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IRC votes to OK congressional draft map; Republicans object

The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission today approved a congressional draft map that includes a competitive district in the middle of the Phoenix area, voting 3-1 over objections from the two Republican members.

Independent Chairwoman Colleen Mathis and Democratic Commissioners Jose Herrera and Linda McNulty voted for the map, while Republican Commissioner Richard Stertz voted against it.

›› Click here to see the map ››

Republican Commissioner Scott Freeman abstained, saying he didn’t have enough information on competitiveness or minority voting to vote one way or the other.

Mathis, who spent the weekend making significant changes to the map the IRC debated on Friday, said the congressional draft map represented compromise and consensus from the members.

“The whole idea of this map is compromise,” Mathis said before the vote today at the Fiesta Resort in Tempe. “It’s not ideal. There’s no doubt that things will likely need to be looked at more closely. We have to do all kinds of analysis.”

Mathis acknowledged that not everyone was happy with the final product, but said the IRC had to move forward with a congressional map and get to work on a legislative district draft map. “If we don’t have everyone behind it, then we don’t have everyone behind it.”

Herrera said he was voting for the map “in the spirit of compromise,” despite reservations that it included three competitive districts instead of four. He said Republicans got some of what they wanted, such as three border districts and a minimal number of competitive districts.

“The Democrats and the people who care about competition in this map didn’t get what they want. They got some of what they want,” he said.

But Freeman and Stertz said they had no doubts that it was a Democratic map. Stertz rejected Mathis’ description of it as an “everything bagel” that incorporated ideas from all the commissioners.

Stertz said the map was primarily constructed around a Tempe and central Phoenix-based district that McNulty created. McNulty said she wanted a district in which neither party would have an advantage in an average election year.

“This map was built around a district that was created by Commissioner McNulty. The rest of the districts have been adjusted by (Mathis). They all have inferences and stylings that infer ideas that have come from all members of the commission. But certainly this has not been a partnered effort,” Stertz said. “This is a McNulty-Mathis map, with some inferences from Stertz, Herrera and Freeman.”

Stertz said he believed the map did not follow the six constitutional criteria the IRC must use to draw the maps, including compactness of districts and the fracturing of political subdivisions. Freeman echoed those sentiments, but said after the meeting that he abstained because the commissioners did not have all the information they needed to determine competitiveness and compliance with the Voting Rights Act.

Freeman said the commission’s mapping consultants, Strategic Telemetry, have not provided data and voting algorithms from 2004 and 2006. He wanted the data to compare against the 2008 and 2010 numbers, which he said were skewed because they were wave years in which Republicans made big gains in Arizona.

In response to Herrera’s comments that the map was the result of compromise and negotiation, Freeman said the Democratic commissioner said the same thing when the IRC hired its attorneys and mapping consultants, both of which were partisan votes with Mathis siding with the Democrats.

“That was another 3-2 vote. Now he’s using it here,” Freeman said of Herrera’s argument.

The commission must take public comments on the draft at meetings across the state for at least 30 days before adopting a final congressional map.

“I think it’s really important now to give the public something they can comment on, an actual draft that doesn’t change from day to day,” McNulty said. “I think it’s a good start and I think we should let the public comment on it.”

Over the weekend, Mathis tweaked the map. The changes split up two Republican congressmen who had been lumped together in the same district, and left a part of the Phoenix area with some of the state’s most prominent GOP politicos without an incumbent.

Mathis altered every district in her proposed map over the weekend after the commissioners decided on Friday that they wanted to avoid splitting Mesa into more than two districts.

Today’s proposal resulted in a map that puts U.S. Reps. David Schweikert, of Fountain Hills, and Ben Quayle, of Paradise Valley, in separate districts.

Under the new proposal, Schweikert would be in the “river district” that runs the length of the Colorado River and wraps around into the area west of the Phoenix metro area, leaving him running for reelection in a far-flung district that includes northern Yuma in the southwest corner of the state and Kingman in the northwest.

Meanwhile, Quayle would have to defend his seat in a central Phoenix area district designed to be split nearly 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats. And Kirk Adams and Matt Salmon, who are battling for the GOP nomination for the seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake, would be in a separate East Valley-based district that now includes the bulk of Mesa.

The Scottsdale-based district that Quayle and Schweikert were originally part of now has no incumbent.

Mathis had originally sought to avoid making changes to areas outside Maricopa County in her original proposed congressional map from last week. But after spending the weekend examining the proposal, Mathis said there was no way to adjust Maricopa-based districts without altering the rest of the map as well.

As a result, the river district now includes the northeast edge of the Phoenix area, the western half of Gila County and the “copper corridor” in Pinal County.

“I had given the commissioners the challenge essentially to fill in the Maricopa County area,” Mathis said. “But at the end of the week ultimately we still had a map with some issues. And then we got some public comments that confirmed more issues with the map.”

Many of those comments were from Pinal County residents who were upset about their county being split into five congressional districts. Mathis altered the map so that the state’s fastest-growing county is mostly in two districts. The copper corridor, including Apache Junction, San Tan Valley and Florence are now part of the river district, while the portion of Pinal County that includes Interstate 10 are now part of the northern Arizona-based rural district that runs from the Four Corners to the Mexican border.

“Those folks made a very compelling case,” Mathis said of the speakers from Pinal. “They weren’t happy last week and I don’t blame them.”

Other counties that were left whole in the previous map are now split. Cochise County, which had been part of the northern-based rural district, is now split in two, with the western half moving into the east Tucson district currently represented by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. The changes moved Santa Cruz County from that district into the predominantly Latino district currently represented by U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva.

The map maintains three border districts that Republican Commissioners Scott Freeman and Richard Stertz, along with Mathis, supported. It has three competitive districts, four heavily Republican districts and two strong Democratic districts.

Democratic Commissioner Linda McNulty said she was disappointed that the new map only includes one competitive district in Maricopa County.

The commission broke for lunch early so the commissioners could examine the new map. Mathis expressed hope that the commission could vote on it in the afternoon and then move onto its deliberations over the legislative map.

Freeman, however, said the commission should take a few days to absorb all the changes.

“On the whole, thank you for putting this together. I’d just like to study it more,” he said.

Mathis’ changes also included most of Scottsdale in the northwest Valley district, moved Paradise Valley into the central Phoenix district, pushed the boundary of the West Valley district currently represented by U.S. Rep. Trent Franks east to Interstate 17, and took portions of Pinal County out of the East Valley district.

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