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Ernest LuningErnest LuningJanuary 22, 20185min1296

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.


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Ernest LuningErnest LuningJanuary 3, 201810min802

The battle is heating up over how Colorado draws its legislative and congressional boundaries. After failing to knock out a pair of proposed redistricting and reapportionment ballot measures in court, a rough coalition of mostly liberal and good-government groups filed competing ballot measures in late December and is vowing to take the choice before voters this fall — potentially a case of, if you can't beat 'em in court, join 'em on the ballot.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirNovember 7, 20174min945

Behind every millionaire who aims to leave his mark on politics is a skilled political operative with the seasoning and savvy needed to make things happen. Hence, dialysis giant DaVita’s CEO, Kent Thiry, who is newly minted chairman of the nonpartisan redistricting reform coalition Fair Districts Colorado, can lean on Alan Philp.

The veteran Republican utility player — who among his many callings has been regional political director for the Republican National Committee and for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign; deputy chief of staff to former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, and policy director to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — has been around the block a time or two.

Philp, a longtime consultant, was in on the ground floor of Fair Districts when it started in 2015 and, in an emailed update to prospective supporters and donors last week, said, “We are moving into a new phase of this project.” The letter elaborates:

Our measures are working through the Title Board, and in January or February we expect to start the expensive process of collecting signatures.  Davita CEO Kent Thiry recently came on board as Chairman of the effort.

The reform proposal Fair Districts aims to petition onto the statewide ballot …

… will make Colorado a model for reform nationally:  a balanced commission that includes independents, a supermajority requirement to pass maps, transparency, nonpartisan staff drawn maps, neutral criteria for map-drawing (including drawing competitive districts, where possible).  If you want to see the text of the measures (I would read #67 and #69), see our press releases, learn more, or link to articles about the effort, please go to www.fairdistrictscolorado.org.

There’s also the ask, of course:

Please contribute and/or help identify potential contributors.  We can accept unlimited amounts from individuals, corporations, etc.  This will be a multi-million dollar effort.  To date, we’ve been able to operate on a very modest budget, since most of our team members are unpaid.  But now legal costs will mount, as we work through Title Board and court challenges.  Our team needs to raise $200,000 in the next 45 days.

(Contributions can be made online via the aforementioned website or by a check in the mail to: Fair Districts Colorado, P.O. Box 19730, Denver, CO 80219.)

And while Philp hails from the Republican side of the fence, Fair Districts points to its bipartisan headliners: not just the Republican Owens but Democratic former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm, as well. There’s also Republican former Colorado Speaker of the House Frank McNulty of Highlands Ranch as well as former Democratic Speaker Pro Tem Kathleen Curry of Gunnison.

Herding cats? Whatever the challenges in building and maintaining the coalition, Philp is no doubt familiar with the terrain.

 


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Joey BunchJoey BunchOctober 20, 20173min468
Colorado Politics told you last month about a bipartisan group that hopes to move the power to draw legislative districts a little farther away from partisan interests to a independent commission. Thursday Fair Districts Colorado the language for three proposals with the Office of Legislative Council after it says it conducted a statewide listening tour. […]

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Joey BunchJoey BunchSeptember 6, 20178min740

A bipartisan group filed paperwork on ballot initiatives Wednesday to redraw the rules on how legislative and congressional districts are drawn in Colorado, a process that now ensures lots of safe districts for parties to control and feeds partisan gridlock in the state Capitol.

The paperwork to get on the November 2018 ballot was submitted by the League of Women Voters of Colorado and former state Rep. Kathleen Curry of Gunnison, who left the Democratic Party in 2009 to become unaffiliated. They are part of a bipartisan coalition called Fair Districts Colorado.

The group hopes to involve more unaffiliated voters and represent all political interests, potentially giving non-major party candidates a shot, not just the majority party in the legislature when the boundaries are drawn.

“The more people who participate in the process the better off we are as a state,” Toni Larson, a Colorado League of Women Voters officer, told reporters on a press call Wednesday morning.

Districts are redrawn every 10 years allegedly based on the census by legislators who are beholden to their parties and have a self-interest in drawing safe districts to put or keep their party in the majority. As a result only three of the 65 seats in the House have flipped from one party to the other over the last 10 years, Fair Districts Colorado said. The group deemed 15 state Senate seats are safely drawn for Republicans, 13 for Democrats and seven could be deemed competitive.

