Representative Matt Soper could be facing some important decisions if the Colorado Independent Redistricting Commissions preliminary statewide house maps currently in circulation remain fundamentally unchanged. The preliminary maps drawn by non-partisan CIRC staff are subject to revisions by the commission following several public hearings.
“Obviously the preliminary maps are concerning to me,” said Soper. “Because both of the preliminary maps would draw me out of the bulk of my current legislative district.”
In 2018 Colorado voters passed Amendments Y and Z placing the task of redrawing both Colorado’s congressional and legislative maps in the hands of three independent commissions made up of four Republicans, four Democrats and four Unaffiliated individuals for each of the three redistricting maps. The maps include Colorado Congressional Districts as well as its State Legislative maps including the senate and house. Colorado is one of four states making the change in an attempt to stop party “gerrymandering.”
Presently, Soper’s House District 54 includes the western side of Delta County starting with the City of Delta. It also takes in Clifton, Fruitvale, DeBeque, Mesa, Collbran, Fruita, Loma, Mack, Glade Park, Palisade, Whitewater and Gateway.
According to the Delta native, his county was one of the first in Colorado to be legislatively broken up beginning in the 1960’s in an attempt to get rid of the last Delta citizen, Charles R. Conklin (D) and turn the district more conservative. In the 70’s the City of Delta and Surface Creek Valley were historically connected to Mesa County, although the Surface Creek area is not currently in HD 54.
“It is kind of interesting that the City of Delta, if you look at the entire history of the seat, has always been attached to Mesa County. And that goes back well over 50 years so, I do think it is important to honor the fact that people have been together for so long. Even if you drill down into the Census data, it also reflects that Delta should be tied to Mesa County,” Soper said, adding, “The important thing for me is that communities of interest stay together.”
Soper pointed out that there are over 11,000 people who drive from Delta County to Mesa County to work and roughly 600 workers commute from Mesa County to work in Delta. In addition, he cited the similarities in property values between the two adjacent counties.
“It’s a pretty stable market, but if you look down south to Montrose its real estate market emulates that of San Miguel County. It has a lot more volatility in the market,” he said.
Soper also mentioned the long-standing rivalry between Delta and Montrose, each having its own unique vibe. Montrose is more about the San Juans and Telluride which differs from the more rural laid back attitude of Delta County, said Soper.
“Those underlying tensions are still there at least for the two cities,” Soper said. “As a Delta native it’s hard to think about being attached to Montrose. I think if the maps stay, Delta has more to lose than Montrose.”
Montrose County would stay intact, while Delta would be pulled entirely out of Mesa County. Soper said the change would also negatively affect Mesa County because of the natural flow of people and common interests.
If the preliminary house district map or a similar version holds, Soper could face incumbent Marc Catlin (R) from Montrose in a primary battle ahead of the 2022 election. Catlin (HD 58) is in his third term representing Montrose, San Miguel, Dolores and Montezuma counties.
Redistricting will not change term limits for either Soper or Catlin should either of them win in 2022. Soper is in his second term giving him an additional year of eligibility over Catlin. The current map definitely favors Catlin over Soper.
“In a perfect world have Delta and Mesa counties stuck together at least the eastern part of Mesa County and all of Delta County together. Then you would have the bulk of Colorado’s commercial orchards in one district as well as the bulk of Colorado’s vineyards,” said Soper.
While Soper is very passionate about the redistricting process, he won’t be attending the upcoming community input meetings. Instead he’s banking on his constituents to carry his message.
“Both commissions have made it clear that they do not want to hear about citizens designing seats for incumbents. Which I do think is important. Citizens have to think more just ‘do you love your representative?’ You have to think about what is the community of interest you want to belong to and be a part of going forward in the future,” Soper said.
According to the CIRC website, the commissions are looking for public input that answers the following questions. What shared interests unite your community? What are your community’s public policy concerns? What geographic areas or features are important to your community? What else should the commissions know about your community? How do the proposed maps impact your particular community of interest?
Soper is encouraging community members to make use of the larger forum on July 30 to be held at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction. The meeting will take place in the Meyer Ballroom at 7 p.m. There will also be a smaller day time meeting at 11 a.m. in Montrose at the Ute Indian Museum.