And the scramble has begun.
Now that the Colorado Supreme Court has approved new state House and Senate maps, candidates are crafting designs to run for more competitive seats that also appear to shrink the influence of rural communities at the state Capitol.
The new maps will reshape Colorado’s political landscape, and, to a large extent, determine the kind of public policy coming out of the state Capitol over the next 10 years.
One thing is clear – the 2022 election will look like no other.
Formerly safe seats in both the state House and Senate have become competitive.
In addition, two senators, one from each party, will sit out the 2022 elections instead of running for reelection after their homes were drawn into districts where another incumbent is already serving a term until 2024.
Significantly, the new maps will lead to broader shifts, most notably a dwindling rural influence in the state capitol.
A Colorado Politics analysis shows population growth, primarily along the Front Range, now means three fewer rural House districts and one more urban Senate district. The new House map includes 48 urban districts, 10 rural and seven that are a mix. In the Senate, the breakdown shows 26 urban, seven rural and two that appear to be a mix.
For the past decade, 20 lawmakers in the General Assembly represent rural districts. After 2022, it appears to drop to 17.
State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, who has been a rural voice at the state Capitol for Colorado’s northeastern plains for 15 years, worries about what the shift means for public policy.
“If you lose rural representation that understands agriculture, you don’t have the resources to make good policy at the Capitol,” Sonnenberg told Colorado Politics.
He had asked the commissioners when they came to Sterling to make sure the maps reflected dedicated, rural representation. But as the maps ended up, every district in the Eastern Plains, he said, could be represented by someone next to an urban area, including his Senate district.
It’s the same situation for House districts, he said, citing the district that covers Julesburg and Holyoke, which he noted could be represented by a colleague who might be good in many areas, but not as a spokesman for agriculture.
While the redistricting shifts resulted from population growth in urban centers, more rural voices will be lost in the 2022 election with the departure of Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, and Sonnenberg. Both are farmers and ranchers.
“That’s a huge challenge for us in ag when it comes down to how we educate so-called rural lawmakers,” Sonnenberg said.
“I had those concerns, too,” Rep. Rod Pelton, R-Cheyenne Wells, echoed the sentiment. Each one of the Eastern Plains districts goes to the Front Range, he said, adding, “It’s concerning. Rural has good representation, just not enough of it, and this will make it worse.”
Republicans advocated loudest for increasing the number of competitive districts, a natural desire for the minority party that dominated Colorado’s political scene for decades, but which lost control of the legislature in the last several election cycles.
Indeed, several more districts became competitive in both chambers, based on past election performance.
In the Denver metro area, 15 formerly solid Democratic Senate districts shrinks to 13 and two that look competitive. And where one Republican House district existed there before, four districts look to be within the grasp of Republicans now.
But some Republicans might not be happy with how increased competitiveness plays out in areas where former GOP strongholds are now closer to even. The trend is especially clear in El Paso County and the fast-growing suburbs north of Denver. In those areas, Democrats could now snatch districts that formerly were Republican locks.
In the Colorado Springs areas, the outgoing House map had six solid Republican districts and two solid Democratic districts. But the new map shows five solid Republican districts, one solid Democratic district and two that look to be competitive.
And under the old map in the Senate, Colorado Springs held three solid Republican districts and one Democratic leaning district. The new map offers two solid Republican districts, one with a narrow Democratic lean and one with a narrow Republican lean.
So, in a good year for Democrats, the majority party could take half of the four Colorado Springs area Senate seats and three of the eight House seats. In a good year for Republicans, the minority party could win all four Senate seats and seven of the eight House seats.
A note for the reader: The redistricting commission calculated the partisan leaning of each of the new districts using an average of eight statewide election results from 2016 to 2020: the 2016 Presidential and U.S. Senate races, the 2018 Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Treasurer and CU Regent at Large races, and the 2020 U.S. Senate race. Commissioners then aggregated precinct-level results from those elections to the new districts, which came with the caveat that the particulars from each of those races affected the partisan lean assigned to each district. Because the 2018 and 2020 election cycles saw overall Democratic overperformance, opinions diverged on what to make of the numbers. It’s possible the partisan leanings assigned to each district could overestimate the Democratic lean if the 2018 and 2020 cycles turn out to have been abnormal. But if those election cycles set up a new normal for the state, then the partisan leaning calculated by the redistricting commission should be accurate.
