Opinion

Tool: Initiative 107 will restore power to voters

Author: Steve Tool - February 26, 2016 - Updated: February 26, 2016

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In his final State of the Union address, President Obama lamented that partisan division and polarization had increased during his tenure. He laid part of the blame on gerrymandered congressional districts, stating, “In America, politicians should not pick their voters; voters should pick their politicians.”

Here in Colorado, a bipartisan group of leaders has come together to end gerrymandering. The result is newly filed Initiative 107. If approved by voters this fall, this measure would put in place a best-in-the-nation system for redrawing political districts. As former legislators representing both political parties, we urge Coloradans’ to support this initiative.

Every 10 years following the Census, the states’ major political parties meet behind closed doors in their respective corners to redraw congressional and legislative districts. Using sophisticated software, party leaders draw creative maps that, first and foremost, maximize their chances for victory and protect incumbents from competition.

This lack of transparency and the perception that party leaders decide the fates of their preferred candidates breeds mistrust.

Steve Tool
Steve Tool

One needs to look no further than the past couple redistricting efforts. Remember the 2003 “Midnight Gerrymander,” when Colorado Republicans rammed through a new congressional map with no warning? Or the partisan 6-5 legislative maps rammed through by the Colorado Reapportionment Commission at the last-minute in 2001 and 2011? Bitterness, a public outcry, and claims of favoritism are their enduring legacy.

And who wins under the current system? The members of Congress and legislators who get safe seats. Incumbents feel little obligation to be responsive to voters outside the base of their parties. Polarization ensues. The resulting gridlock is nearly as prevalent here in Colorado as it is in Washington, D.C.

Just as the president said, it’s time to give the power back to the voters. Initiative 107 does just that by creating a system designed to ensure transparency, guarantee neither political party can hijack the process ever again, and reduce judicial intervention in the process. How does Initiative 107 do it?

  • Takes congressional and legislative redistricting out of the hands of self-interested politicians and instead puts it into the hands of a citizen commission.
  • Ensures that each of the two major parties gets equal input into the composition of the commission.
  • Gives unaffiliated and minor party voters representation on the commission, by stipulating that commission consist of four Republicans, four Democrats and four members not affiliated with either of the two major parties.
  • Takes the process of drawing maps out of the hands of partisan political operatives and instead puts it in the hands of nonpartisan, professional staff.
  • Requires a supermajority vote (eight of 12) to pass any map, so neither political party can hijack the process.
  • Requires map-drawers to create competitive districts, once other criteria (such as equal population, compliance with the Voting Rights Act, eliminating county and city splits, and preserving communities of interest) are first taken into consideration.
  • Promotes transparency, public input, and open debate and discussion by requiring the commission to comply with the state’s sunshine and open meetings and open records laws.

Bipartisan accomplishments have become a rarity in recent years, not just in Washington, D.C., but also right here in Colorado. The advocates of Initiative 107 — Democrats, Republicans and those who aren’t affiliated — deserve credit. Not only could this be a breakthrough for bipartisanship but Initiative 107 could become a national model for fair and transparent redistricting. The alternative, more gerrymandering, is a recipe for failure.

Steve Tool

Steve Tool

Former state Rep. Steve Tool, R-Windsor, chairs the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance.