Muftic: GOP immigration votes an election-year gift |

Muftic: GOP immigration votes an election-year gift

GOP House votes on immigration bills last Friday were a gift to Democrats, ensuring high Hispanic support for Democrats for years to come. In Colorado statewide races, the Hispanic vote is significant. More than 485,000 Hispanics, 12 percent of the electorate, are registered to vote. In 2012, President Obama got 75 percent of their vote. Several other battleground states also have large numbers of Hispanic (or Latino) voters, and they could determine the balance in the U.S. Senate. Two Colorado Republican congressmen bucked their party and voted no on the Republican bill. The impact is to deprive Democrats of some campaign sound bites to rally greater turnout of the Hispanic vote this November. It does not change Hispanic perception of the general anti-Latino immigrant tone of the Republican Party. Democrat incumbent Sen. Mark Udall is facing U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner. Former congressman Bob Beauprez (R) is challenging Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), and Democrat Andrew Romanoff is taking on Republican Congressman Mike Coffman in the 6th Congressional District. Coffman gained more Hispanic voters in his Denver suburban district through redistricting so that he has had to do some backtracking on his hard-line anti-immigrant positions. Gardner and he were two of the few GOP House members who voted against the Republican bills. Beauprez has yet to check in on this year's immigration issues. There are three major sore points between Hispanics and Republicans: dreamers, pathway to citizenship, and deportation of children in the recent border crisis. Both agree to secure borders, only the GOP makes it a condition of doing anything, if anything, later. Hispanics want a comprehensive package plan. Dreamers were brought to the U.S. by their parents when they were children. Frustrated by Republican opposition to support legislation to allow them to work and study without fear of deportation, President Obama used executive orders to give dreamers a two-year reprieve and has threatened to extend and expand deferred deportation by executive order. One of the Republican bills Friday would have stripped him from being able to use his executive power or prosecutorial discretion, exposing half a million young people to deportation in the middle of their studies. GOP anti-immigrant rhetoric calls a pathway to citizenship "amnesty," and Friday they killed a bipartisan compromise the Senate had hammered out. Both Gardner and Coffman have a history of opposing comprehensive immigration reform that would give a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented and the dream acts. The "crisis on the border" with nearly 60,000, mostly children, flooding the U.S. also got the GOP anti-immigrant treatment. Their Friday bill slashed administration requests for funds, and it gutted an anti-human trafficking law. Their action would have allowed instant deportation regardless of any due process hearings or humane considerations the law requires. It also would have reopened gates to Central American traffickers. Harry Reid, Senate Majority leader, will allow no votes in the Senate on these House bills, effectively killing them. The president now can only address the border crisis and dreamer issues with his limited executive powers and resources. For more, visit

Felicia Muftic: Immigration is this year’s third rail

Anyone who has ever stared down at subway tracks knows that the electric power to move the trains is fed through a third rail. You get zapped if you touch it. Both Democrats and Republicans have their third rail issues and, in a hot election year like this one, they will posture, pontificate and pretend, but not perform. They will hop on the platform and hope not to get plastered in the polls if they make one imperfect slip of the tongue. Immigration is one of those electric issues that will impact the upcoming Colorado Senate race this year. The Arizona immigration law provides the perfect platform for Republicans to rally their largely white constituency. Colorado Republican primary Senate candidates have already jumped on that bandwagon, supporting the Arizona approach in unison. Some experts believe the Hispanic vote will play a decisive role in Colorado, Nevada and California midterms, giving Democrats an edge. Some dismiss the Hispanic vote because “they do not turn out to vote, especially in a non-presidential year.” If the anti-immigration leaders in Colorado persist in putting an Arizona type law on the ballot, that could motivate Colorado’s 400,000 registered Hispanics to turn out in droves, giving the Democratic candidate an advantage in the November election that Republicans had not intended. There are some measures that neither party is likely to include in any proposed immigration reform legislation. One would provide the most effective tools ever to stem the flow of illegals but would political non-starters: A national ID card. Then law enforcement could demand it from anyone of any race free of accusations of profiling. This would rankle civil libertarians in both parties. The other, which stands a slim chance of passage, is to penalize severely any business that hires illegals. This approach is sometimes included in “comprehensive” reform proposals. The hottest potato of them all is what to do with the 11 million illegals already in this country. Any path to citizenship is called “amnesty,” uttered by most Republicans with venom. The Democrats insist on including some path to citizenship in “comprehensive immigration reform.” It would require payment of penalties, clean police records, learning English and going to the back of the line for citizenship. No Republican this year dares to advocate any kind of legalization of illegals’ status. John McCain, who once favored such a comprehensive approach, is fighting for his political life in Arizona. George W Bush also supported something similar. There are a few potential points of bipartisan agreement: secure our borders and create a guest worker program, but the Arizona law has polarized the political atmosphere to such an extreme that nothing is going to happen in Congress until after the midterm. National polls show the Arizona approach is popular with the majority. However, both parties fear a Hispanic backlash in certain states with large Hispanic registration. Obama’s attempt to bump immigration to priority on the Senate agenda got scotched by leadership in both parties. Obama is still feeling heat from Hispanics to make good on his promise to deal with immigration reform in his first year. His one way out for now it is to file a suit against the Arizona law, even if it might be a weak case. It will at least keep the issue in the courts until next year. I would be shocked if this is not how the issue plays out. Visit http://www.mufticforum,com for past columns and blog postings.