Next year’s Senate races include six open seats due to term limits, which means big changes in leadership heading into 2023: Senate President Leroy Garcia of Pueblo, President Pro tem Kerry Donovan of Vail, Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert of Douglas County and Assistant Minority Leader John Cooke of Greeley are all term-limited at the end of the 2022 session.
The only leader who is not term-limited at the end of the 73rd General Assembly is Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg of Boulder, who is likely to become the next Senate president should Democrats hang onto the majority.
Whether that will happen may depend on the 2022 elections and how some of the maps were drawn. Most political pundits say while the possibility of Republicans taking over either chamber is not impossible, it is practically out of reach for the next election cycle.
A Colorado Politics analysis shows competitive and relatively safe Democratic districts across the state would need to shift somewhere around seven percentage points to the right from the estimated partisanship measures in order for Republicans to take over either chamber. They would need to win every Republican-leaning district, every competitive district, and either every Senate district with as much as a 6.6% Democratic lean or every House district with as much as a 7.1% Democratic lean.
Among the races to watch for 2022:
SD4: Sen. Tammy Story, D-Evergreen, currently lives in the outgoing Senate District 16, but the area’s Senate districts have been significantly redrawn and she’s now in the new Senate District 4. Story was part of the group of five first-time Democratic women senators elected in 2018. She defeated incumbent Sen. Tim Neville of Littleton by 13 percentage points.
The district where she won then included the Jefferson County foothills, Gilpin County and a portion of Boulder County.
The new SD4 looks a lot different. It still has the western part of Jefferson County, but Gilpin and Boulder counties are gone, replaced by Fremont, Lake, Custer, Chaffee, Teller and Park counties, and a portion of west Douglas County.
With the addition of those Republican-leaning counties, the district leans 24% Republican. Story filed to run for reelection in 2019. She intends to run for the seat.
There are two Republican House members in the district: Reps. Ron Hanks of Cañon City and Stephanie Luck of Penrose. Hanks is running for the GOP nod to vie against Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and so far hasn’t filed the paperwork to run for reelection to his House District 60 seat. Luck has not filed the paperwork to run for HD60, either.
Another race to watch is the newly redrawn SD15. Sen. Rob Woodward, R-Loveland, represents the outgoing SD15, which was reliably Republican for years, with Loveland, Wellington and Estes Park as its largest communities.
With the south half of Boulder County added, the district’s political complexion changes. It’s now dead evenly divided. Woodward, who was elected for the first time in 2018, filed in August for reelection in 2022. Democrat Janice Marchman of Loveland also is running for the seat.
A couple of districts will be wide open for someone in 2022, as they have no incumbents.
SD24: Sen. Faith Winter, a Westminster Democrat, currently represents the outgoing SD24, but in the redrawn map, she’s in the new SD25, where she is a candidate for 2022. The new SD24, which leans 9.1% Democratic, now includes Federal Heights and Thornton.
Without an incumbent senator, the district is already a battleground to watch for 2022, with a Democratic primary shaping up between Rep. Kyle Mullica and former Rep. Joe Salazar.
Mullica moved from his Northglenn home (which is in the outgoing SD24 but in the new SD25, like Winter) to a home in Federal Heights owned by his mother. His wife, however, is a Northglenn city council member, with residency requirements that keep her in Northglenn. This could lead to interesting questions about just where Mullica lives — in Federal Heights with his mother or in Northglenn with his wife.
Mullica told Colorado Politics said he decided to move home with his mother for a variety of reasons.
“It’s the community my wife and I grew up in and feel connected to. It’s an opportunity to be their voice,” he said.
SD27: No incumbent Senator lives in the new district, which includes Centennial and a large portion of Arapahoe County south of Aurora. Two House members live in the district – Democratic Reps. Tom Sullivan and Naquetta Ricks.
At just above 10%, demographics show SD27 has the highest Asian concentration of any Senate district. It’s 63% white, 7% Black and 13% Hispanic, which makes it among the most diverse districts, in terms of being close to an equal mix of race and ethnicity.
Sullivan filed for reelection for his House seat on Oct. 18. Ricks told Colorado Politics she also intends to run for reelection to her House seat, so the new Senate seat is wide open. It leans 2.7% Democratic, which could make it a prime target for Republicans eager to regain control of the Senate.
