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Confessions of a Reapportionment Commissioner

Retired Colorado College Political Science Professor Bob Loevy entered the digital age in a big way recently when he published “Confessions of a Reapportionment Commissioner” online, setting off a flurry of comments on Twitter and adding a new dimension to a months-long argument over the redrawing of boundaries for Colorado state House of Representatives and Senate districts.

Confessions of a Reapportionment Commissioner

Loevy’s 100-page book is a sometimes-scathing memoir of his time during the past five months as a Republican member of the 11-member Colorado Reapportionment Commission. Calling the state constitutional amendment that set up the commission “a total failure,” Loevy excoriated Democrats for dominating the redistricting process.  At the end, he writes, the Republicans were “steamrollered.”

“This memoir is personal and opinionated,” writes Loevy, an expert on Colorado politics who is frequently quoted in news reports.

The book is here: http://faculty1.coloradocollege.edu/~bloevy/confessions/

The Denver Post wrote a story about the book and its editorial page editor tweeted his own notes on the book.

The Colorado reapportionment commission meets every 10 years to redraw boundaries for state Senate and House seats based on results of the once-a-decade U.S. Census.

The commission must draw up a plan in which the population of each district is “substantially equal.” Also minority rights must be protected, a requirement stemming from the U.S. Voting Rights Act of 1965.  The goal is to avoid “gerrymandering,” or drawing district lines so that one political party has an advantage over another.

In actuality, Loevy argues, political parties jockey for power through their own creative redrawing of maps.

 “But the political parties care very much about gaining electoral advantage over one another, even though that particular reality is rarely ever discussed publicly,” he writes.

The 2011 commission included five Republicans, five Democrats and an unaffiliated chair.   The chair, who pushed for more competitive legislative districts, ultimately sided with the Democrats and voted for a Democratic plan.

This year’s plan was hotly contested in Colorado, with Republicans accusing Democrats of ramming through the final plan, which redraws districts so that, among other things, 10 Republicans ended up in districts with other incumbent Republicans, meaning that they would have to face each other in a primary election.

Loevy writes that the Democrats on the commission “totally dominated the process and instituted one of the severest gerrymanders in state political history.”  He argues that the process allows the party with the best computer skills to redraw maps to gain electoral advantage.

In the 2011 redistricting process, party computer experts, not the commissioners, drew the maps.   He criticized the Republican Party for using computer experts from an independent interest group, allowing the work and financing of the Republican effort “to be shielded from public view.”

In the end, though, the Democrats out-maneuvered and out-organized the Republicans, so that a Democratic plan held sway, he writes. 

“The greatest flaw of the Colorado Reapportionment Commission is that, on the final days that the commission is in session, whichever political party has a six-vote majority can do whatever it wants and always does.  These final actions can include procedural irregularities as well as instituting last minute gerrymanders that are extremely damaging to the other political party,” Loevy writes.

He recommends, among other things, that only the chief justice of the state Supreme Court appoint the commissioners, but retain the even split between Democrats and Republicans, with an unaffiliated chair.  The current commission was appointed by the governor (three commissioners), party leaders in the state legislature (four commissioners) and the chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court (four commissioners).

 Loevy also recommends that maps be drawn by state, not party, computer experts, and that state legislative districts be drawn to respect current constitutional requirements that they be compact and respect city and county boundary lines.

He timed his book to go online at the moment that the commission’s final report was filed with the Colorado Secretary of State.

Loevy and CC Political Science Professor Tom Cronin have written “Colorado Politics and Policy:  Governing a Purple State” to be published in 2012 by the University of Nebraska Press.  Loevy has authored or co-authored several books on American government and won many awards for his teaching and service.