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Redistricting commission grapples with maps

Members of the Independent Redistricting Commission appear ready to recraft proposed congressional maps to help keep more of Tucson together and separate the largely non-Hispanic areas of Yuma from the rest of the city. 

The result is likely to increase the ability of Hispanics to elect legislators and members of Congress of their choice in the area. 

But the trade-off, to be considered Thursday, could be to move a proposed congressional district that would run from midtown Tucson into southeast Arizona, an area currently represented by Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick, firmly into the Republican column. 

It’s even more complicated than that. Each change in the lines of one district require changes in other districts to keep populations equal. And that even led to discussions of moving Prescott out of Congressional District 2, a district with Native American tribes, into a district with Lake Havasu City and Kingman. 

And that, in turn, would have ripple effects to the point where Marana would find itself in CD 2, a suggestion that did not sit well with Republican commissioner David Mehl. 

“If Marana ends up in district 2 I might not be able to go home,” he said. 

All that reflects the problems and conflicting choices that the panel will face between now and Dec. 22 — when it is supposed to adopt final maps — to comply with the various constitutional requirements for how lines must be drafted. 

More to the point, commissioners are trying to figure out how to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act which forbids dilution of minority voting strength. But that, in turn, works against creating as many competitive districts as possible. 

That’s because, in general, Hispanics are more likely to vote Democratic. And packing more Hispanics into the same districts, by definition, leaves fewer Democrats to spread into other districts. 

And there’s another reality that’s becoming obvious. 

Each tweak to the map to satisfy one concern or the other changes the number of people in each district. But the law requires congressional districts of virtually equal population of 794,611; there is a bit of wiggle room for legislative districts which each are supposed to have about 238,000 residents. 

So map changes that add population in one area of a district require removing an equal number of people from another area in the district. That creates that ripple effect into adjacent districts which then means moving people from yet another district. 

And what they decide is crucial: Any maps will govern the nine congressional districts and 30 legislative districts through the 2030 elections. 

All that was borne out in the efforts to try to finalize CD 7 in southwest Arizona. 

It starts with the bid by not just Yuma Mayor Douglas Nicholls but also the Arizona Latino Coalition for Fair Redistricting to craft lines concentrating the Hispanic sections of his city into that district. That would move about 19,000 people living in the more Anglo and Republican areas of the city into CD 9, a district that stretches up the Colorado River to Lake Mead and east into the western Phoenix suburbs of Avondale and Tolleson. 

What that would do, then, is require adding more people into CD 7. 

That, in turn, would help a bid by Tucson Mayor Regina Romero to have the eastern edge of the district stretch at least to Campbell Avenue as well as take in Hispanic areas south of Broadway. 

Right now, the draft map has the line along Sixth Avenue, effectively putting downtown Tucson into CD 7 and the area around the University of Arizona into CD 6. 

But Mehl wants to go even farther, stretching it to Alvernon Way. 

That also could mean putting Green Valley and Sahaurita, currently in the comfortably Democratic CD 7, into the more Republican CD 6. And Mehl also wants to move the area around Davis-Monthan Air Force Base into CD 6, saying it makes more sense to have it in the same district as Fort Huachuca. 

At the same time, commissioners face the question of whether Avondale and Tolleson really belong in CD 9 or should be put into CD 3, the other largely Hispanic congressional district that includes Glendale and much of downtown Phoenix. 

Conversely, the commissioners also were having second thoughts about the draft plan they approved in October which also put much of largely Anglo Peoria into CD 3. 

There’s an entirely separate issue with creating a district that provides a somewhat more favorable congressional district for Native Americans. 

The problem becomes that 794,611 population goal, with nowhere near that many people living on reservations in northern and eastern Arizona. So the draft plan for CD 2 adopted in October includes not just several reservations, running all the way from the Navajo Nation through the Gila River Indian Community but also Prescott, Flagstaff and even part of Florence. 

Erika Neuberg

Erika Neuberg, the nonpartisan chair of the panel, said she’s sympathetic with the goals — and even the fact that prior maps have sought to help concentrate Native American populations. 

“We have to redistrict based on our population today,” she said. “Minority communities do deserve recognition and I want to focus and empower them as much as possible.” 

Neuberg said, though, the numbers don’t justify it, with Native Americans making up just 22% of the district. 

But Shereen Lerner, one of the Democrats on the panel, said there’s a way of fixing at least part of that. 

She said the current lines make CD 9 — the Colorado River district — really a Maricopa County district. In fact, two-thirds of its population actually would be in Maricopa County, effectively ending any chance that the river communities will be able to elect someone of their choice. 

Mehl, however, said there’s no way to fix that, with insufficient population in the river communities to justify being a majority in any district. 

That’s true, said Lerner. But she said a better alternative would be to move the Prescott area from CD 2 — the one with the reservations — into CD 9. 

Only thing is, the ripple effects then leave CD 2 short of population. That led to a comment from a commission consultant that could be made up by moving Marana, on the northern edge of Pima County into CD 2, the option that did not sit well with Mehl. 

 

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