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Opportunity in the 8th: Redistricting shakes up political reality for Western Slope residents, too

 Steamboat Springs and Routt County have been switched from the 3rd Congressional District to the 2nd District.
Scott Franz/Capitol Coverage
Steamboat Springs and Routt County have been switched from the 3rd Congressional District to the 2nd District.

Editor’s note: This is the final installment of a three-part series looking at the impact redistricting will have on Colorado in the upcoming mid-term elections.

Savannah Wolfson doesn’t mince words as she describes what some people in her small hometown of Oak Creek think of joining a new congressional district stretching all the way to Boulder County.

"They are mad as hell. They are mad as hell," Wolfson said. “Especially the ranchers."

Wolfson is a Republican who says her town’s priorities are very different from those on the Front Range.

Oak Creek is a small community in Routt County that’s known for its contributions to the coal mining industry. It welcomes hunters and is close to sprawling ranches set against the Flat Top mountains.

"With our water interests being so different, especially, we feel really that the Front Range tries to take away a lot of our resources," Wolfson said. "And so, honestly, I think people feel threatened and afraid."

Oak Creek has less than 1,000 residents. It recently went from being represented by first-term Republican Lauren Boebert in the 3rd Congressional District to being a part of the 2nd District represented by Democrat Joe Neguse.

Wolfson thinks the new boundaries will exacerbate an urban-rural divide.

"My community's needs will be ignored, because has anyone in Boulder ever heard of Oak Creek, Colorado?" she asked. "I don't think so. It's a really long (167-mile) drive for us to even get there. We don't have geographical commonality with them. They voted in wolves. We didn’t."

Wolfson was one of many Routt County residents who asked an independent commission last fall to keep the county in the 3rd District. But several residents in the nearby and more populated community of Steamboat Springs felt a stronger connection to other resort counties like Grand and Summit.

Twenty miles to the north in Steamboat Springs, Democrat Catherine Carson is excited about the new map. And where Wolfson sees contrasts and concerns, Carson sees similarities and opportunities.

"The six counties in the new (2nd District) have similar issues, like the need for climate action," Carson said. "It gives our legislator the opportunity to assess a partner with the communities and find very meaningful legislation and actions."

Carson sees the new district elevating concerns like housing shortages, which have hurt resort towns as they try to rebound from the pandemic.

Instead of being in a sprawling, rural district with places like Grand Junction, Routt County will have the same representative as many ski towns, including Vail and Winter Park. 

 The map chosen by the independent redistricting commission is now heading to the state Supreme Court for review.
The map chosen by the independent redistricting commission is now heading to the state Supreme Court for review.

"Our ski counties, Routt County included, are in a housing crisis right now," Carson said. "And having that districtwide voice for affordable housing legislation — anything from funding for infrastructure to the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program — is going to make it make a big difference for us."

Back in Oak Creek, Savannah Wolfson sees her new political neighbors very differently.

"A lot of the ranchers who have been here for five generations are feeling like they have less rights than somebody who moved (to Colorado) more recently," Wolfson said. "For me, it wasn't about keeping a certain politician in office or who is the representative. It was about grouping together (people) with common interests so that coal miners get representation, renters get representation, remote workers get their representation."

Voters in the new 2nd Congressional District will get their first chance to pick a representative during the mid-term election this fall. But political scientists say races heavily favor incumbent candidates. And Wolfson does not see her new political reality changing anytime soon.

"I see it as an unwinnable seat (for Republicans)," she said. "I'll spend my time in winnable races."

Meanwhile, Carson is eager to get to work with her new congressperson.

"I've already had quite a bit of communications from Congressman Neguse's office," she said. "They are just asking how they could help and what the issues are — much more than I had had from our previous congressperson."

Copyright 2022 KUNC. To see more, visit KUNC.

Scott Franz
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