Colorado independent redistricting commission meets in Aurora

Colorado’s independent redistricting commissioners are holding 36 public meetings in July and August.

BY FREDA MIKLIN
GOVERNMENTAL REPORTER

On July 28, a joint meeting of the Independent Colorado Congressional and Legislative Redistricting Commissions met at Aurora Community College for three hours. Nearly all 24 commissioners were present live or virtually.

Commissioner Danny Moore told The Villager that he volunteered for the redistricting commission because he believes it is“one of the most important things he could do.” Moore, a U.S. Navy veteran and holder of a National Security Agency Director Distinguished Service Medal, is president and owner of DeNOVO Solutions, LLC, an aerospace company in Aurora. Commissioner Lori Schell told The Villager that she “saw the redistricting as a good opportunity for a life-long unaffiliated voter to get involved.” Schell is an energy economist who holds a Ph.D. in mineral economics and operations research, 

The commissioners heard from more than 20 area residents.  

The first speaker was a 26-year veteran of Denver International Airport who shared that she believed that DIA should be kept in congressional district one because airport workers are a community of interest. 

Independent Redistricting Commissioners Hunter Barnett, Republican from Englewood and JulieMarie Shepherd Macklin, Republican from Aurora listened to speakers carefully. Photos by Freda Miklin

The next speaker told commissioners that his neighborhood belongs in a district that includes suburban Aurora rather than rural Colorado, where it was placed on the preliminary map. 

The third speaker said that he had lived in Aurora since 1997 and that, “Aurora is a wonderful city with remarkable neighborhoods.” He continued, “Southeast Aurora…even as diverse as it is, lacks competition in our state house and senate races.” He shared that he approved of the proposed new district lines, seeing them as providing “a chance to have competitive districts.” But nothing is perfect.  Noting that the commission had previously said that each state house district should have about 89,000 people, the speaker said that Aurora would fit perfectly into five house districts, but instead, it is “sliced up into nine districts.” 

Another speaker asserted the importance of keeping the Armenian community in Aurora in one congressional district. 

The next speaker was there to speak to “prison gerrymandering” in the preliminary maps, asserting, “The proposed maps do not accurately allocate incarcerated people to their communities, and instead allocate incarcerated people to the areas where they are being caged.”

Independent Redistricting Commissioners Lori Schell, left, an unaffiliated voter from Durango, and Danny Moore, Republican from Centennial, asked speakers pointed questions.

Antonette Smith, director of marketing at the public policy arm of Colorado Christian University of Denver, appeared, “to address the split in the City of Centennial in the house map.” Smith told the commissioners that, “I understand that Centennial (population 110,000) may be too big to be one house district, but I do think we need to look honestly at where a more healthy divide would be for the city,” explaining that western and eastern Centennial are naturally divided by I-25. In response to a question from Commissioner Danny Moore, Smith confirmed that she was referring to proposed house districts 20 and 21. She told Commissioner John Buckley, “My particular part of Centennial…has more in common with Littleton and Greenwood Village in that region than it does with what is happening on the east side of Centennial which is more aligned with Aurora.”

Antonette Smith is director of marketing at the Centennial Institute, the public policy think tank at Colorado Christian University in Denver.

Idris Keith, Aurora attorney who ran for the Arapahoe County Commission in 2020, objected to the redistricting commission moving forward without the 2020 U.S. Census data, which is not yet available, but will be incorporated into the redistricting plan once it is released. Commissioner Lori Schell pointed out that the commissioners had staff use available data to create preliminary maps because, “Had we waited for the final census data to create the first maps and kick off the public hearings, we simply would not have had enough time…We wanted to make sure we got public input from around the state.” Commissioner Gary Horvath noted that the first official “user-friendly census data” will be available to commissioners on September 16.

Idris Keith objected to commissioners moving forward with redistricting without having the 2020 current U.S. Census data.

Senator Rhonda Fields asked commissioners not to split up Aurora into districts that are in more than one county because many residents receive county services and it would cause too much confusion. 

Aurora City Councilmember Alison Coombs addressed the commission redistricting.

Aurora City Councilmember Alison Coombs spoke to “the diversity of interests” and “the diversity of identities” in Aurora, “to understand why these… maps might not work best to make sure that Aurora is well-represented with respect to issues of housing… transportation and transit…and…educational equity and educational needs of our two different school districts.” Coombs told commissioners that the way districts are drawn currently more accurately reflects communities of interest, whereas the proposed map “seems to cut them up and to separate them and dilute those voices.” 

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