"Super Mario" Carrera, the Unaffiliated Chairman of the Reapportionment Commission who makes the media collectively weak in the knees, released his version of "compromise" state House and state Senate maps yesterday. His maps attempt to make more "competitive" districts and increase the Hispanic population in key districts more so than either the previously proposed Democrat or Republican maps. At that surface level his maps are likely to be described lovingly in the papers, but the details of the maps display deeper problems missed at first glance.
The maps are Carrera's attempt to break a partisan logjam on Reapportionment, the decennial process of redrawing state legislative boundaries based on the Census numbers. The Commission tasked with determining the new lines is split between five Democrats and five Republicans, with the Unaffiliated (and former Democrat) Mario Carrera atop the Commission. This set up has given Carrera virtually complete control over which map is chosen.
While the press corps loves Carrera, because he doesn't play for either of the two teams political reporters constantly try to play referee between, that doesn't mean he knows exactly what he's doing. In fact, Carrera's unassailable image in the press could actually end up giving him more power than is appropriate to a fair process.
Were Carrera's maps to be accepted in whole, it would end up giving one man an unbelievable amount of power over the entire state’s politics for the next decade — as legislative lines often have more influence over the outcome of elections than the millions of dollars pumped into tight races. No matter how well intentioned Carrera might seem, his (inexperienced) voice should not be the only one.
Competitiveness — the criteria Carrera harped on — sounds nice, but since the process is bound by legal mandates, and competitiveness is not one of them, it cannot be the overriding guide to drawing districts. Just ask Vice Chairman of the Commission, former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb:
“Competitiveness is not one of the constitutional criteria I remember taking an oath to uphold.”
Perhaps more concerning is how "competitiveness" has been determined. The maps only draw on the 2010 election results — a banner year for Republicans. If a district was "competitive" in 2010 but a Democrat still won by a few points, it is most likely far from an actual competitive district, as Republicans couldn't even take it at their high water mark for turnout and electoral advantage. Even worse, when you look at Carrera's "competitive" districts, the overwhelming majority lean Democrat, making the map not a fairly competitive one at all.
Close observers will remember Democrats threw a hissy fit when during redistricting, reapportionment's congressional cousin, the only data available early on was from 2008. Democrats howled that it was unfair to only use those numbers because that year represented a high water mark for Democrats. But when the tables are turned they are noticeably silent.
What is most surprising, and confusing, about Carrera's "compromise" maps is that there already were "compromise" maps in place. The maps that the commission took around the state for its tour were thought to be a compromise already.
Those maps included a state House map that was drawn partially by Republicans and partially by Democrats. The state Senate maps were drawn entirely by Democrats. Yet now Carrera is turning the whole process on its head and trying to rejigger the lines all over again.
"Super Mario" may mean well, but his new maps are unlikely to lead to a fair and agreeable resolution to a highly partisan project. They also are unlikely to pass Constitutional muster. It will be interesting to see if the media points out these flaws or simply fawns over one of the few non-political political figures around these days. That profile has certainly worked well for Governor Hickenlooper.