Felicia Muftic: GOP loses appeal to Hispanic voters

Colorado is one of the states in which Hispanics play a large role in determining who gets all nine of our electoral votes for president in 2012. Given the predicted closeness of the race nationally, Colorado could determine who gets elected president in the fall. Nearly 21 percent of the registered electorate in Colorado is Hispanic, and so far Mitt Romney has scored a “nada” in appealing to Hispanics nationwide. Most polls show that 65 to 70 percent of Hispanics in the U.S. are leaning toward the Democratic column, with Romney getting around 29 percent. Those nationwide figures include Cuban-Americans in Florida who usually vote Republican and who do not have immigration problems. So, the Colorado vote, with 70 percent of Hispanics from Mexican and Central American roots, could go more heavily for President Obama. Mitt Romney has several problems that will make it difficult to win over Hispanic voters, many of his own making and the result of his representing a GOP/Republican party that sounds and acts hostile to immigrants. The question facing Hispanics is that President Obama may have not delivered on all of his promises to them, such as immigration reform, but would Romney be more likely to deliver? Instead of showing he would do better, Romney is on record supporting positions that alienate Hispanics. Such a visible record will make it hard for him to flip flop later. Romney hopes he can convince Hispanics his expertise in economic matters will be an acceptable trade-off. So far, that has not worked. Part of Romney’s problem is that he Is wedded to the GOP that has made it a litmus test of partisan loyalty that any path to citizenship is called “amnesty.” While the GOP has pointed out that Obama has increased deportations, the GOP has never said they would decrease the number. Romney’s advocacy of self-voluntary deportation was greeted with guffaws.   GOP office-holders have supported letting local police and sheriffs enforce federal immigration laws, allowing local officials to ask for documentation if they stop or pull over a suspect that looks like an illegal immigrant. Arizona has just passed such a law. The fear that anyone with a brown complexion and an accent legally in the U.S. or not, will be racially profiled has further angered many voters in the Hispanic community. Not only has Romney supported the law, he has called it a model that all states should adopt. In state legislatures across the country, the GOP legislators have fought the Dream Act, which would, among variations, allow children born outside the U.S. but brought here by their parents, to attend college with in-state tuition. Republicans in the Colorado Legislature have been able to block the passage of such a Dream Act. Romney has vowed to veto Dream Acts if Congress passes one. There has also been a concerted effort among GOP legislators, including those in Colorado, to require all to have a government issued photo ID to register and vote. Democrats in the Colorado Legislature have beaten back efforts to pass such a law. The estimate is that 20 percent of voters in some states – mostly Democratic-leaning Hispanics, minorities, students, and elderly – now do not have one and to get it requires time and travel. The GOP claims they wanted to require photo identification to prevent fraud, but there has been no proof of any widespread voter fraud. Such GOP efforts have been called “voter suppression.” In 2012 Colorado Hispanics do not need to have a photo ID to register or to vote.

