All in a session’s work: Pay hikes to official dinosaurs


If the just completed legislative session were a school year, the Class of 2018 would not be making the Honor Roll.

Oh, sure, there were a few outstanding successes, like coming up with a comprehensive plan to deal with opioid abuse from all angles. And even the vote to give teachers a 19 percent pay hike probably rates an A even though educators wanted far more, like restoring state aid to at least 2008 levels.

There also were some Bs for dealing with problems, like having the state license sober living homes for the first time ever and removing Arizona from the list of states where there was no minimum age to get married.

But much of the 116-day session resulted in what could be described as just average, run-of-the-mill alterations to existing state law, much of it to satisfy one or another business interest.

And there were more than a fair share of Fs — and incompletes in particular — for things left undone, particularly anything dealing with gun violence and school safety.

Still, there were examples of being able to work and play well together, notably the package of changes designed to deal with the spike of opioid-related deaths.

Coordinating with members of both parties and affected interests, Gov. Doug Ducey put together a plan that does everything from limit the number of pills that patients can get at any one time and the strength of their dosages to training for doctors to a “Good Samaritan” provision allowing people to call for help when a buddy overdoses without fearing they will get arrested themselves.

Still even that had to be picked apart, with lawmakers rejecting some ideas like a “needle exchange” program to ensure that addicts weren’t sharing disease as they were sharing needles.

school-funding-620Ducey and the Republican legislative leadership did focus on K-12 funding, not only with the pay hike but also a move to start restoring $371 million in other annual school district assistance that they had taken in prior years.

There also was a decision to extend the 0.6-cent sales tax for education that was set to expire in 2021. Still, it did take a bit of prodding from a newly energized group of teachers, organizing under the #RedForEd banner, to get their attention.

Lawmakers also did agree to require recess periods for children in kindergarten through fifth grade. They also spelled out that schools that offer kindergarten incorporate play as an instructional strategy and be “academically meaningful.”

School districts are now barred from refusing to sell unused buildings to charter schools.

Substitute teachers can now use some of their time in front of a classroom toward the experience requirement to get a teaching certificate.

And schools are now free to put up the state motto of “Ditat Deus” including its English translation of “God enriches.”

Then there’s the list of what did not get done.

The most spectacular — and perhaps most far-reaching — failure was the inability to enact any changes in laws designed to deal with gun violence, particularly at schools.

While there has been no shortage of mass shootings, the killing of 17 students and teachers at a Parkland, Fla. high school appeared to put some momentum into the movement to address the issue, both nationally and in Arizona. Even Ducey came up with a plan.

But the governor found few friends, with some pointing up his refusal to propose universal background checks on gun sales and a ban on “bump stocks,” even as others sniped at the idea of allowing a judge to order someone locked up for evaluation to determine if that person is such a potential danger to self or others that his or her ability to have a firearm should be curbed.

Lawmakers also refused to enact stiffer penalties for the intentional abuse or killing of pets, even after being told that those who commit those crimes often go on to become mass shooters.

Lake Pleasant, located Northwest of Phoenix, is part of the system that supplies water to Maricopa and Pima counties. (Photo courtesy of Central Arizona Project)
Lake Pleasant, located Northwest of Phoenix, is part of the system that supplies water to Maricopa and Pima counties. (Photo courtesy of Central Arizona Project)

Close behind is the failure to make meaningful — and some say needed — changes in state water laws.

Arizona does have what some consider to be a fairly effective code for dealing with groundwater.

But the drought has pointed out the flaws and the gaps in the statute, things like property owners in rural areas being able to pump all they want without even measuring it. There also are questions about how existing laws work when they deal with surface waters which are handled different in the statutes even though taking water from one tends to affect the other.

But the big hang-up was what amounted to a turf war about Colorado River water with Ducey and his Department of Water Resources on one side and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District with its own elected board on the other.

Also failing was a bid to allow counties to impose their own gasoline taxes to meet road construction and maintenance needs.

A bid to provide tax relief to senior homeowners also failed, as did a ban on photo radar.

And Arizona will not be joining 47 other states that have some sort of a ban on driving while texting. While a measure cleared the Senate it was blocked when House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said the only thing acceptable to him would be a law on “distracted driving.”

Lawmakers did spend some of their time telling other levels of government how to operate.

Most significant is a law that prohibits cities and counties from enacting ordinances which require that nonprofit groups disclose the source of their dollars when they get involved in affecting elections. But the Legislature also decided to restrict the ability of cities to set their own election dates if they can’t show that it does not depress turnout.

They also inserted themselves into some personal areas, spelling out a list of questions that have to be asked of a woman before she can get an abortion and deciding that when there are frozen embryos after a divorce that the parent willing to bring them to term gets preference.

But they were willing to alter state laws in the name of promoting business — sometimes specific interests.

(Photo by Preston Keres/U.S. Dept. of Agriculture)
(Photo by Preston Keres/U.S. Dept. of Agriculture)

Consider the measure to allow Grade A eggs to remain on store shelves longer. That was pushed by the Arizona Retailers Association concerned that consumers were loath to buy eggs that were close to their 24-day pull date, resulting in lots of unused — and unusable — product.

