Monday, November 14, 2011

Reapportionment happens. Deal with it.

Reapportionment happens.  Deal with it.

I love getting into discussions with people who believe they understand democracy and our United States Constitution.  These people love to tell me that something is not constitutional or not contained in the constitution.  When I show them that it is constitutional and point it out in the constitution, and then they loudly tell me that they are going to make sure that gets changed.  They yell that our founding fathers were obviously insane or drunk when they included such things.  They then tell me that they are going to make sure that a national constitutional convention will be held and we will throw out our over 200 year old document which proclaims liberty for all.  I always tell them, “Good luck,” because there will never be a constitutional convention and that the required number of members of congress or the number of states to make it happen will never occur.  Our country was founded on revolution and dissent and it continues today.

Here is a little Government 101.  Way back in the 18th Century we decided that every ten years there should be a census.  The results of the census would be used for many different purposes but most importantly it would be used to determine representation for the people. 

Before you start telling me that some things have changed, I know that. 

Today all states have two senators regardless of the size or population of the state.  Rhode Island has two senators.  Texas has two senators.  California, New York and Illinois have two senators.  Fifty states means 100 senators in the Senate. Each United States Senator represents the entire state as a whole and there no U.S. Senate districts other than in state senate boundaries.

The House of Representatives is called “The People’s House” and was set up to have elections every two years to keep new blood flowing. 

When I was a State Representative I would refer to the Colorado Senate as the more contemplative body.   So contemplative that you could go over to the Senate and actually watch Senators sleeping at their desks it was so contemplative. 

The House of Representatives was more like watching mud wrestling.  During the four years I was in the house I actually watched two fights erupt on the floor between two State Representatives.  The language in the well at the microphone was not much better.  No manners.  No politeness.  Just ruthless fighting.  This was the people’s house in action.

A fellow representative ran a resolution to “Have Civility in The House of Representatives.”  It passed and the fighting continued. 

The number of U.S. Senators never changes.  It always remains at 100.  The number of U.S. Representatives never changes. It always remains at 435.  But what does change with the population is the description and size of the congressional districts in each state and the Colorado State House and Senate Districts.  If a state has a greater population than ten years ago they might add a congressman. Less population would result in the opposite, they lose a congressman. When I moved to Colorado in 1970 we had three congressional districts.  Now we have seven.  Ten years ago North Carolina lost population and lost a congressman but Utah had a population increase and gained a seat.   The total of 435 remained the same.  You win some and you lose some.

Every ten years all of the states go through the same process of trying to reapportion their house and senate districts to most favor their particular party.  In 2001 Colorado had a famous fight where it went down to the wire.  The legislature even had all of the members of the Republican party recite the text of the bill up to midnight on the last day just so it would be read into the record.  That was appealed and the courts ruled in favor of the Democrat plan later.

In Colorado this year they have, at least, tried to keep the political district representation while the boundaries have changed.  One important change for Summit County is that our new district will put us with only west slope counties. When I was at the capitol I represented three counties one of which was on the east slope.  Difficult at best. 

One of the published goals of reapportionment is to try to maintain the dominant political party’s role if possible; to save the seat of the current senator or representative.  Another goal is to try to apportion districts with the  common interests of the communities in that area.  Ours would be the ski industry or outdoor recreation.  On the east slope the common interest might be agriculture.  For a while one of our common interests was I-70 and the ongoing battle with CDOT for transportation dollars and projects.  Our new district proposed boundaries address the ski industry and tourism.

In some counties it is very difficult to determine a common interest.  Gunnison County has Crested Butte but has a very large beef and ranching population.  Just about every county might imagine that tourism is a priority but we all know that tourism is greater in some locations than others.

Many years ago our Colorado Senate seat represented Gunnison County and then all the way northeast to Longmont.  Imagine trying to figure out what all those folks wanted or needed at the capitol.  Our state house seat used to have some of the same boundaries that included much of Boulder and Jefferson Counties along with all the counties in between.

It appears that this year reason has prevailed and a bipartisan committee came up with a plan that is liked by most.  But, as usual, it is going through the normal process which includes arguments for and against at the Colorado Supreme Court.  Democracy in action.  I applaud the process and applaud the result even if I might not like the result.

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