My View: A GOP comeback needs the Hispanic vote

While the GOP continues searching its soul for reasons why they lost in 2012, they are beginning to realize that If the GOP ignores Hispanic views on issues and continues expressing hostile attitudes toward Hispanics, the party will continue its march toward minority party status like lemmings trekking to the sea. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, of Asian descent, commented to the Republican National Committee last month regarding the GOP attitude to people of color, “The first step in getting the voters to like you is to demonstrate that you like them.” How to get Hispanics to like them is a major challenge for the GOP. A December 2011 survey conducted by Latino Decisions found 46 percent of Latino voters said Republicans “don’t care too much” about Hispanics, and another 27 percent said they “are being hostile.” It should have been no surprise that 71 percent of the Latino vote went to Obama in 2012, a major factor in Obamas victory. With growth of the Hispanic population projected to be able to swing Texas elections by 2018, that state could turn blue soon, duplicating the 2012 results in Florida, Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico. Those Republicans who understood that have joined Democrats in the U.S. senate to propose a comprehensive immigration bill. Those who have not, especially in the House, are still old school, objecting to the clause giving Hispanics a path to citizenship they call “amnesty.” In Colorado, 75 percent of Hispanics voted for Obama in 2012 (up from 61 percent in 2008). The percentage of the Hispanic vote in the state had increased from 13 percent in 2008 to 14 percent in 2012. Heavily Democratic leaning Hispanics helped swing the state blue in the Senate, presidential, state Legislature and governors races during the last four years. Why did Hispanics in Colorado vote even more strongly for Obama in 2012 than they did in the national average and even in past years? Motivation was often the GOP messaging itself, both at the national level and especially at the state level. Mitt Romney added to the alienation. His policy to solve the 11 million undocumented workers in the U.S. was “self deportation” with an interpretation held by Hispanics that a GOP government would make conditions so tough, the undocumented would want to return to Mexico. When he said he would overturn the presidents executive order, which helped Dreamers stay in the U.S., get a job, and go to college without getting deported, he hit an even rawer nerve. (Dreamers are hoping to be college students, undocumented, brought as children to the U.S., who have graduated from U.S. high schools). The GOP also misread the polls when they concluded Latinos cared more about education, health care, economy and jobs than immigration, but they falsely assumed that meant conservative solutions would also appeal to them. Exit polls showed the opposite; Hispanics liked Democratic approaches on those issue more than the Republican positions. Even conservative social values did not move Hispanics to the GOP. About 73 percent of Catholic Hispanics and 82 percent non-religious Hispanics voted for Obama. Immigration policies and education issues intersected in the Dream Act controversy, too, influencing polling outcome on both of those issues. Many Colorado Hispanics who can vote have relatives who are Dreamers and/or they noted the acidic tone of Republicans in opposing the Dream Act in the state legislature and on the campaign trail. Particularly irksome to Hispanics was the unity of GOP Colorado legislators against giving Dreamers in-state tuition or even reduced out of state tuition. Now that Democrats control both houses of the state legislature, a bill allowing Dreamers to be charged in-state college tuition has an excellent chance of passage. Many Colorado Republican legislators must have missed Jindals memo as they continue their vehement opposition. See and for polls cited in this column.

