DENVER — If mainstream media outlets and political pundits are to be believed, the new redistricting for the Colorado House of Representatives has solidified the Democrats’ strong-hold on that chamber of the legislature.
However, if you talk to at least one man — who spends most his time studying the data and putting together a Republican election plan for 2022 — he’ll tell you different.
“I hope every Democrat reads that and believes it,” said House Minority Leader Hugh McKean, who represents House District 51, when asked what he thinks of all the hype around the new House districts map that was approved by the Colorado Supreme Court late last year.
McKean, sat down with Compete Colorado for an exclusive look at why the House map may not signal a continuing Democrat majority. Although McKean wouldn’t give away specifics, saying it’s part of a strategy, he outlined the Republican path to victory though the eyes of the man responsible for growing the numbers.
McKean has followed the redistricting extensively throughout the process, adding that he’s been over the data so many times there really is no other answer that he can see.
“The maps that we see, along with the current mid-term cycle we’re in is just a beautiful thing for Republicans,” McKean said. “And I would say more than just Republicans, but for common sense voters in the state of Colorado.”
Although McKean was clear the new map, despite an effort to be non-partisan, still favored the Democrats, he said compared to what they have looked like historically, he’s confident Republicans could regain control of the House in 2022.
History of redistricting abuse
McKean called the history of redistricting “abusive.”
My district feels it “almost more than anyone,” McKean said. “Because my district — as I remind people continuously — was drawn so that the very southwest corner was literally on the fencepost of BJ Nikkel’s backyard.”
That redistricting happened ten years ago, when House District 51 was represented by Brian DelGrosso and Nikkel represented House District 49. Then, redistricting was done by lawmakers, and they drew the lines so that Nikkel’s property near Carter Lake was just inside the edge of 51–she could see 49 out her front door. It pitted the two Republicans against each other in one district.
“To me, that is the definition of gerrymandering,” McKean said, adding that although that didn’t happen to him this time, he did lose a substantial part of his district when they drew much of the rural western part of Larimer County out of 51.
McKean will now represent just Loveland.
“It makes it a much different constituency when I look at it,” McKean said. “The ability to represent agricultural and rural interests was really important to me. But you have to determine if you can represent your district. And so of course I can, those are my folks.”
The new House districts
Not everyone was as lucky, though, McKean said, with six incumbent Republicans drawn into districts with each other.
“Of course, there could have been better maps for Republicans,” McKean said. “I think that the very fact that in the end of the process there were no Democrats drawn together, but there were six Republicans that were, would suggest there was still a slant away from Republicans in the final maps.”
However, McKean added that when you look at elections over the past six years or so, there wasn’t a lot of movement, and given the current split of 41 Democrats and 24 Republicans, the GOP would need to hold onto all the seats they currently hold and pick up another nine to gain control, a feat he said is very possible.
The new maps “created actually competitive districts,” McKean said. “Five or six (districts) are absolute toss ups that we would have never had a chance in before. We have a very significant chance in those this year.”
One example is House District 50, which is currently represented by Mary Young. That seat has been a Democrat stronghold for decades. However, the new map removes chunks of Greeley, including a heavily Democrat area near the University of Northern Colorado, and adds a portion of Evans that is predominantly Republican.
Although the Democrats still technically hold a small advantage, it opened it up for a much more competitive race considering the current political climate in Weld County, where residents are feeling the sting of Democrat policies restricting oil and gas and agriculture more than possibly anywhere else in the state.
A Republican majority ‘100 percent possible’
“It’s 100 percent possible,” McKean said about Republicans gaining the majority in the House. “We have a far greater range where we are not just saying we want a candidate in there, but where we know a candidate can win that district and likely will.”
McKean said the party has candidates ready to take on the fight, and not just candidates to put a name in the race, but who know how to campaign and how to win.
“There are remarkably good people who are running who have been very involved at the local level and coming back into it at the state level,” he said. “People who are very much looking at where the state is and incredibly open to what it means to govern and to represent their constituents.”
McKean said the new districts are more competitive than they have ever been for several reasons.
“I may be the most cautious data driven person I know when it comes to this,” McKean said.
But it’s not just simple numbers, he said. The fact that midterms almost always favor the party not in power, combined with the current state-of-the-state, makes for a winning situation, he believes.
“Right now, we have a president whose approval ratings are still going down, even when people didn’t think they could be,” McKean said. “And it’s not just popularity. It’s people who are answering the question, ‘do you think the country is going in the right direction?’ And it’s an adamant no, and it’s a no in the 70th percentile range.”
McKean pointed to:
- Six percent inflation — “We haven’t seen that in forever. People are remembering their parents talking about 17 and 18 percent inflation in the 70s, and that’s what they are worried about.”
- Random lack of access to products — “Partly because of problems in the ports, but the problems in the ports are exasperated by the lack of ability to get back to work as normal after people were told they were either essential or non-essential.”
“When there is a back log, there is a limited supply; when there is a limited supply, prices go up; that’s just the way it is,” McKean said.
It’s worse at the local level, he said, with Democrats in the legislature last year forcing through bills that added 9 cents a gallon to the gas tax, a surcharge on amazon and food delivery services, among other things.
“It’s all those things,” McKean said, calling current Colorado state government an almost oligarchical level of one-party control. “In every incident, you see people’s day to day expenses just rising and rising and rising. People do pay attention to those things, and they pay attention to that dynamic. Most of the people I know enjoy divided government, and they enjoy it for a reason, you can hold accountable the party in power when they are doing things that make your life harder, they see that in every instance the government in power is making their life harder.”
What needs to happen?
McKean said the 2021 off-year election where many school boards that have long been under control of teacher union-backed Democrats flipped conservative and city councils in some of the most progressive areas gaining conservative representation was a just sneak peek into what is to come.
McKean joked that he likes to say Republicans have had a history of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, but not this cycle.
“The focus is very much on what we need to do to take back (Colorado),” he said. “When you focus on something that is a bigger goal than just this district or this race, what you really are looking at is what is it the people of Colorado are crying out for?”
McKean says that Colorado voters are crying out for three things:
- Reduce the cost of living in this state — “It has gotten not just extraordinary but painfully abusive because we now have housing costs that are out of control, milk costs more, gas costs more, we have the natural gas prices coming in his winter that we already been warned are going to be multiples of what we’ve paid in the past, and that is because of Democrat policies.”
- Safe streets and communities — “They want us to focus on public safety. They want us to redress some of the bills that the governor has signed in the past few years that has gotten rid of bail for individuals. We see that people who get out without having to pay bail are six times more likely to get arrested again. We see a horrific rise in homicides, a more than 50 percent rise in homicides in Denver. We see more than 60 percent rise in aggravated assaults across the state.”
- Education — “What we’ve seen through COVID really highlighted some of the concerns that parents have had with the education of their kids for years. What they want to see is the entire scope of choice opened up. To not have had a focus on vocational education in the past thirty years has put us in a terrible place. When schools shut down, parents got much more involved in their kids’ education and realized the educational choices that were being offered were inadequate.”
In the end, McKean calls the 2022 election a beautiful opportunity for Republicans.
“When we talk about governing, we talk about objective empirical truths about how we can help people, rather than ‘I think this is good’ or ‘I feel this policy might help.’” McKean said. “We’re here to govern. We’re here to make sure the state moves forward in a positive direction.”
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