Despite objections about a lack of competitiveness, divisions of like-minded communities and concerns that some regions were given more consideration than others, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission approved a draft legislative map, one day before it begins a 30-day series of public hearings.
The commission voted 4-1 to approve the map at a meeting Monday in Tucson, with Republican Commissioner Richard Stertz casting the lone dissenting vote. The IRC will begin its public hearings on its legislative and congressional maps Tuesday at Phoenix College.
Stertz, who didn’t attend the commission’s meetings on Saturday and Sunday when his fellow commissioners did most of the work assembling the map, said the proposal does not respect communities of interest, one of the six constitutionally mandated criteria the IRC must follow.
Though the map was touted by independent Chair Colleen Mathis as a merger between proposals put forward by Republican Commissioner Scott Freeman and Democratic Commissioner Linda McNulty, Stertz said that map resembled McNulty’s map far more than Freeman’s. He said the resemblance to her map was especially apparent in Southern Arizona, where the draft includes three majority-minority districts in southern Arizona, which formed the starting point for the rest of the area’s districts.
Stertz also said the commission deferred to the wishes of Flagstaff, which lobbied extensively for a competitive district that separated it from the nearby Indian reservations, than Oro Valley, whose residents unsuccessfully urged the IRC to not lump them into a district with northern Pinal County.
“We’ve broken communities of interest, geographic lines, county boundaries,” he said after the meeting. “There’s 60,000 people in Flagstaff. There’s 100,000 people living in the San Tan-to-Gilbert corridor. We ignore them and take them into another part of the state, yet we’re crafting on a block-by-block basis … around Flagstaff. I’m concerned about why we’re paying so much attention to something and paying so little attention to something else.”
Furthermore, Stertz said the commission did not have enough time to review and change the lines based on input from the public. He said those changes would have to come after the month-long round of public hearings.
Freeman echoed those sentiments. Though he was adamant that significant changes were needed, he said he voted for the map because the IRC needed to approve a draft before beginning its public hearings.
“Basically, yesterday afternoon, late afternoon, Commissioner McNulty and I penciled out 30 districts for the first time, and all of a sudden it’s the draft map,” Freeman said. “That wasn’t a merged map. That was (McNulty’s) map with some additions by me and by Commissioner McNulty over the weekend.”
But Freeman said they had to move forward. Stertz noted that the last IRC published its draft maps in mid-August and was already making changes based on public comments by this time 10 years ago.
Mathis defended the map, saying it represents a bipartisan compromise between Freeman and McNulty’s proposals. She said she didn’t know what kinds of changes the IRC would make to the draft, but a lot of it will depend on the comments the panel hears over the next 30 days.
“These people know their communities better than anyone,” she said. “It’s a big puzzle, really. There’s all these criteria … They’re conflicting, many of them. So, we’ve just got to weigh and consider them equally.”
After the meeting, McNulty disputed the Republicans’ assertions that Flagstaff was given special treatment. But she noted that Flagstaff, Coconino County, the Flagstaff 40 and other members of the city’s business community were especially involved in the process. Mayor Sara Presler traveled to numerous meetings, testifying at least once a day for a several weeks.
McNulty also countered the criticism that the IRC ignored communities’ wishes, including Oro Valley.
“Districts are collections of communities. Districts aren’t homogenous communities,” she said. “A district doesn’t drive what you’re dependent on. It doesn’t drive where you shop. It doesn’t determine where your friends are.”
And Democratic Commissioner Jose Herrera said the commission needed to create more competitive districts, a frequent point of contention that often pitted Mathis and the two Democrats against Freeman and Stertz.
The Arizona Democratic Party also complained about what it saw as too few competitive districts.
“The legislative draft map adopted today by the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission lacks competitive districts and is a giant step backward, as drawn. Without more competition, extremists will continue to get elected and will discourage independent voters from having any say in Arizona’s future,” Luis Heredia, the party’s executive director, said in a written statement.
Determining competitiveness is difficult, and the commission had four different measurements it used. Under the most frequently cited measurement, which used voter performance numbers from the 2008 and 2010 elections, the draft map had nine districts which deviated by less than seven percentage points from the statewide average. By that measurement, Republicans had an advantage of at least 10 percent in 11 districts, while 10 of the districts were solidly Democratic.
But Herrera said he didn’t consider seven percent to be competitive, and counted 16 solidly Republican districts. He said he believed the IRC could create several more competitive districts.
“We want to get it as close to zero as possible,” he said of the difference between Democratic and Republican voting in many of the districts. “We have some work to do.”
The IRC created 10 districts meant to satisfy the requirements of the Voting Rights Act, which requires Arizona to create districts that allow minorities to elect the candidate of their choice. The commission put three of those districts in southern Arizona at the advice of its attorneys, four more in Maricopa County and one in northern Arizona, encompassing the Navajo, Hopi, Hualapai, San Carlos Apache and White Mountain Apache reservations. Two more “coalition” districts in which multiple minority groups make up a plurality of voters were placed in the Phoenix metro area.
The map includes some oddly shaped districts. One district stretches from northern Yuma into the western Maricopa County cities of Goodyear and Buckeye. Another runs from Flagstaff south and east into the non-reservation areas of Gila and Navajo counties. One majority-minority district stretches from southern Yuma into western Tucson, and north into Maricopa County. And another Voting Rights Act district runs from southern Tucson into Santa Cruz County, with a tendril hugging the U.S.-Mexico border that included Bisbee and Douglas.
Several legislators spoke to the commission, urging minor changes. Three Tucson-area Democrats – Reps. Daniel Patterson and Marcario Saldate, and Sen. Olivia Cajero-Bedford – asked the commission to move a 16-square-block area in southern Tucson into a neighboring district. And Patterson expressed concern that his district packed in too many Hispanic voters. He argued that some of those voters could be shifted over to make other districts more competitive.
Meanwhile, Rep. Tom Chabin, D-Flagstaff, asked the commission to move about 6,000 voters from the northern Navajo Nation-centered district into his district, which he said would make it more competitive.
Freeman argued at numerous meetings that some Indian tribes didn’t want to be lumped into a district with the Navajo and other northern tribes, among them the San Carlos and White Mountain Apache tribes. During the meeting, Mathis read a long-awaited letter from the San Carlos Apache chairman during the meeting recommending that his tribe be included in the northern district proposed by McNulty and the Navajo Nation.