SD35: The southeastern Colorado district leans 44.8% Republican but has no incumbent. Sen. Cleave Simpson, R-Alamosa, currently represents southeastern Colorado. But the new map puts Simpson in the new SD6, which stretches west and takes him from a slam-dunk Republicans district to a highly competitive one, with a 0.9% Democratic lean, because of the reliably Democratic areas in southwestern Colorado that are now in SD6, such as Durango and Telluride.
As for SD35, which has no incumbent senator, Pelton, the House Minority Whip, intends to run for that seat. He told KTFM last month he’s just waiting on the state’s election filing system to reflect updated maps. (The Secretary of State has until Nov. 30 to update the TRACER campaign finance system so that candidates can file for the correct districts for 65 House seats and 17 Senate seats that are up for election in 2022).
House Assistant Minority Leader Rep. Tim Geitner, R-Peyton, also lives in the new district but filed in August for reelection to the House.
SD20: No incumbent was living in the new SD20 – until Sen. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood rectified it recently. The redrawn maps initially put her in SD22, where Sen. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, lives.
However, Pettersen said she moved back to the home she still owns in Lakewood that’s in the new SD20.
Problem solved, sort of. The new SD20 is more conservative than the outgoing district Pettersen currently represents, which was a narrow, north-south strip running through the heart of Lakewood. The new SD20 is west Lakewood to the Jefferson County line and north to the Boulder County line, drawing in a more conservative portion of Jefferson County.
Pettersen won her 2018 race by 13 percentage points. The new SD20 holds a 7.1% Democratic lean.
SD23: First-term Republican Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer of Brighton lives in the district but decided recently to run for the state’s new 8th Congressional District. SD23 cuts a long path through central Weld County from Brighton to just east of Wellington. Should she win the congressional seat, her state Senate seat would be open but a vacancy committee would pick her successor.* The state Senate seat has a 22% Republican lean.
Here are the districts with term-limited senators.
SD3: Senate President Leroy Garcia lives in the Pueblo district. Democrat Nick Hinrichsen, an Army veteran and Pueblo Transit’s operations supervisor, is a candidate for that seat next year. His wife, Bri Buentello, represented HD47 in the 2019-2020 sessions. Hinrichsen initially sought the new HD46 seat that will open because House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar is term limited. But once the House map came out, it showed that Hinrichsen is just a block outside of HD46 and in HD62. A second Democratic candidate, Jason Munoz, is running in SD3.
SD8: The new map shifts the border between the last decade’s SD8 and SD5. Senate President Pro Tempore Kerry Donovan of Vail, who represents the outgoing SD5, is now in SD8. With Democratic-leaning communities, such as Steamboat Springs and Vail, the district still leans Democratic at 6.6% but could be competitive.
Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, declared his candidacy for the outgoing SD5 seat back in July. Rep. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, chair of the Joint Budget Committee, also lives in the district.
SD1: 2022 will mark the 16th and final year for Sonnenberg, the only senator term-limited in 2022 who served four terms in the House and two in the Senate. The district encompasses northeastern Colorado down to the Yuma-Kit Carson county lines.
Rep. Tonya Van Beber, R-Eaton is a candidate for the Senate seat, along with fellow Republican Michael Boyer of Wiggins. Rep. Richard Holtorf, R-Akron, also lives in the district.
SD30: Term-limited Holbert lives in the Douglas County district, which will likely elect a Republican, with a 12% GOP lean. Rep. Kevin Van Winkle, R-Highlands Ranch, is so far the only candidate for the seat.
SD13: Assistant Senate Minority Leader John Cooke, who is term-limited, lives in the Greeley district. Another Republican incumbent, Sen. Kevin Priola of Henderson, lives in the district. Priola was re-elected to his second term in 2020. Whether the district stays in Republican hands in 2024 is another matter: the seat is now competitive, with a 3.7% Republican lean.
SD7: Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, will be term-limited at the end of 2022. Republican Rep. Janice Rich is a candidate for the seat, which leans 33% Republican and encompasses all of Mesa County and a small portion of Delta County.
Two districts drew in multiple incumbents, the new SD5 and SD12. One senator, who was elected to the seat in 2020, will keep that seat, but two other senators, who both were up for re-election in 2022, will have to sit this one out.
