A major overhaul of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission’s congressional map would eliminate Maricopa County’s centerpiece district and drastically shift the lines in rural Arizona.
Republican Commissioner Richard Stertz said his proposal would more closely follow public comments and the constitutional criteria for redistricting. He said the changes unveiled Monday would end the packing of Republicans in some districts and make others more competitive, including the sprawling rural 1st Congressional District.
“We’re paying attention to the comments that were given to us,” Stertz said after the meeting. “If we do not pay attention to all of that work, then why bother going out to the … 31 cities and why bother going out and collecting all this data unless we’re going to be actually reading and implementing it and reacting to it?”
But the proposal also eliminated the 9th Congressional District, a proposed Tempe and central Phoenix-based district designed to effectively be a 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans. In its place, Stertz drew a Tempe and Mesa-based district that stretches north through the northeast Valley, along with another Phoenix-centric district that runs from the central part of the city up through Anthem and New River.
The Stertz plan reshapes the two rural districts, moving Flagstaff into the 4th Congressional District, also known as the river district, and adding northern Pinal County into 1st Congressional District. The western half of Cochise County, which the IRC’s draft map included in the eastern Tucson district, would also be added to the 1st Congressional District.
Stertz said his goal was to improve compactness and contiguity while following major transportation corridors such as Interstates 17 and 19.
He also said he believed his proposal improved competitiveness, a topic that led to frequent clashes with his Democratic colleagues and independent Chairwoman Colleen Mathis in prior meetings. But in talking up the competitive nature of his maps, Stertz focused primarily on pulling Republicans out of “hyper-packed” districts that he said were created to keep Democrats in other districts in order to make them more competitive.
For example, Stertz slightly increased Democrats’ share in the 4th Congressional District, which is the most GOP-friendly district on the map. He also slightly increased Republicans’ strength in the 1st and 2nd Congressional Districts, two of the most competitive districts in the draft map.
“It’s important that we be fair to everyone in the state … and not arbitrarily pick and choose where the competitive districts are going to fall out,” Stertz said during the meeting.
Commissioner Jose Herrera, however, said he was concerned that Stertz effectively redrew most of the congressional draft map and said the changes had no basis in the reams of public comment the IRC collected during a 30-day round of hearings on the maps. Herrera, who frequently argues with Stertz during IRC meetings, contrasted the suggestions with changes proposed by Democratic Commissioner Linda McNulty, which Herrera said were based on identifiable public criticisms.
“You look at the changes that Commissioner Stertz proposed and you can’t track them,” Herrera said. “I’m a little concerned. This is a brand new map. I recommend Commissioner Stertz go back to the drawing board and track all those changes.”