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Arizona redistricting commission OKs legislative, congressional maps

Arizona’s redistricting commission divided along party lines Tuesday as its members approved maps of new congressional and legislative districts by identical 3-2 votes.

The two Democrats and independent Colleen Mathis voted for both maps. The two Republicans voted against both.

The commission will submit both maps to the U.S. Department of Justice for a required review of how the maps treat minorities’ voting rights. The two Republicans suggested also submitting the maps to a federal court for approval on an interim basis, but no other member favored doing that.

The commission’s approval of new maps for use in elections the rest of the decade follows months of public hearings as well as high-stakes political and legal wrangling.

That wrangling included a failed attempt by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer to oust the commission’s chair.

Arizona voters created the commission a decade ago to take redistricting out of the hands of the Legislature and the governor.

The commission in late December gave tentative approval to final versions of the new districts.

The once-a-decade redistricting is important because how districts are drawn can determine whether both parties can win particular districts and whether individual candidates have shots at winning.

The commission was constitutionally mandated to start from scratch in drawing new districts, and the results present political challenges to numerous congressional and legislative incumbents.

This time, the congressional map puts Republican U.S. Rep. Ben Quayle in a newly created competitive district and he may instead oppose fellow Republican incumbent David Schweikert in an adjacent Republican-leaning district.

Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar has already decided to run in a Republican-leaning rural district instead of a competitive one that includes his current Flagstaff home.

Meanwhile, an election version of musical chairs will take place in some legislative districts where incumbents outnumber available seats.

Brewer and other Republicans have criticized the congressional map as favoring Democrats and both maps as failing to follow some of the constitutionally mandated mapping criteria. Democrats and supporters of the commission said Republicans were trying to undermine the redistricting process for political advantage.

Republicans now hold five of the state’s eight current U.S. House seats and apparently would hold solid edges in four of the nine new districts, while two overwhelmingly lean Democratic and three are arguably competitive between the parties.

Republicans, who now have two-thirds majorities in both legislative chambers, would hold solid edges over Democrats in at least half of the 30 districts under several competiveness ratings considered by the commission.

There could be as few as three legislative districts regarded as competitive between the major parties, and some Democrats have said there could have been more.

The Arizona Supreme Court on Nov., 17 ordered independent Mathis reinstated, ruling that Brewer lacked a constitutional basis for her removal.

Brewer had cited open meeting law violations and violation of constitutional mapping criteria and processes used by the commission in preparation of draft maps.

The mandated criteria include creating districts that have equal population and comply with federal laws, which effectively means they have to preserve minorities’ voting rights. Other mandated goals include creating competitive districts, respecting communities of interest, following local government boundaries and taking geographic features into account.

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