SD12: Two senators – Republican Sen. Bob Gardner and Democratic Sen. Pete Lee – both live in the new SD12. But Gardner will keep the seat, as he was re-elected in 2020. According to Jeremiah Barry of the General Assembly’s legal services, state law says “nothing in a redistricting plan removes a senator from office for the term to which the senator was elected. Under the constitution and that statute, if a senator elected in 2018 is drawn into a district with a senator elected in 2020, the senator elected in 2020 is entitled to serve until the election in 2024, and the other senator must wait until that election.”
While Gardner keeps the seat until he’s term-limited in 2024, it might not be a slam dunk for the next Republican, as the district leans 2.4% Republican, making it one of the most competitive districts in the state.
SD5: Coram and Sen. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale were both drawn into the new SD5, even though both were elected in districts either to the north or south of the district. Coram’s term ends in 2022, and Rankin was elected in 2020, so Rankin will represent the district until 2024. The outgoing SD5 leaned Democratic, but the new SD5 will be competitive for 2024, with a 3% Republican lean, because the redrawn district includes Republican-leaning areas, such as Rifle, Delta and Montrose.
Here’s one other change worth noting.
SD11: The redrawn Colorado Springs district will no longer include Democratic Sen. Pete Lee, but it will have a transplant incumbent — Republican Sen. Dennis Hisey, who moved from Fountain to Colorado Springs and told Colorado Politics he intends to run for the SD11 seat, where he’ll face the winner of a primary between Democrats Rep. Tony Exum and Colorado Spring City Councilwoman Yolanda Avila. The district leans Democratic 2.4%, making it competitive. It’s also the most diverse district in Colorado Springs, at 49% white, 29% Hispanic and 10% Black.
Eight members of the Colorado House are term-limited at the end of 2022. The new House map shows more than just those eight may need to do something different come 2023, whether it’s running for the state Senate or something else altogether.
The leadership, on the Democratic side, also will open come 2023, with term-limits ending the House careers of Speaker of the House Alec Garnett, D-Denver, and Esgar.
In addition to Garnett, Esgar and Van Winkle, other term-limited members are Reps. Terri Carver, R-Colorado Springs; Exum; Susan Lontine, D-Denver; Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock; and, Kim Ransom, R-Littleton.
Also departing for other seats: Rep. Yadira Caraveo, D-Thornton, who’s running for CD8; Mullica, Roberts, Van Beber and Pelton, who are all running for or plan to run for the state Senate, and Hanks, who is running for the GOP nod for the U.S. Senate.
HD60: The redrawn House District 60 is home to two Republican incumbents: Reps. Ron Hanks and Stephanie Luck.
The date to watch is June 28, when the primary will take place.
By then, Hanks will have to decide if he has a shot at defeating the other GOP candidates and eventually, Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, or whether to run in a primary against Luck to stay in the state House. Neither Luck nor Hanks has filed for re-election to the House. But both have another option: SD4, where Story is an incumbent but which, as redrawn, is a heavily Republican district.
HD 47: The district Luck represents previously included portions of Pueblo, Otero and Fremont counties. But as redrawn, it includes just a small portion of Pueblo County – the north half of Pueblo West – and then stretches east to the Colorado-Kansas state line.
The district will not have an incumbent in 2022. It leans 25% Republican, so it’s a slam dunk for any Republican who wins the primary.
HD28: The district also has two incumbents – Reps. Lisa Cutter, a Littleton Democrat, and Kerry Tipper, a Lakewood Democrat, but it could challenge either in a general election, after being redrawn from one of the many Denver Democratic strongholds to a competitive district with a 2.3% Democratic lean.
For Cutter, the new district is both politically and geographically a change from the the outgoing HD25, which included more of rural Jefferson County and swung away from Republican control over the past decade, first electing a Democrat with Cutter in 2018, then reelecting her in 2020, by about five percentage points each time.
The outgoing, heavily Democratic HD28 included western portions of Lakewood, in a backward L-shaped district between 6th Avenue and Highway 285, jutting west to the Morrison boundary.
The new HD28 is further south, with parts of Columbine included.
HD56: Both Pelton and Rod Bockenfeld of Watkins are drawn into the large, eastern Colorado district, but Pelton intends to run for the Senate. Bockenfeld filed for the 2022 election last week. Democrat Perry Deeds of Aurora, who filed his candidacy under the old lines, doesn’t appear to live in the district based on the redrawn map.
As is the case with the Senate, some House seats are left without incumbents under the new map.
