Groups sign on to Kent Thiry-backed proposals to revamp redistricting in Colorado

Author: Ernest Luning - January 22, 2018 - Updated: January 24, 2018

Colorado's Capitol dome gleams in the sunlight in this picture taken on Opening Day of the Legislature, Jan. 13, 2016. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)Colorado’s Capitol dome gleams in the sunlight in this picture taken on Opening Day of the Legislature, Jan. 13, 2016. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics file)

A bipartisan organization pushing ballot measures to change the way Colorado draws its legislative and congressional boundaries announced the support Monday of a number of groups representing rural, minority, business and civic reform interests.

Fair Districts Colorado, a group chaired by Kent Thiry, the CEO of kidney dialysis giant DaVita Inc., said it now has the backing of Progressive 15 and Action 22, associations representing 37 counties in northeastern and southeastern Colorado, respectively; the African Leadership Group, an advocacy organization for African immigrants; Clean Slate Now, a group devoted to campaign finance reform; and Colorado Concern, an association of some of the state’s top business executives.

“There is enormous momentum behind this campaign,” said Kate Roberts, a senior strategist with Fair Districts Colorado, in a statement. “From all corners of Colorado and across the political spectrum, leaders and organizations are joining our effort to fix the broken redistricting system and end gerrymandering.”

Papa Dia, president of the African Leadership Group, said his organization’s mission is to support immigrant families “at each stage of their journey – immigration, integration, and civic participation.”

“As president of the organization, advocating for African immigrants across Colorado, I support and appreciate that Fair Districts Colorado puts the public before the power of any political party,” he said in a statement, adding, “Immigrant communities like mine, much like independent voters, need a voice in this vital process and Fair Districts Colorado will give them that voice.”

Colorado Concern CEO Mike Kopp, a former Senate Republican leader from Jefferson County, called Fair District Colorado’s proposals are an opportunity for the state to quash gerrymandering, the practice of drawing districts to advantage a particular party.

“Colorado Concern is proud to stand with former Govs. (Bill) Owens and (Dick) Lamm and so many respected leaders across the state in supporting this thoughtful plan that would end gerrymandering in our state,” Kopp said in a statement, referring to the Republican Owens and Democrat Lamm, two prominent supporters already on board with the group.

“There are many factors driving dysfunction in our political processes,” Kopp said. “Somewhere near the top of the list is legislative and Congressional seats that are designed very purposefully to be controlled by one party and one incumbent. Presidents from Reagan to Obama have derided the consequences of partisan gerrymandering. Colorado should lead the nation in bringing it to an end.”

The Colorado Supreme Court last month approved titles for Fair Districts Colorado-sponsored initiative Nos. 48 and 50, which rewrite the rules for legislative redistricting and congressional reapportionment, respectively — the practice of redrawing political boundaries every 10 years following the U.S. Census, slated to happen next in Colorado ahead of the 2022 election.

The proposals give unaffiliated voters — a little over one-third of Colorado’s electorate — more of a say in how the lines are drawn and bring more of the process into the open, supporters say, in an effort to do away with gerrymandering and construct more competitive districts.

The official sponsors of the proposals are former state Rep. Kathleen Curry of Gunnison, a former Democrat who dropped her party affiliation in her final term, and Toni Larson, program president of the League of Women Voters of Colorado

The Fair Districts Colorado approach has drawn criticism — and competing ballot measures with different sets of rules — from an opposing coalition of left-leaning and good-government groups that calls itself People Not Politicians.

The two groups have been in talks about possible compromises before either heads to the fall ballot with what could be expensive campaigns, spokespeople have told Colorado Politics.

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.