Gov. Jan Brewer has wisely chosen not to challenge the Arizona Supreme Court ruling that restored Colleen Mathis as the chair of the Independent Redistricting Commission.
Nonetheless, the governor maintains the court erred, and that the IRC drew the draft congressional boundaries in a manner that ignored its constitutional mandate. This argument strikes at the integrity of the process voters approved to remove redistricting from the hands of politicians. Because the governor and Legislature failed to provide a thorough evaluation of the constitutional process around the draft map, the Grand Canyon Institute felt it imperative to do so.
Our bipartisan think tank’s board members come from diverse backgrounds and political persuasions, including four former Republican legislators and one former Democratic legislator. Although we have disagreements with the draft congressional districts, we find the IRC properly considered the factors mandated by voters.
While our full report can be read at our website — GrandCanyonInstitute.org — we’ve highlighted some findings below.
Let’s start with competitiveness. There’s a misconception that drawing competitive districts shouldn’t be a top priority for the IRC — that, on the scale of what’s important, competitiveness ranks at the bottom of the list.
The state Constitution instructs that competitiveness “should be favored,” and the Supreme Court — just two years ago — said competitiveness is mandatory and cannot be ignored.
Some have criticized the IRC for drawing a competitive 9th Congressional District, which groups together similar urban and suburban communities in the Phoenix area. But this is precisely what the voters instructed the IRC to do: create competitive districts unless they significantly violate other goals.
If anything, the draft map isn’t competitive enough. In a state where independents are one-third of the electorate and growing, those voters are likely to have real influence in only a few races. Of the nine draft congressional districts, four are strongly Republican, while two are safely Democratic, leaving only three competitive.
The IRC also worked to properly respect “communities of interest.” Specifically, commissioners drew two rural districts so that rural communities aren’t drowned out by large groups of suburban voters. This resulted in a few funny-looking lines, but Arizona’s rural residents deserve strong voices in Congress. The IRC was wise to keep communities along the Colorado River in the same district, as well as mining towns such as Globe and Miami and others in Pinal, Graham and Greenlee counties. Commissioners also did a good job keeping together Native American tribes, which have unique needs that require attention at the federal level.
When it comes to compactness, the draft map is a marked improvement over the current congressional map. Five districts are wholly within Maricopa County, an improvement over the three currently. Drawing two rural districts creates two large districts geographically, but neither is as large or expansive as the current 1st Congressional District.
In addition to those factors, the IRC must comply with two important federal requirements. First, each district must be equal in population. Second, Arizona must comply with the Voting Rights Act, which requires two majority-minority congressional districts.
Some have expressed frustration that Yuma County is divided into two districts, but the IRC appears to have divided the county to comply with the VRA. The southern part of the district, which is largely made up of heavily Hispanic communities, was combined with similar populations in Pima and Maricopa counties.
No congressional map will satisfy everyone. Some would prefer more Republican districts; others prefer more Democratic districts. We prefer more competitive seats.
Faced with a difficult task, the IRC has done an excellent job of abiding by our Constitution, and advancing priorities that will serve Arizonans — especially our rural residents — well.
— George Cunningham is chairman of the Grand Canyon Institute, a nonprofit centrist research organization. He is a former state senator and served as deputy chief of staff for finance and budget in the Janet Napolitano administration.