When the lines for the statehouse are redrawn after this year’s reapportionment, more competitive districts could cost Democrats seats in the House, leaving them facing a Republican supermajority. Based on the voting record of the last year, that could make it tough for pro-conservation Democrats to pass environmental bills.
“What the lines look like have the potential or the great likelihood to dramatically impact the fate of pro-environment legislation at the Capitol,” says Pete Maysmith, executive director of Colorado Conservation Voters, which scores members of the state legislation on their voting record for issues including the management of natural resources, renewable energy and waste.
“If they’re drawn in a competitive way, so people can really have clear choices, on balance, that’s going to benefit the environment,” Maysmith says.
“There’s a greater opportunity for their voice to be heard, and for issues like the environment to really be key, or swing issues in the race.”
The lines for reapportionment allot dramatic increases in Republican voter registrations in four formerly securely Democratic districts. In three of those four districts, the Democratic incumbents have, according to the Colorado Conservation Voters scorecard, a record of voting pro-environment 100 percent of the time. The fourth scored 83 percent. Statewide, 100 percent scores went only to Democrats. The highest-scoring Republicans earned 45 percent.
“I think it’s safe to say that if the maps are adopted as they’re currently proposed, Republicans will have a pretty strong lock on the House for the next decade,” says Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder. “If we just look at the record of one session of Republican control, I think we know what’ll happen for the next 10 years if they stay in control.”
Levy was able to pass a bill she introduced this year that required more transparency in the bidding process for renewable energy. But she watched fellow Democrats fail to find similar luck. Rep. Deb Gardner, D-Longmont, introduced a bill to require more energy efficiency in certain structures. It was killed in the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.
“It shouldn’t be, but it seems to be partisan,” Levy says.
Some of the bedrock pieces of environmental legislation, like the Clean Air and Clean Water acts and the bill creating the Environmental Protection Agency, had bipartisan support, were even championed by Republicans and were signed into law by Republican President Richard Nixon, Maysmith says.
“The legacy of conservation and protecting our environment for future generations is a bipartisan legacy. It’s a bipartisan notion,” he says. “To fast-forward to today, it has very much become way too often falling on partisan lines.”
Colorado’s renewable energy goal of 30 percent renewable energy — one of the country’s highest — is an example of pro-conservation majorities in the state legislature, according to Maysmith.
“The environment is such an integral part of who we are as Coloradans — our mountains, clean air, clean water. … People care about those issues,” he says. “When districts are competitive and there’s a real choice between the candidates, it’s certainly not always the case, but it’s often the case that candidates that have a vision for how to protect our environment are going to have a leg up in that race.”
“That hasn’t seemed to happen,” Levy says. “It depends on who wins, but it seems like the Republican candidates just don’t see the importance of environmental issues.”
All of this is beside the point to Gardner, who looks at the reapportioned districts and sees the heart of Longmont set into another district.
“I know a lot of the discussion has been framed around a more political agenda, and more around the demographics of it from a political standpoint rather than the geography of it, and I just don’t think that’s the right discussion that serves the community,” she says.
The way the lines are drawn now, she says, 10,000 people in Longmont will not be well-represented because they’ll be grouped with another district that may not share their values. Regardless of how they feel on the environment — or any other issue — they’ll struggle to have those views represented.