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Mapping ambition


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Editor's note: On Monday, the state Supreme Court upheld the maps described below, meaning primary battles are likely.

State Rep. Marsha Looper is running for re-election. It doesn't matter what happens with the proposed changes to her district lines.

"It's been my honor to represent House District 19 for the last five years," the Calhan Republican says. "I will continue to proudly serve, and I have been running since July, and I will run for this seat again, no question."

Meanwhile, state House candidate Owen Hill is eyeing a potential new, open state Senate seat, while names of GOP insiders are being bandied about as potential candidates for other seats that will be left vacant if the Colorado Supreme Court approves the Colorado Reapportionment Commission's latest plan for legislative districts.

Every 10 years, the state responds to population data by redrawing state and congressional districts, and earlier this month the commission approved redrawn maps for the state districts, catalyzing controversy.

Republicans decried the process as vulgarly favorable to Democrats, whose maps the commission approved 6 to 5. They complained that the Dems submitted maps after deadline, while putting some Republican incumbents together in gerrymandered districts.

If the Supreme Court approves the maps, El Paso County will feel an impact.

House Majority Leader Amy Stephens will lose her district, with her Monument neighborhood absorbed into Looper's HD 19, while Sen. Bill Cadman's District 10 will morph into a completely new district, leaving Cadman to take on incumbent Sen. Keith King in District 12 if he wants to stay in the Legislature.

"This process," King says, "has been extremely partisan."

Oh, the possibilities

One consequence of the Democrats' proposed maps is the reinvention of SD 10, currently held by Cadman and encompassing much of eastern El Paso County, including Peterson Air Force Base as well as Palmer Park and Cimarron Hills in the Springs.

The proposed map shifts SD 10 north along Academy Boulevard to Research Parkway. It would become, essentially, a new district — an exciting possibility for at least one Republican resident. Owen Hill has been eyeing the seat in House District 16, with Rep. Larry Liston term-limited out in 2012.

With the proposed maps, Hill is tempted by the vacant Senate seat — especially if, as the new maps propose, current Rep. Janak Joshi is moved out of his district into 16.

"I like Joshi," says Hill. "I tend to think that I'd rather run in [SD] 10 than against him."

Hill tried for Senate District 11 last year, losing by a few hundred votes to Senate Majority Leader John Morse.

On the House side, it's clear that Looper has every intention of holding onto her seat. Of the maps that put Stephens in her district, Looper says, "It's a sad state of affairs." (Another candidate who might wind up in HD 19 has announced his candidacy; see Noted.)

Stephens has represented the Monument area in the Senate since 2007, and while a section of Monument would move with her into HD 19, a large section of the town would stay in HD 20. And despite her having secured a leadership role in Denver, she will have to overcome the blowback from her sponsorship of SB 200, which established the Colorado Heath Benefit Exchange and drew the ire of many conservatives.

A proposed party resolution blasting SB 200 has been circulating within the GOP. The Independent obtained a copy Looper herself had forwarded to others. In part, it reads: "SB11-200, the 'Colorado Health Benefit Exchange Act' was written expressly to recognize the validity of the federal 'Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act' and to implement the federal requirements for Health Benefit Exchanges," and that SB 200 therefore represented a "submission by the state to the unconstitutional federal mandate."

Resolution supporters urge party members to bring copies to the caucuses Feb. 7, and to support its passage through the county party assemblies, with the goal of introducing it at the state GOP assembly.

"It reflects the extreme dissatisfaction of conservatives who opposed Obamacare and the health exchanges," says Looper, who adds, "I voted against Senate Bill 200, and I wholeheartedly support the resolution."

Stephens could not be reached for comment.

Cease fire

"Part of me looks at this and thinks that it is magnificent gamesmanship," Rep. Bob Gardner says of the Democrats' maps, "but it's also vindictive gamesmanship."

Rep. Mark Waller, whose District 15 remained relatively intact, calls the maps "Monday morning gerrymandering."

Commission chairman Mario Carrera, as reported by the Denver Post, has defended the maps, claiming they came closer to meeting constitutional mandate than any the Republicans proposed.

Supporters and opponents of the maps must file briefs with the court no later than 5 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 8, and the court can either accept, send back to the commission or tweak. The court is expected to file its decision with Secretary of State Scott Gessler by Dec. 14.

Even if approved, notes Gardner, in the grand scheme the Democrats' maps comprise a rather small slight to the Republicans — there'd be no increase in the number of local districts that favor Democrats. So he's warning others not to act rashly.

"I've encouraged my friends and colleagues to keep their powder dry until we see what the court does," he says. "The open seats don't bother me so much. Where you have colleagues primarying each other, it makes for a very difficult process."


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