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Redistricting panel gets partisan

Douglas York, left, and David Mehl, Republican members of the Independent Redistricting Commission, confer Monday on changes they want in legislative and congressional maps for the coming decade. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Partisan members of the Independent Redistricting Commission are making last-minute efforts to craft maps that would help their political parties through the 2030 election. 

Each is doing so under the banner of balancing population among congressional and legislative districts. And they are pushing against a Wednesday deadline to have final plans. 

But the alterations have definite implications. 

For example, Republicans David Mehl and Douglas York demanded that a corner be chipped out of what was Legislative District 23, which runs from Yuma along the border to Tucson and north into Goodyear, and put into adjacent LD 25. 

About 600 people live there. 

One of them is state Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, whose house is in the area known as Liberty. 

More to the point, that change moves Kerr from having to run for reelection in what would be a district with about a 15-point Democratic edge to one where Republicans have a 25-point edge. 

On the congressional side, Republicans also want to move Democratic areas in Maricopa County from Congressional Disrict 1 that could be considered competitive into Congressional District 3, which already has a 3-1 Democratic edge. And they balance that by moving Republicans from Congressional District 8 where the GOP leads, into Congressional District 1. 

Democrats are doing the same thing and find ways to give their own candidates more of a chance of getting elected, whether to Congress or the Arizona Legislature. 

The big flash point for them is how to divide Tucson between Congressional District 7 on the west side and Congressional District 6 on the east side. 

A split needs to take place. because of the population. But the question becomes where to draw that line. 

Democrats have been pushing for a line that starts at the Rillito River and runs south along Campbell Avenue to Broadway, then turning east out to Pantano Road, then south to Golf Links Road before going west. 

What that does is put more Democrats living in midtown Tucson into CD 6. 

They aren’t needed in CD 7 where Democrats already have a 2-1 edge. But it could make all the difference in CD 6 where it would create a competitive district. 

Republicans prefer pushing midtown Tucson into CD 7. 

The district is anticipated to get a lot of attention because Democratic U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who has represented what is close to the same area, is not seeking reelection. That creates an open seat — and opportunities for either party. 

Other changes pushed by Democrats appear not to have direct partisan implications. 

Shereen Lerner said the Pascua Yaqui Indian Reservation does not belong, as proposed, in the same legislative district as the Tohono O’odham Nation. So she wants it included with the district that includes downtown Tucson. 

Both areas already are heavily Democratic. 

Shereen Lerner, a Democrat on the Independent Redistricting Commission, explains Monday some of the changes she wants in legislative and congressional lines being drawn. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

And Lerner wants other changes in places like the line between south Scottsdale and Tempe to create more competitive districts. Otherwise, she said, the legislative map favors Republicans in 17 of the 30 districts, something she said should not be the case given the closeness of party registration. 

Mehl, however, said he doesn’t read the numbers that way. He said five of the legislative districts could be considered “highly competitive,” with voter registration margins within four points. 

Erika Neuberg, who chairs the panel, said that’s important. 

“The narrower the vote spread, the more opportunity for a candidate to break out and win,” she said. And Neuberg, who is the sole independent member of the commission, said even if a district like this tends to lean in one direction or the other, the fact that registration is close means they have to remain “accountable” to all residents, not just those of their own party. 

But Neuberg brushed aside considering the potential effects on the overall makeup of the state House and Senate for the coming decade. 

Erika Neuberg

“That’s not something that’s within our constitutional purview,” said Neuberg, the lone nonpartisan on the five-member panel. 

What is are racial considerations. That makes relevant a plan to legislatively separate Laveen, an area of southwest Phoenix, from the rest of south Phoenix, arguing that the former has more in common with agricultural areas to the west. 

But Democrats say the move would divide the Black community which, if left in the same district, would constitute 19% of the vote. 

Some changes are being pushed for potentially less obvious reasons. 

Still in flux is whether Casa Grande belongs in CD 6 — the one that runs from midtown Tucson to the southeast border of the state — or is a better fit with CD 2. 

That district encompasses Florence and Coolidge. But the sprawling district also takes in Gila, Apache, Navajo, Coconino and Yavapai counties. 

One of the last issues likely to be resolved has to do with the legislative district that encompasses six tribes in northern and eastern Arizona. 

No matter how the district is drawn, it is likely to send Democrats to the state Capitol. But the question becomes which Democrats. 

Neuberg pointed out that when lines were drawn after the 2000 election, the district also included Flagstaff. What that did, she said, is enable “white liberals” living off the reservation to nominate candidates of their choice, like Tom Chabin and Kirkpatrick who represented that part of the state at that time. 

A decade later, the redistricting process moved Flagstaff into a district with Sedona and the Verde Valley, with the White Mountain communities added instead to the district with tribes. And that led to the nomination — and election — of Democrats living on the Navajo reservation. 

The debate on district lines has reawakened long-standing resentment by some Anglos in the White Mountains who not only do not like being represented at the Capitol by tribal members but also the fact that tribal members can control the board of supervisors. 

As long ago as 1982, the Republican-controlled legislature, at the behest of area residents, voted to split off the reservation areas of Navajo and Apache counties into a separate county. That, however, was vetoed by then-Gov. Bruce Babbitt. 

Mehl and York favor keeping Flagstaff in the tribal-dominated district. 

But there is a potential legal impediment: the federal Voting Rights Act, which prohibits election changes that would prevent minorities — in this case, tribal members — from having the opportunity to elect someone of their choice. And Neuberg, who holds the swing vote, said if leaving Flagstaff in the district undermines the ability to elect Native Americans she cannot support it. 

Neuberg said congressional lines need to be finished by the end of the day Tuesday. That gives Wednesday to make minor adjustments in the lines to comply with federal laws that require virtually identical populations of 794,600 in each of the nine districts. 

Legislative districts are supposed to each have about 238,000 residents. But commissioners have more leeway in crafting these lines, particularly when they create population disparities to comply with other needs, like protecting minority voting rights. 



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