post’s recent Editorial from Curtis Hubbard had good suggestions for a better process. Perhaps we can work together in the future to improve the way Reapportionment works. Where the legislature sees differences between what the Court and the Law say, our state’s lawmakers are well within their power to change the law. Now that I have been in the Reapportionment process for a better part of a year, I am more than happy to help you draft such legislation. There are many reasons our political process has experienced significant growth in Un-affiliated voters. The lack of civil discourse and extreme partisanship are key reasons for this phenomenon. I hope to move beyond the politics to more productive outcomes in a way that recognizes respect, reflection and effective communication over resentment, resistance and disagreement. If you want to get a hold of me, I am available to talk at your convenience.