Western states on track to gain new congressional districts

DENVER - At least five Western states are on track to land new congressional seats as a result of the census, but more representation doesn't necessarily translate into more political clout.

Census Bureau figures released Monday project an 8 percent increase in the voting-age population in the West, the largest regional jump in the nation since 1996.

The South had the second largest jump, with its voting-age population growing by nearly 6 percent, the bureau reported. Georgia and Florida are expected to gain one seat apiece. Nationally, the voting-age population grew by 4.5 percent.

California, Colorado, Montana and Nevada each is expected to gain one congressional district, while Arizona and Texas each is expected to gain two, according to a study by Election Data Services of Washington, D.C. New Mexico and Utah are not projected to gain seats.

''We're still not going to match the power of New York, or Texas, or Florida,'' said Katy Atkinson of Denver, a political consultant who usually works with Republicans. ''We're just talking about one seat here, one seat there, which really won't shift power in Congress.

''It would take a huge shift in population and I don't think that such a huge shift will take place.''

The process to create congressional districts and redraw existing boundaries will be set into motion after the census. The new seats will be in place for the 2002 elections.

If the census projections hold, Republicans may benefit more than Democrats, analysts predicted. California is the only one of the five Western states expected to gain seats that is controlled by Democrats.

''One of the artifacts of the West is that these states also have a higher percentage of Republicans,'' said University of Colorado political science professor Scott Adler. ''You're likely to see these states gaining seats, but probably gaining Republicans in those seats.''

Traditionally, the quality of congressional leaders played an important role in Western influence.

''In the past we had fewer congressional seats but we had a great deal of influence because of those few people,'' Atkinson said. ''Congressmen like Wayne Aspinall.''

Aspinall, a western Colorado Democrat who served from 1949 to 1973, is credited as being the driving force behind Western water development.

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