Muftic: Immigration crisis is a shame

The border mess of 50,000 children and families escaping violence in Central America is a matter of shame. It is shameful enough that young children are spit at by hate-faced demonstrators waiving American flags. That sets a terrible example to the rest of the world about how to deal with their own ethnic and religious conflicts and refugee crises. It is a shame, too, that the GOP is making inhumane proposals. Clear and simple: The children should be treated as refugees, not criminals, whether they have been trafficked or were motivated to flee to the U.S. by misinformation and lack of understanding of our laws. That is the purpose of the president's request for $3.7 billion, to add more border agents to patrol and judges and staff to process, to provide humanitarian detention, and to launch a public campaign to educate Central American parents that their children will not qualify for citizenship and will face deportation. The GOP seems determined to continue adding to the perception they are anti-Latino. Now they are quibbling over the amount and proposing changing or violating current laws by advocating putting refugees on the next plane back home. This approach is both an inhumane shame and a sham. It would deprive these children of a process that sorts out who is worthy of asylum, subjecting some to dangerous conditions at home again, opening up once again the ability of human traffickers to avoid scrutiny by destroying any ability to determine who is a victim. Making any appropriations conditioned solely on "first securing the borders" does not address the current crisis. In 2012, 75 percent of Colorado's 480,000 registered Latinos and 70 percent nationwide, swung key states blue, including Colorado. Hispanics understood that the real culprit is the Republican-dominated House of Representatives, which has refused to pass any proposed comprehensive legislation. Those few Hispanics and Democrats who attack the president for doing too much or too little should be careful that they do not inadvertently encourage Latinos to sit out elections. The election of more anti-immigrant GOP members to Congress in 2014 or the election of a Republican president in 2016 would just put comprehensive immigration reform on ice for years. For more, visit

Muftic: The 2016 political battlefield is shifting

The battlefield has changed for the 2016 general election, but Republicans so far are fighting the last war of the 2014 midterms. Better they take a look at the history of 2012, too, and consider the demographic changes taking place in the last four years. Senate seats up for grabs and electoral states needed to win the White House will tilt more to blue and purple states than in 2014. The GOP will have a harder time in 2016 making jobs, growth and the economy a winning issue than in 2012 because the economy has improved and will improve even more by 2016. The GOP will also have difficulty with a track record of the party of repeal without replace. Their strategy has been gridlock: to obstruct, threaten government shut-downs, and replace problem solving legislation with a bag empty of all but hot air. With both houses of Congress, the buck has stopped with them. They own the legislative agenda and strategy. The GOP has no viable substitutes for Obamacare to help millions afford health insurance. They refuse to provide any solution to undocumented immigrant status other than to keep them in the shadows and send them back no matter how inhumane it is to break up families or unfair to dreamers. Their critique of the president's foreign policy provides no alternatives other than more of the same he is already doing or to risk mission creep leading to a third Iraq war and interminable occupation. Mitt Romney's disdain of the 47 percent in 2012 was a turnoff to swing voters that eventually determined the outcome. President Obama is daring the GOP to defeat "middle class economics" programs such as child care tax credits, free community college, and job creating infrastructure projects. A GOP vote against those antidotes to the middle class' declining standard of living, or opposing raising taxes on the very rich to pay for any programs directly benefitting the middle class, will only make any candidate look like a Romney in a different suit. The voting pool resembles 2012 on steroids with more young women and Hispanics in the Democratic party camp. Even in 2012 demographics were major factors defeating the GOP in races for both the White House and in some crucial Senate seats. Assuming Hillary Clinton runs, expect the women's vote to be even stronger for her because of her gender. Regardless of what the courts decide, a GOP anti- immigrant vote attempting to roll back the president's executive orders will do nothing but bring home to Hispanics the negative consequences of a GOP victory in 2016. Polls show Hispanics already regard the GOP as hostile toward their interests, but the key is turnout. Hispanic turnout was below expectations in 2012 and 2014. One of the reasons for low turnout in the past was that Hispanics got tired of waiting for the president to take action on the status of immigrants and they had developed an attitude it was the president's fault for not pushing harder. The president's executive action and the GOP's attempt to kill it has gone far to change that perception. For sources and polls visit

