New congressional district joins Larimer and Boulder counties

Larimer and Boulder counties soon will soon have more in common than a college football rivalry. Both will be represented in the U.S. Congress by the same person.

A new map realigning the state’s seven Congressional districts joins the counties containing the state’s two top-tier universities into the same district.

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Larimer County was severed from the Republican-dominated Fourth District it had shared with Weld and most other eastern Colorado counties. Weld will remain in that district, which gained two additional plains counties and a portion of Douglas County south of Denver.

Larimer has become part of the Second District encompassing all or part of Boulder, Grand, Jefferson, Summit, Park and Eagle counties. In its previous configuration, the district was reliably Democratic.

The Fourth District is now represented by Republican Cory Gardner of Yuma, the Second by Democrat Jared Polis of Boulder. Colorado state Senate President Brandon Shaffer, a Longmont Democrat, has announced his intention to oppose Gardner in the 2012 election, while Sen. Kevin Lundberg, a Berthoud Republican, is considering a run against Polis.

Court-approved map
The district shakeup became official in December when the state Supreme Court affirmed Denver District Court Judge Robert Hyatt’s ruling in favor of a Democratic-drafted redistricting plan, saying it better reflected the changing demographics during the last decade.

Congressional and state legislative districts are realigned every 10 years according to demographic changes determined by the U.S. Census.

The issue wound up in the courts when Republicans sued after the state Legislature failed to agree on a redistricting plan. Republicans asserted that the Democratic plan was a blatant political ploy to jigger the districts in their favor.

But Hyatt harshly criticized the Republican plan, which called for minor adjustment of current district boundaries. The judge said that version failed to acknowledge those demographic changes and the mandate to make the districts roughly equal in population while maintaining communities of interest.

Former legislator and Republican activist Steve Tool of Windsor said the shift unjustifiably cleaves Larimer and Weld, which he insisted are a natural fit given their common connection in agriculture.

Further, he said the new boundaries all but assure that Larimer County will be represented by a Democrat in Congress for the next decade given the dominance of liberal-leaning Boulder.

“I think the likelihood of having a Republican representing the Second Congressional District is extremely remote,” said Tool, now a governmental relations and business consultant.

Tool said it was a similar situation with the Colorado Reapportionment Commission similarly charged with redrawing the state legislature’s 35 senate and 65 house districts. Tool served on that commission, which was composed of five Democrats, five Republicans and an unaffiliated member.

While the process at first appeared promising, Tool asserted that it turned overtly partisan when the unaffiliated Mario Carrera threw his lot in with the Democrats.

Consequently, Tool said, the Democratic-drafted map endorsed by the state Supreme Court placed 19 legislators — mostly Republicans — into districts already represented by members of their own party. As a result, legislators of like parties could be forced into primaries to choose a candidate while vacated districts would be open to new contenders.

Locally, for example, Republican B.J. Nikkel of Loveland represents House District 49 encompassing most of rural Larimer County surrounding Fort Collins. The district boundary now has has been shifted a few hundred feet, placing her in the same district as fellow Republican Brian DelGrosso of Berthoud.

“It was clear that was intentional,” contended an angry Tool.

Democrats, however, insisted that neither party was completely satisfied with the new map that also puts their fellow party members in the same district or revised districts into ones they are unlikely to win.