The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission will spend the weekend studying proposed changes to its congressional map to see if it can retain a competitive district in the Phoenix area without carving Mesa into three separate districts.
After nearly an entire day of discussion, the commissioners today weren’t able to agree on a way to avoid splitting east Mesa into three districts. Instead, they will vote on a draft map on Monday.
The commission’s mapping consultant reconfigured several districts in order to make the majority of Mesa into an East Valley-based district that stretches into Pinal County, but the commissioners weren’t able to agree on the solution.
“I’d rather keep Mesa more whole,” independent commissioner Colleen Mathis said. “We ended up having to make a lot of changes to have to accomplish that.”
But despite delaying the vote until Monday, Mathis emphasized that time is running out for the commission to finish its work. The commission has already pushed back its mid-September deadline for adopting the draft maps.
The commission will spend next week drawing a draft map for legislative districts, and plans to begin a series of meetings across the state on Oct. 11 so it can get public input on the proposals.
“We’re almost out of time and we’re going on the road on the 11th,” Mathis reminded the commission.
The congressional map being debated already lumps two congressmen, U.S. Reps. Ben Quayle and David Schweikert in the same district as Kirk Adams and Matt Salmon, who are battling for the GOP nomination for the Mesa-based seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake.
The commission sought to break off a sizeable portion of west Mesa that would result in Adams and Salmon being in another district. But no final decisions were made.
In order to keep Mesa mostly whole, the commission contemplated changes that put Apache Junction, Gold Canyon, Queen Creek and San Tan Valley into the proposed “river district.” Some commissioners were hesitant to add the rapidly growing population center to such a far flung district, which already runs the length of the Colorado River and wraps around the Phoenix metro area into Gila County.
Preserving Mesa’s territorial integrity was made more difficult due to some commissioners’ determination to preserve a proposed competitive district in the central Valley, which would include Ahwatukee, Tempe, west Mesa, south Scottsdale and most of the area around State Route 51. Democratic Commissioner Linda McNulty, who crafted the district, said it was designed to follow commuter transportation patterns, including the light rail line.
“I spent a lot of time looking at the central phoenix area and the possibilities there for building districts around communities,” McNulty said. “The best approach I think in terms of putting population that shares common interests together is this district.”
But McNulty’s competitive district didn’t sit well with the two Republican commissioners, Scott Freeman and Richard Stertz. Freeman said the district limited their options and said it was difficult to “massage our way around this designer district.”
“It seems a little contrived and there seems to be a lot of stress points. We seem to be moving lines around just to balance population,” Freeman said.
Freeman also said the map seemed designed to favor Democrats.
“Not to rain on anyone’s parade, not to cause offense, but that’s one ugly looking map,” Freeman said.
Stertz presented a proposed map he drew up that he said would keep a competitive district in the Phoenix area, but would skew the numbers slightly more in favor of Republicans. McNulty objected, saying the competitive district she proposed was close to a 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans.
McNulty said she wants the competitive district to be a toss-up between the two parties in any average year.