Colorado: A model for 2012

How did the GOP manage to lose the election of a senator and a governor in Colorado in spite of the national mood? Even in Republican-dominated Grand County (44 percent of active registered voters are Republican; Democrats, 25 percent), 49 percent voted for Democrat John Hickenlooper for governor, besting his nearest rival by 11 percent. Republicans held a narrow advantage over Democrats in registration statewide, but Democrats should not have won in this Republican wave year. The result of the election will influence strategies for the 2012 election as both parties will be studying the Colorado outcome for lessons learned. Whether those conclusions will shape races in other states is yet to be seen, since some of the factors were specific to Colorado. John Hickenlooper, the Democrat governor-elect, had some unique assets. He had sterling credentials in the hospitality business, making his mark as a successful restaurateur, a perfect fit for Grand County’s resort based interests. Both of his opponents seemed too extreme for many traditional Republicans. National pundits attributed Hickenlooper’s win to former congressman Tom Tancredo’s bid as a third party candidate, splitting the Republican vote, but Hickenlooper garnered more votes than the two opponents combined statewide. The lesson for Democrats in Grand County: likable, business oriented, fiscally conservative, moderate Democrats can do well and contribute significant numbers in statewide races. Even President Obama in his 2008 wave year did not carry Grand County (though he lost it by less than 200 votes). Sen. Michael Bennet lost the county by 453 votes (garnering 43 percent of the total.) Six percent fled to minor party candidates instead of voting for either Ken Buck or Bennet. Just over 50 percent voted for the Republican Buck, underwhelming given the Republican registration advantage. Bennet was viewed as being too close to Obama. On the other hand, the Denver Post endorsed him, calling him a centrist because of his business background and his temperament. Some independents must have perceived him as moderate enough for their votes. There were also factors at work statewide, other than voter affiliation, that did not exist in our county. In Grand County, the Hispanic vote was not significant, but it certainly was a critical contributor to the outcome statewide for both Democrats. Tom Tancredo is the quintessential anti-immigrant, nationally renowned for his extreme pronouncements that many Hispanics considered as bordering racism. There was a reason Hickenlooper had a Hispanic running mate; he saw the importance of the Hispanic vote even before Tancredo crashed the race. Both Hickenlooper, Denver mayor, and Bennet, former Denver school superintendent, were popular among the large number of Denver Hispanic voters. There are 400,000 registered Hispanics voters in Colorado, about 17 percent of the registered electorate. An estimated 80 percent of them are Democrats. If Hispanics turn out to vote, they can make a difference, and turnout they did, no doubt with an eye on Tancredo’s name on the ballot. The number of votes for Democrats in Denver exceeded expectations.. Like Harry Reid’s win in Nevada, the Hispanic turnout was helpful to both Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet. The lesson for Republicans next time around: Tread softly on legislation that may seriously aggravate Hispanics, including endorsing Arizona type initiatives. There was one other issue in the Senate race that offset Bennet’s unpopular tie to President Obama. His opponent, Ken Buck, had angered Republican suburban college-educated women in the primary by beating Jane Norton and indicating some male chauvinistic inclinations with his remarks about his not wearing high heels, on and off again extreme views on social issues such as abortion and birth control, and his enmity to federal support of education. The result: Instead of carrying the suburban votes by 65 percent, the number he needed to offset a large Denver vote according to election night commentators, Buck garnered only 60 percent. Lesson for the next Republican candidate in Colorado: Do not tick off suburban women by being extreme on social issues . – Visit for more commentary. To comment, go to