HD64: The solidly Republican Weld County district west of Greeley includes the Mead and Milliken communities, and so far, no one has filed to run for the seat.
HD48: On the other side of Greeley, to the east, the solidly Republican HD48 stretches south to Brighton and includes portions of Weld and Adams counties. The district has no declared candidates so far.
HD37: Democratic Rep. Tom Sullivan represents the outgoing HD37, but the new map places him in the neighboring HD61 to the east, which looks to be a toss-up district, with only a 0.5% Democratic lean. The new HD37, on the other hand, leans 7% Democratic. Ken Stable, an Englewood Democrat, is so far the only declared candidate.
HD6: Rep. Steven Woodrow, a Denver Democrat, was elected in the outgoing version of this district, but it now includes Denver east of Broadway and east to Yosemite St, and Woodrow has been drawn into HD2. HD6 has a 67% Democratic lean. Former Democratic state House staffer Katie March is running for the seat.
The redistricting commission managed to draw all the House districts in Denver without drawing incumbents into each other’s districts.
HD34: While the redrawn map puts both Reps. Mullica and Caraveo into the new HD34, neither is running for the House seat. Caraveo is running for the new 8th Congressional District, and Mullica is vying for the state Senate. The district, anchored by Northglenn, holds an 8.2% Democratic lean. There are no declared candidates yet.
HD55: With Rep. Janice Rich, a Grand Junction Republican, running for the SD7 seat, firmly Republican HD55 is now an open contest. Two Republicans, Nina Anderson and Cindy Ficklin, are candidates for the seat, which leans 24% Republican.
A few seats will open due to term-limits.
HD46 is largely contained within Pueblo. No incumbent currently lives in the new district, since Esgar is term limited. The district’s 7.1% Democratic lean, however, reflects the changing nature of Pueblo’s politics. Esgar won her 2020 election by 17 percentage points. Democrat Ralph O’Neal is a candidate for the seat.
HD16: Rep. Andy Pico, who represented the outgoing HD16, is now in the neighboring HD22 to the east, a safe Republican district, leaving the new, far more competitive HD16 without an incumbent. With more of central Colorado Springs, the new HD16 has only a 3.1% Republican lean, and two declared candidates: Republican Dave Donelson and Democrat Stephanie Vigil.
HD17: The district immediately south of HD16 is also without an incumbent because Exum, who is term-limited, is running for the state Senate. The district leans 13% Democratic. It’s also about one-third Hispanic, 12% Black and only 42% white. There are two declared candidates: Republican Rachel Stovall and Democrat Regina English.
HD43: With term-limited Van Winkle running for the state Senate, the open seat leaves Republican Kurt Huffman of Highlands Ranch the only declared candidate for the district, which has a 7.1% Republican lean.
HD45: In the district where term-limited Rep. Patrick Neville lives, two Republicans — Gregory Smith and William Jack, both of Castle Rock — are declared candidates. The district leans 27% Republican.
HD1: Republican Guillermo Diaz and Democrat Javier Mabry are both declared candidates for the deeply Democratic district in southwest Denver, where term-limited Rep. Susan Lontine lives.
HD2: Two incumbents live in the new HD2, but with House Speaker Alec Garnett reaching term limits, Rep. Steven Woodrow, who has been drawn into this Capitol Hill/Glendale district with a 49% Democratic lean, is running for reelection in HD2. He has no opponent yet.
Also worth noting:
HD18 is currently represented by Democratic Rep. Marc Snyder, who won his 2020 race by 23 percentage points. His reelection chances will likely be harder for 2022, given that the redrawn district has just a 0.3% Democratic lean. The new HD18, like the current HD18, is predominantly white. The district still includes Democratic-leaning Manitou Springs, which is now surrounded by large portions of Colorado Springs both to the north and south. Snyder intends to run for the newly redrawn district. No one else has filed for the seat as of this report.
Finally, the effort by Republican Rep. Matt Soper of Delta to keep his House seat as is largely succeeded. An earlier map drew him and Rep. Marc Catlin, a Montrose Republican, into the same district, but the approved map keeps them in districts by themselves.
The district with the heaviest Democratic lean belongs to HD8, currently represented by Rep. Leslie Herod, at a whopping 75% Democratic lean. On the Republican side, the district with the biggest lean is HD63 (Holtorf’s district) at 54%.
Let the games begin.
Correction: The story was updated to correct information on how a successor to Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer would be chosen.