Trust companies can now meet their legal capital requirements with gold coins.

Sand and gravel companies pushed through a measure allowing them to get variances from existing requirements to reclaim the land where they mined their products.

Landlords are getting more flexibility in how they handle personal property left behind by tenants.

Companies that sell service contracts on things like appliances are becoming exempt from the same requirements as other forms of insurance.

Grocers are being spared the possibility that a local community might seek to impose a sales tax on sugared sodas.

And lawmakers voted to set up a “regulatory sandbox” program where companies can try out “innovative” financial products to offer to Arizonans without having to be licensed or get other regulatory authority.

Republican lawmakers did agree to ask voters in November to impose some new limits on the Citizens Clean Election Commission which administers funds to statewide and legislative candidates who forego private donations.

But they opted not to put a “clean energy ” measure on the ballot crafted by Arizona Public Service to compete with a more comprehensive initiative by a California billionaire. Also failing to be referred to the ballot was an effort to undermine a part of the 2016 voter-approved minimum wage law which gives workers guaranteed sick days, and another measure to revamp the Independent Redistricting Commission.

Some of what happened during the session had little to do directly with legislation.

There was the decision by the House to eject one of its own after several lawmakers, lobbyists, staffers and even a newspaper publisher complained that Rep. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, had sexually harassed them.

The Sonorasaurus,Arizona's state dinosaur (Wikimedia Commons)
The Sonorasaurus,Arizona’s state dinosaur (Wikimedia Commons)

And the whole attitude of less regulation allowed Ducey to unilaterally decide that testing autonomous vehicles on Arizona roads was just fine — until the governor had to reverse course after a pedestrian was killed in Tempe.

Other odds and ends from the session:

– Eliminating the ability of credit bureaus to impose a charge every time someone wants to freeze or unfreeze a credit report;

– Limiting the authority of courts to consider someone’s blindness in questions of adoption or parenting time;

– Making it a crime to extort someone to have sex;

– Banning the practice of forcing victims in sexual harassment and assault cases to sign confidentiality agreements in civil settlements;

– Enhancing the penalty for drunk-drivers who end up going the wrong way on freeways;

– Establishing the Sonorasaurus as the official state dinosaur;

– Prohibiting the use of software in cash registers and computers designed to help retailers avoid paying sales taxes;

– Allowing those who declare bankruptcy to keep up to $2,000 worth of firearms;

– Tightening up laws to prevent people from using electronic messages to get around open meeting requirements;

– Limiting the ability of those who sell gift cards from including an expiration date;

– Prohibiting people from misrepresenting pets as service animals.

Dems complain panel to pick judges lacks diversity

Diverse Hands Holding The Word Diversity

Senate Republicans confirmed five nominees to the state Commission on Appellate Court Appointments Tuesday over Democratic objections that Gov. Doug Ducey and the Senate failed to meet a constitutional requirement that the commission reflects Arizona’s population.

The commission, consisting of five attorneys, 10 non-attorneys and the Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, is responsible for recommending judicial applicants to Ducey and nominating candidates to serve on the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission.  

With the Senate’s confirmation, the commission now has 13 appointed members, four of which are women, one is a person of color and none are Democrats.

Democratic senators contend the balance should be different to accurately reflect Arizona’s population. Women make up a slight majority in the state; close to one-third of the state’s residents are Hispanic or Latino; and registered Republicans, registered Democrats and people not affiliated with either major party each make up about one-third of the electorate.

Sen. Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, called the appointment process “blatantly skewed,” noting that former Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano nominated seven Republicans to the commission when she was in office.

“Arizona’s population continues to change and diversify itself on a daily basis, but if you look at the list of folks being nominated, it does not reflect that diversity,” Rios said.

Republicans, including Sen. Sonny Borelli, R-Lake Havasu City, said the nominees are qualified and do represent diversity because four of them are women and one, Laura Ciscomani, is Latina. Ciscomani, a registered Republican whose husband is a senior advisor to Ducey, previously worked for the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“I find it striking that she’s a person of color but maybe not dark enough,” Borelli said. “I’m trying to figure out what the issue is — that she’s not Latina enough or that she’s Republican?”

Senate Republicans invoked Martin Luther King Jr.’s line from his “I Have a Dream” speech about wanting his four children to be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. Democrats were judging nominees based on the color of their skin, Sen. Rick Gray, R-Sun City, said in a Republican caucus meeting Tuesday morning.

“None of them said they weren’t qualified,” Gray said. “They just questioned, in essence, their race or their gender.”

Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, called the use of that King quote “verbal jujitsu” that completely ignores the context and history around it.

“We are nowhere close to being in a place where we can judge people by the content of their character and not the color of their skin because there are systematic institutions in place,” he said.

The makeup of the commission is important because they’re the people who help select judges, Quezada said. If the commissioners who recommend judges and the judges they recommend don’t reflect the state’s diversity, people in Arizona won’t trust that they’ll receive fair treatment in courts, he said.

“We have a system set up to ensure that every nominee who appears before us on paper is going to continue the status quo,” he said. “At the end of the day, we know it’s likely going to be male, it’s likely going to be Anglo, it’s likely going to be a conservative Republican.”

