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The 59th — what the future holds

Hopefully, the debate over the reapportionment of Colorado House District 59 is over, with no change made to the district.

Every 10 years, following the census, Colorado law mandates reapportionment of House and Senate districts. The scheme based on 2010 census figures requires apportioning as close to 77,000 voters to every House District and 144,000 to every Senate district as is possible.

With any proposed reapportionment, it is inevitable that the going gets sticky, with both political parties vying for an edge. Democrats work to ease a Republican dominance in a district by shifting boundaries, moving voter-rich populations from one district to another. Republicans do the same.

A move was underway this spring and summer to alter the makeup of House District 59, currently represented by Republican J. Paul Brown, of Ignacio. Nothing would have pleased Democrats more than to shift the demographics slightly, making it harder for the Republicans to win at the polls. The district has had a Republican representative for some time now, going back to the tenures of Mark Larson, of Cortez, and Ellen Roberts (current Senator in District 6) of Durango.

The 59th district currently encompasses land along the southern border of the state border running east of Wolf Creek Pass to Cortez, taking in all of Archuleta, La Plata and San Juan counties, as well as a portion of Montezuma County.

In 2010, the registered voter breakdown in the district was 20,348 Republicans (35.9 percent), 17,192 Democrats (30.4 percent) and 18,509 Unaffiliated (32.7 percent).

Some who advocated reapportionment wanted to remove that portion of Montezuma County currently in the district and move it to the 58th District, then to move parts of San Miguel County — in particular, Telluride — into the 59th. Telluride is a Democratic haven — Cortez, and parts of Montezuma County, tend to the Republican side of the spectrum and would have fit hand in glove with Montrose in the 58th.

One of the arguments made for the change was that a reformed district would constitute a tighter community of interest — what with Telluride, Silverton, Durango and Pagosa reckoned as “resort communities.” The argument is somewhat specious, given the differences between these “resorts.”

One of the arguments against the reapportionment was equally inane — that including Telluride and the eastern part of San Miguel County in the district would make it difficult for a representative (who, presumably, would always be from the Durango area) to make trips to Telluride during the winter months. When we hear this argument, we reflect on how many times we have seen our District 59 rep in Pagosa during the winter months during the past 25 years. Those trips have been few and far between, and we doubt weather or mountain passes would make them less frequent.

There is no need to alter the District 59 boundaries to suit party strategists. The essence of the situation can be seen by checking the breakdown of registered voters noted above. The key figure is that unaffiliated voters now constitute at least 32.7 percent of the voting population. The political fault line is between the traditional parties and a growing bloc of voters who are not committed to either party and the partisan nonsense that becomes more prominent with each passing day. We believe this group will continue to grow and, within a very short period of time, will be the dominant bloc in the district. We see this as part and parcel of a necessary erosion of a fossilized two-party system, a prerequisite to its demise. The sooner, the better. The dominance of the independent voter and the eventual formation of new parties is a worthy scenario to contemplate and the 59th, as constituted, is a good indicator of where our political system is headed.

Karl Isberg

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