Gifts were not why GOP lost

While the GOP sorts out the reasons they lost in November, Democrats can only hope they come to the wrong conclusions, keeping the U.S. swinging blue for years to come. Here is some advice to Republicans: The first step in the GOP’s recovery is understanding that both their policies and the attitudes of their members need an extreme makeover. They need more than cosmetics, candidates who have Spanish surnames, a certain racial complexion, or a different gender. They need more than a better sales job. The GOP tried this election to make the case more conservative social policies and trickle down economics would be better for them, but other GOP attitudes and policies drowned out those messages. Mitt Romney’s post-election rationale for losing, that President Obama won by giving “gifts” to certain targeted groups, exemplified a wrongheaded attitude. Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal put his finger on it, calling Romney’s “gift” remarks as “absolutely wrong … If we want people to like us, we have to like them first. And you don’t start to like people by insulting them and saying their votes were bought.” Romney’s “gift” remark was revealing. In the spring, Romney made comments to the Florida fat cat contributors that 47 percent were not going to vote for him because they did not pay taxes and liked being dependent on government programs. Romney’s blaming “gifts” has become the defining evidence that his comments were more than inelegant; they showed a basic misunderstanding of those he disdained. What Romney did not understand was that lust for more gifts did not drive those groups so much as it was the fear a GOP victory would take away gains already made and a party would control Washington that supported policies that were unsympathetic to their needs and tolerated those who were hostile toward them. Certainly, Hispanics feared they would lose any hope that Obama’s commitment for a path to citizenship for their undocumented relatives would be fulfilled since the GOP was opposed to “amnesty” and certainly Hispanics welcomed a temporary dream act, but it was more than just a matter of immigration policy differences. Even Florida Puerto Ricans and Cubans (the first time in modern history) who already had citizenship rights voted for Obama over Romney. Minorities also saw many GOP supporters expressing “nativist attitudes.” A poll conducted by Latino Decisions before the primaries found “forty-six percent of Latino voters said Republicans ‘don’t care too much’ about Hispanics, and another 27 percent said they are being hostile.” Let’s face it. The GOP these past four years has tolerated and supported candidates who “dog whistled” to Southern racist attitudes (“welfare queens, train their kids to be janitors”). They have been over the top in their vehement support of policies that are targeted against racial groups, the Arizona “show me your papers” law, restriction of poll access by making poll schedules inconvenient and proof of citizenship more difficult, and “self deportation” as the solution to the undocumented problem. Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) dared to take a moderate position on immigration and was ridiculed and drummed out of the primaries. For women, the issue was loss of control over their health care that they already had. The GOP tolerated candidates who advocated government and physically intrusive policies, including radical definitions of when life begins that would ban forms of birth control, promising to overturn Roe v. Wade, raising the cost and access to care from mammograms to pills, requiring vaginal probes, and calling some rapes legitimate and others not. The accumulative effect was that for many women it looked like the GOP was hostile to them. The GOP had hoped futiley that women cared more about economic issues than having rights taken away, but the gender gap did not close. For more, go to and

Felicia Muftic: Ghosts of our country’s racist past haunting us again

We should be disturbed with the direction the presidential campaign is taking because ghosts of our country’s racist past are haunting us again. The GOP and some of its candidates are the medium at the seance table. Racial tensions still lie beneath the surface of political correctness, but what this country does not need is leaders who exploit this dark side of Americana. Perhaps part of this resurrection of racism is owed to the election of an African American President. There are those who neither accept it or believe that he should be there, or who think he was of, from, and for, non-Americans. Another element is resentment against the estimated 11 million illegals from south of the border and wanting those law breakers gone, ASAP, regardless of impacts on families or any positive contribution to our society. Anti- immigration sentiment has also, always permeated a segment of U.S. society since the latter 1800s influx of Chinese and Irish. The immigration issue is delivered by many in the GOP with an acidic tone. Policies concerning Hispanics have become conservative litmus tests. They slap down Republicans who take a moderate position on immigration policies or amnesty or dare support the “Dream Act” that would allow children of illegals to get instate college tuition. Newt Gingrich is calling Spanish the language of the ghetto, unmasked his insensitivity to Latino culture. It is no wonder a recent national poll conducted by Hispanic Decisions revealed that 73 percent of Hispanic voters were either hostile to the GOP or believed Republicans “don’t care too much” for them. Immigration hard-liner Mitt Romney should not draw hope from the Florida primary. Florida Latinos are heavily Puerto Ricans and Cubans with unique legal immigration status. Immigration issues are much more important to those with Mexican and other Hispanic roots representing 20 percent of voters in Western swing states, including Colorado. Obvious in the South Carolina GOP primary was, as some called it, Gingrich’s “dog whistle”, using coded words with meanings familiar to Southerners to appeal to those who still hold the attitudes of the old South, a cynical southern strategy. Images of the welfare queen who bore children who lacked any work ethic, the subservient janitor, the food stamp abuser, the vote cheaters who voted as dead people have been summoned by the dog whistle. Yet, he stuck the dog whistle in his pocket when he had to appeal to more moderate Floridians. Gingrich’s calling the President “the food stamp president” is his way of linking Obama’s race to welfare queens. He claims Obama has put more individuals on food stamps. Untrue, too. Per U.S.D.A. data, reported by USA Today, fewer individuals have received food stamps in the Obama administration than in the W Bush administration. That minorities need to get a work ethic is another Gingrich reference to past racial stereotypes. Thanks to Gingrich’s own efforts, welfare reform has succeeded to the extent that most families now have at least one member working. Gingrich wants to put those kids to work being janitors from a young age and suspend child labor laws to make it possible. The Obama approach is to give those kids a decent education, make it possible for them to go to college, and provide them a variety of role models with summer youth internships . The GOP has also antagonized minorities by supporting a coordinated strategy to suppress participation by voting blocks favoring Democrats and dredging up memories of literacy tests and poll tax barriers to voting. GOP elected officials claim fraud is widespread when there is absolutely no supporting data. They have tried to make voting more difficult for elderly and minorities, many who do not have cars or drivers licenses, requiring them to produce a government issued photo ID. GOP elected officials also have tried to prevent mail ballots sent to less frequent voters, who are also elderly and minorities. For more commentary, go to

