Commentary

Current redistricting plans threaten Colorado’s communities of color

Historically diverse communities deserve representation at the Capitol

August 3, 2021 3:20 pm

The Colorado State Capitol dome peeks above the foliage at Civic Center Park on June 11, 2020. (Andy Bosselman for Newsline)

After years of hard work and struggle, Colorado’s communities of color have reached a level of power in the Colorado state legislature that should not be erased. The Colorado Democratic Latino Caucus has 13 members, including Senate President Leroy Garcia. The Colorado Black Legislative Caucus has nine members, including Senate Assistant Majority Leader Rhonda Fields and House Appropriations Committee Chair Leslie Herod. Communities of color should have representation that addresses their voice, concerns and needs.

But as it stands, the current state legislative maps from the Colorado Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission could undo that power and seriously undermine the strength and cohesiveness of Colorado’s new and historically diverse communities. The commission with a pen stroke will completely obliterate a community that has helped thousands of Black and Brown people.

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This isn’t fairness. This isn’t “fair maps” at all. It’s sacrificing hard-won gains by legislators of color like the Honorable Wellington Webb and Honorable Wilma Webb while hurting the people most in need of empowerment in a changing Colorado. Just imagine if the community was not able to vote the first Black woman into the legislature like Sen. Gloria Tanner. The leadership of these three have strengthened generations of Coloradans of color. The redistricting must consider the legislative and empowerment benefits that Blacks gain from being represented by someone who looks like them.

As noted in the Denver Post by Rep. Jennifer Bacon and Rep. Herod, “For example, the current House District 8 has been split down the middle in the new maps, separating the historic Five Points neighborhood from North Park Hill. Both of the new districts, House Districts 4 and 6, will have a lower percent Black population, effectively diluting our voting strength and making it more difficult to get Black representation in the state House.” The importance of electing minority legislators is usually achieved by sustaining historically diverse districts.

And who’s in power now determines who’s in power next. Representation matters. Leaders of color bring communities and future leaders with them. Diluting our influence so that minorities have a weaker voice in legislation is an insult to the will of the voters. And it erodes the policies that have been enacted to empower others.

Former Denver mayor and ex-state legislator Wellington Webb told the Legislative Redistricting Commission that the preliminary maps dilute representation for the city’s Black communities and “to divide them is to clutter the community voices in the ear of that legislator, and risk marginalizing those communities for crucial legislative debates around housing, gentrification, criminal justice and education.” Wellington argued that the maps treat Denver voters as “the forgotten stepchild of Colorado.”

It’s no secret that Black women are always disproportionately impacted by bad public policy, whether it’s environmental discrimination or barriers to reproductive health care. Black women legislators like Sen. Janet Buckner and Sen. Rhonda Fields have had to enact several recent bills to address these barriers and significant police and justice system reform policies. We are not interested in going backward because a so-called “independent” redistricting commission says so by taking away seats from legislators of color.

You can call gerrymandering “fair maps,” but it’s still gerrymandering.

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Portia Prescott
Portia Prescott

Portia Prescott is managing Partner at Jefferson Prescott Strategies. She has over 20 years of extensive experience in government affairs and community relations, and is a board member for Cobalt Advocates and Western Resource Advocates.

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