Of Colorado’s seven congressional districts, only the 6th, represented by Republican Mike Coffman, could be considered competitive, according to the coalition.

Congressional and state legislative district boundaries supposed to be adjusted for population and demographic shifts, not to give the party in control of the statehouse a political edge.

The effort is supported by former Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty of Highlands Ranch and former Democratic House Speaker Mark Ferrandino of Denver.

“Of the things we’ve talked about, I think the most appealing to the people of Colorado will be the focus on competitiveness, increasing the number of competitive districts,” McNulty said. “… I know you can’t draw every district in Colorado — whether it’s the state House, the state Senate or our legislative districts — to be competitive, but we can increase the number of competitive districts in all three categories.

“What that means in the legislature is simple: The extremes on either the far right and far left don’t have as much sway over the caucus decisions, because caucus leadership has to make sure they’re paying attention to these seats that necessarily drive the debate in the middle.”

The group is confident its proposal will protect minority voters and “communities of interest,” a concern that has worked against past proposals to address political influence in redistricting.

“We anticipate partisans on both side to oppose this,” McNulty said. “Those who have a vested interest in the current process where partisans get to control the state legislative districts will be those who most fiercely oppose this. When you talk about putting transparency measures in place, when you talk about competitiveness, when you talk about opening the process, the public benefits, but those who currently have power lose it.”

A liberal potential opposition group was meeting Wednesday morning to discuss a statement or strategy. (This story will be updated when where hear back.)

Leaders were coy with reporters about how they would pay for the statewide campaign to pass the measure, other than to build on the relationships of the League of Women Voters and other supporters.

Billionaire Kent Thiry, the CEO of the Denver-based kidney dialysis company Davita, who supported a similar redistricting reform effort in California and, in 2013, in Colorado, hasn’t yet decided how he will be involved in Colorado’s latest campaign, a spokesman said Wednesday.

Opponents of the current system allege the maps are drawn by political operatives behind closed doors, routinely on the edge of gerrymandering to serve political not public purposes. As a result, the courts are often involved.

“Under our current system, politicians pick their voters, instead of voters picking their politicians,” Curry said. “With our initiatives, more races will be decided by competitive November elections instead of in safe-seat primaries, making candidates actually compete for more voters.”

How does that play out in governing? In the legislative session, the bipartisan transportation proposal titled House Bill 1242, died because Democrats would not take money out of the existing state budget used for services and Republicans wouldn’t support a proposed ballot initiative that would have allowed a vote on a tax hike.

Eric Sondermann, a Denver-based independent political analyst, noted afterwards that Democrats never pay a price in a party primary for defending social services and Republicans never pay a primary price for opposing tax increases. Lawmakers take a big risk for going against their party, possibly picking up a primary opponent while losing party support.

The coalition, made up of political veterans, alleged the state has a “checkered history of redistricting abuses.” Both sides have accused the other of gerrymandering.

The group said its initiatives would:

● Establish independent commissions, balanced between Republicans and Democrats, that must include representation from unaffiliated and non-major party members for the very first time.
● Require an eight-vote supermajority to pass maps, including one non-major party member vote so neither party can hijack the map-drawing process.
● Require full transparency, stipulating that commissions operate in public and follow open meetings and open records laws.
● Remove the map-drawing from political operatives, by tasking non-partisan, professional staff with that responsibility.
● Require maps to adhere to good government criteria, such as equal population, compliance with the Voting Rights Act, preservation of county and city integrity, compactness, communities of interest, and competitiveness.

The coalition will need to collect signatures from 98,492 registered voters in the next six months to get each question on the ballot, including at least 2,300 from each of the 35 Senate districts.

Editor’s note: This story was updated during the press conference.


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David O. WilliamsDavid O. WilliamsAugust 2, 201614min413

With the official nomination of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, longtime Democrats and progressive political activists on Colorado’s Western Slope are grappling with the impacts on down-ballot races in a post-Bernie Sanders world. Some candidates and party officials are predicting a Democratic exodus of disaffected Bernie backers to the Green Party, while other say millennial voters will come to their senses and pivot to Clinton once the prospect of GOP nominee Donald Trump becoming president settles in.