After a pair of rare weekend meetings, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission completed a rough outline of 30 “placeholder” legislative districts and is hopeful that it will vote on a final draft map today.
Commission Chairwoman Colleen Mathis, an independent, said the map represented a cooperative effort to merge the maps drafted by Republican Commissioner Scott Freeman and Democratic Commissioner Linda McNulty. The map they agreed to on Sunday was the result of five consecutive days of meetings.
“I think the map is quite beautiful, frankly, because it’s an exemplary display of bipartisanship,” said Mathis, whose comments were followed by applause from the dozen or so people who remained in the audience at the end of the commission’s Sunday meeting at the Sheraton Phoenix Airport Hotel in Tempe.
The commission’s work, however, is not done, and the lines are likely to change at the Monday meeting in Tucson. Some districts may need adjustments to balance out their populations, and the commission has not yet seen any analysis of how competitive the proposed districts are.
Competitiveness is a key concern of Mathis and the two Democratic commissioners, and has been a source of friction throughout the process as the two Republicans urged their colleagues not to sacrifice other criteria for the sake of competitiveness.
That friction was not apparent during Sunday’s meeting. But comments by Democratic Commissioner Jose Herrera, who said most of the legislative districts didn’t appear very competitive, left little doubt that the issue would return. “Hopefully we’ll be getting to that,” he said.
Republican Commissioner Richard Stertz, who missed the Saturday and Sunday meetings, has not yet weighed in on the map’s most recent iteration.
The map includes 10 majority-minority or minority coalition districts aimed at satisfying the requirements of the Voting Rights Act. The commission’s attorneys told the IRC that it must create at least nine majority-minority districts to replace the ones currently in use, and advised that tenth would likely help the maps pass muster with the U.S. Department of Justice, which must approve Arizona’s redistricting plans.
Three of the districts are in Tucson, six, including the two coalition districts, are in Maricopa County, and the final district, which combines the Navajo, Hopi, San Carlos Apache, White Mountain Apache and Hualapai tribes, is in northern Arizona.
The commission will meet in Tucson today, the day before it begins a statewide tour of meetings to get public comments on both the legislative and congressional maps. The commission also scheduled a tentative meeting for Tuesday morning in Tucson, in case one more day is needed to approve a draft map.
Mathis said she was optimistic that the commission would approve a map today.
“Hopefully we can all make the adjustments we need to, based on constitutional criteria and we’ll be able to move forward. But we’ll have to see. Stay tuned,” she said after the meeting. “We need to just go over the analysis we’re going to get tonight from our mapping consultant and see how competitiveness shakes out in all those districts, as well as all the compactness measures, and then kind of go around the map and make sure things make sense from a community-of-interest (standpoint) and that we didn’t break anything up that we shouldn’t.”
Freeman said he had “no idea” how much the map would change, but said alterations would probably be need to make some districts more compact and to equalize the districts’ population.
“Of course, there’s aspects of it I don’t like. But there are other districts I thought that made a lot of sense,” Freeman said after the meeting.
The commission began the day with broad outlines of 26 districts, and largely used McNulty’s proposed map as the basis for the four mostly rural districts that remained. Those four districts included one that stretched from northern Yuma into western Maricopa County, a Yavapai County-based district, a district that ran from Flagstaff and southern Coconino County south into non-reservation portions of Gila and Navajo counties. The fourth rural district drawn on Sunday, which encompassed La Paz County and southern Mohave County, was nearly identical to a district Freeman included in his map.
On Saturday, former attorney general and 2010 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry Goddard addressed the panel and praised its members for enduring “an extraordinary firestorm of vitriol aimed at this commission for, in my opinion, doing your job.” Goddard was referring to an investigation by Republican Attorney General Tom Horne and accusations from Republican elected officials that the commission is favoring Democrats in its work.
“The quality of our governance and the quality of our state in the first decade of our second 100 years is in your hands,” he added.
Others spoke before the commission over the weekend, urging the IRC to include their towns or regions with similar communities, or to keep the communities whole instead of splitting them up among multiple legislative districts.
Those comments may be a sign of complaints to come from members of the public, who will have more chances to weigh in on both the congressional and legislative maps during a 30-day round of public hearings across the state. The first meeting will be Tuesday evening at Phoenix College.
“I will see firsthand the pitchforks and the torches,” Freeman joked.
Jim Small contributed to this story