Competitive districts: real change?

Do you really want to change the way Washington works? Angry with the gridlock and control by members of the House of Representatives or even state legislatures who draw a line in cement and refuse to budge? The cure could lie in making districts more competitive . There is a controversy shaping up in redistricting Colorado’s 6th Congressional District held by Republican Mike Coffman that illustrates how making a district more competitive could blunt vitriolic partisanship and unwillingness to compromise. There is a rule of political science in play here that applies to all levels of districts: The more a district is divided equally among parties and interest groups, the more a candidate has to appeal to a wider variety of factions in order to put together a winning majority vote. Compromise is forced to take place at the lowest level. Waiting until the elected candidate gets into office means that to compromise might require backing down on a campaign promise and risk losing the next election.   Incumbents elected from safe districts have a greater chance of getting re-elected provided they are able to fight off primary challengers. The more they stick by campaign promise, the more likely they will retain their seats. This certainly makes compromise less likely. Political parties understandably strive to carve out safe seats in areas where their party registration dominates. In 1985 the Supreme Court ruled manipulating boundaries to give one party an advantage was unconstitutional. As a result, judges tend to look more favorably on competitive districts if they are asked to rule on competing plans. In spite of this, of 435 House seats, the Congressional Quarterly found 359 safe. To keep up with population shifts reflected in the census, redistricting is required every 10 years. Because Colorado Democrats and Republicans could not agree in the state legislature on congressional boundaries last spring, redistricting will be in the hands of the courts. The Colorado Supreme Court will review a redistricting commission proposal this fall for how the state legislative boundaries will be drawn, including whether Grand County will be put in a solely West Slope state House district or straddle the Continental Divide with some East Slope counties. Given Grand County’s predominantly Republican registration, being placed with more Democratic-leaning Front Range counties in a state House district might be seen more favorably by judges as making for a more competitive district, with an eye to higher court decisions, though the state constitution does not list the degree of competition as a criteria. (Editor’s note: This proposed legislative district is heavily slanted toward Democrats.) The U.S. House district boundaries will also be decided this fall, but in federal Denver District Court because both political parties and Hispanics have sued. Some criteria judges will use are whether districts are more competitive and whether Hispanic voices are being given short shrift in representation, contrary to the Voting Rights Act. Rep. Mike Coffman recently advocated restricting bilingual ballots in the name of cost cutting. The Hispanic community, already angered by Republicans’ over the top anti-immigration reform positions, took his proposal as an attempt to make it harder for Hispanics to vote.  The Democratic Party immediately put forth their plan to Denver District Court that would have changed Coffman’s currently heavily  Republican district boundaries to include more Hispanics and to make this district more competitive, divided equally between Democrats, independents, and Republicans. Both increasing competitiveness and Hispanic representation are strong arguments that could sway a judge to rule in favor of plans submitted by Democrats and Hispanics. That could force Coffman, a party line loyalist, to appeal to a wider variety of ideologies and special interests to win his upcoming 2012 race. If enough redistricting decisions in ours and in other states  decrease the number of safe districts, eventually we could change the polarization plaguing Washington and other legislative bodies . Of course, in the short term, the best route would be for voters themselves to kick out those unwilling to compromise. For more commentary, go to