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Redistricting commission approves ‘donut’ map; Dems call it rotten

Arizona’s five redistricting commissioners will begin filling the hole in the center of their “donut” congressional district plan today.

The commission voted Tuesday to use the plan, which defines the state’s outermost districts while leaving four urban districts in Maricopa County yet to be drawn, as their operational framework while they close on their first adopted draft maps.

The commissioners will consider how to draw the state’s central congressional districts at their meeting today in Tempe.

And although the decision shows more momentum than the commission has demonstrated in recent weeks, the plan has won opposition.

Within hours of voting to move forward with the “donut” plan, the Arizona Democratic Party cried foul, saying the previously undiscussed map blocks a path toward the maximum number of competitive districts possible and awards a victory to Republican interests and those looking to protect incumbents.

Luis Heredia, the party’s executive director, said he preferred the most recent iteration of what has been termed the “river district” plan.

Heredia said that plan was a much better framework for creating more districts where single party or an incumbent is not statistically favored, which proponents of competitiveness say leads to electing more moderate candidates.

According to the statistics that accompany each proposed plan, the “river district” iteration he favored laid the groundwork for four competitive congressional districts, two districts that favor Democrats and three that favor Republicans.

Congressional - three border, two rural - donut version 1A (Click to enlarge)

The “donut” plan, which the commission’s independent chairwoman Colleen Mathis proposed, outlines two competitive districts, two that favor Democrats, one that favors Republicans and leaves the remaining four Maricopa County-centric districts to be defines.

It is unclear how many competitive districts can ultimately be drawn using the “donut” plan, but Heredia said he doesn’t think it will be optimal for maximizing competitive districts.

Scott Freeman, one of the Republican commissioners, said he sees the “donut” plan as a compromise between a few ideas, since it manages to create three border districts, a river district and attempts to keep much of Arizona’s Native American communities in one district.

“Colleen said it was premised on the ‘whole counties’ map,” Freeman said. “But really it was an amalgam of the Democrats’ ‘river district’ map, the three border district map Commissioner (Richard) Stertz has been pushing, and the whole counties map I have suggested.”

Before the IRC voted unanimously to use the “donut” plan, the panel narrowly voted down adopting the “river district” map. Democratic commissioners José Herrera and Linda McNulty voted in favor of it, but Mathis sided with Republicans Freeman and Stertz in opposing the motion.

Though he voted for it, Herrera said he thinks the “donut” plan has several flaws, and that he hopes the commission can address some of them. In particular, it splits more counties than the “river district” plan, and it creates an expansive district that reaches from nearly the northwestern-most corner to the southeastern-most corner of the state. If a person were to drive between those two points, it would take more than ten hours. Herrera said he sees that as a big problem for someone trying to represent that district.

Congressional - river district - version 8A (Click to enlarge)

Herrera said there was public input from both Democrats and Republicans pointing out flaws in the “donut” plan.

“It’s the only thing they agree on,” he said.

In an email to Democratic Party supporters, Heredia asked party activists to lobby the IRC for more competitive congressional districts in the coming weeks, when the panel gathers public input on its draft boundaries before finalizing the maps. The email contained a direct link to the commission’s online public input form, and Heredia said he expects there will be a lot of public comments advocating for competitiveness at upcoming meetings.

McNulty and Freeman said they would both come to the Thursday meeting with specific ideas for how to begin drawing lines in Maricopa County. McNulty has spoken several times in previous meetings about a competitive Maricopa district that would include Arcadia, south Scottsdale, Guadalupe and portions of Tempe, Mesa, Chandler and Awhatukee.

The panel hopes to adopt a congressional draft map by the end of the week, but both Freeman and Herrera said they think early next week is more likely.

That still leaves the much more complicated legislative map to still draw. Freeman said he and McNulty have been working on legislative proposals more than the other commissioners. They will likely make more small movement on those maps in coming meetings, he said.

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