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Redistricting commissioners argue over criteria

CHANDLER — Redistricting commission members clashed Thursday across party lines over whether they’re heeding constitutional criteria for drawing new congressional and redistricting maps for Arizona to use in the coming decade.

Republican Richard Stertz said some fellow commissioners seem to be emphasizing creation of competitive districts — ones winnable by both major parties’ candidates — without weighing whether proposed maps fit other mandated criteria, such as respecting as-yet-undefined communities of interest and local government boundaries

“It’s really important to deal with all of these areas,” Stertz said, adding later: “If we’re going to start clipping things off our list and say that we’re going to disrespect communities of interest and disrespect county lines … and concentrate on competitiveness, we should just say that now.”

Creation of many competitive districts is hindered by having to still have at least two congressional districts dominated by Hispanics to protect their voting rights, because that leaves fewer Democratic voters to put in other districts, he said.

With support from fellow Democrat Jose Herrera, Linda McNulty said she wants competitive districts but rejected Stertz’s assertions that other commissioners are giving short shrift to other criteria.

“Nobody is ignoring any of the criteria. And you can say that as many times as you want to,” McNulty said.

“And I intend to,” Stertz responded.

McNulty also argued there seems to be unrealistic expectations about other criteria, including that congressional districts be based on likeminded communities of interest.

“The reality is that we have to merge all of these six criteria together and that means congressional districts are not communities of interest. Congressional districts are groups of 710,000 people that compromise whole bunches of communities of interest,” McNulty said.

Besides communities of interest, competitiveness, minority voting rights and local government boundaries, the other constitutionally mandated criteria that the commission must consider are equal populations and geographic features.

Earlier, supervisors from several eastern Arizona counties proposed creation of two congressional districts created entirely in rural areas.

Their proposal would have one rural district on each side of the state, with the western district including Yuma and Mohave counties. The eastern district would extend from Coconino County and the Navajo Reservation on the north to Cochise and Santa Cruz counties on the south.

That’d be a major departure from the current map. Seven of its eight congressional districts take in the Phoenix or Tucson urban areas in whole or in part. The new congressional map will have nine districts because of Arizona’s population growth recorded by the 2010 U.S. Census.

Rural areas deserve separate representation because they have different concerns and priorities from urban areas on such matters as water and land issues, Greenlee County Supervisor Richard Lunt said.

Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin said U.S. House members whose districts include urban areas pay heed to their concerns. “To us it feels like reverse discrimination where the urban voice outweighs the rural voice,” she said.

The eastern counties’ proposal is the latest of many offered by various interests, including Hispanics whose desire to keep a Hispanic-dominated district taking in Yuma and western Tucson conflicts with the supervisors’ call for two all-rural districts.

“We want to maintain a voice in Washington,” said Evelia Martinez of Tucson. “For so long, many of us did not have representation.”

Separately, Pinal County Supervisor Bryan Martyn expressed concern about one version of the Hispanic-backed plan, saying it would carve his fast-growing county between the Phoenix and Tucson areas.

“Pinal County needs representation that is accountable to Pinal County,” Martyn said.

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