Quezada also alleged Ducey is trying to stack the commission to create a redistricting commission that will draw legislative district lines in favor of Republicans. The state Constitution requires that the five-member redistricting commission consist of two Republicans and two Democrats selected by party leaders and one independent selected by the other four commissioners. The Commission on Appellate Court Appointments is tasked with collecting applications and nominating 25 people — 10 from each party and five independents.

Ducey spokesman Patrick Ptak said the governor’s office thought it was important to find representation from parts of Arizona outside Maricopa County. Ciscomani lives in Pima County, nominee Matthew Contorreli in Yavapai County and nominee Kathryn Townsend in Pinal County. Nominees Tracy Munsil and Linley Wilson, an attorney with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office who was vetted by the state bar, both live in Maricopa County.

“We absolutely consider diversity when making appointments, as demonstrated by the current round of nominations,” Ptak said.

The rules for the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments state no more than two members may hail from the same county anyway.

While none of the governor’s current nominees are Democrats, Ptak said that diversity will continue to play a factor in Ducey’s nominations for the remaining two vacancies on the commission.

Ben Giles contributed to this report

Gerrymandering – the ‘Efficiency Gap’ is too unstable a measure


Much in the news lately, the U. S. Supreme Court is having a difficult time determining how much is too much partisan gerrymandering. When does a redistricting map favor a political party to an unfair degree? How do you measure unfairness?

Tony Sissons
Tony Sissons

Just looking at a map, you really can’t be sure. Some might say it’s just like pornography – you know it when you see it. But, the accepted definition of a gerrymander is: a practice intended to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries. Notice there is no mention of “shape.”

So, what’s a court to do? In 1986, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that partisan gerrymandering is judiciable, but in the 32 years since, the court has not struck down a single plan on that basis.

In a movement away from geometry and geography, Nicholas O. Stephanopoulos, assistant professor of law at the University of Chicago Law School, and Eric M. McGhee, research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, proposed a method that measures the relative success of the major political parties in a district plan by comparing the numbers of votes “wasted” by each party. The measure is called the Efficiency Gap, and is expressed in terms of the numerical difference between both party’s wasted votes, taken as a percentage of total votes cast.

In this calculation, all the votes for the losing candidate in a district are considered wasted, as are the votes for the winning candidate in excess of the votes needed to win. Both categories of wasted votes for each party are summed for all of the districts in the plan, and then the difference between those party totals is taken as a percentage of the total number of votes cast by both parties. The party wasting the least number of votes is considered to have the advantage (for that plan for that election).

The clause in parentheses triggers my concern. I created a spreadsheet model to simplify measuring the Efficiency Gap for Arizona congressional districts since 2002. Here are the Efficiency Gaps and who they favor:


2002:            17.73 percent Republican

2004:            16.78 percent Republican

2006:            1.41 percent Republican

2008:            4.30 percent Democrat

2010:            6.70 percent Republican


2012:            11.34 percent Democrat

2014:            0.20 percent Republican

2016:            4.54 percent Republican

The figures from five elections (2002 through 2010) are two-party results on the congressional map created by the first Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. On that map, the Efficiency Gap ranges from a 17 percent Republican advantage to a 4 percent Democratic advantage. On the same district shapes! Likewise, in districts drawn by the second redistricting commission, figures from three elections (2012 through 2016) swing from a 4 percent Republican advantage to an 11 percent Democratic advantage. Which Efficiency Gap figure is the correct one for each decade’s plan?

There is one other circumstance that casts an even greater cloud on the measure’s credibility. The results from a single highly competitive contest can really mess up the measurement. Consider: In 2014, Republican Martha McSally beat Democrat Ron Barber by 161 votes out of 219,247 votes cast between them. On the basis of that result, the Efficiency Gap for Arizona’s nine congressional districts was a 0.2 percent advantage for Republicans. But, if McSally had received 81 fewer votes and Barber 81 votes more, the Efficiency Gap on that same map would come in with a 15.5 percent Democratic advantage.

With such measurement instability, I don’t think the Efficiency Gap measurement can be considered a reliable indicator of the extent of partisan gerrymandering of Arizona election districts.

—Tony Sissons is president of Research Advisory Services, Inc., in Phoenix.


The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

Lawmaker’s long-shot effort to end ‘prison gerrymandering’


About one-third of Arizona’s roughly 42,000 prisoners are housed in a single legislative district.

As prisoners, they can’t vote. But because the U.S. Census counts incarcerated people as residing in their prisons and not the hometowns they’re likely to return to upon release, this non-voting population bloc adds to the legislative power of the mostly rural communities where prisons are located.

One lawmaker wants to change that, following the recent lead of neighboring Nevada in changing state law to require that the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission count prisoners as residents of their hometowns when drawing new legislative and congressional districts.

Martin Quezada
Martin Quezada

“It’s a matter of counting people and representing their interests rather than representing the prison’s interests, and that’s exactly what the end result would be if we do count people in their home districts,” said Sen. Martín Quezada, D-Glendale.

But while Quezada plans to introduce a bill next year to end a practice that critics refer to as prison gerrymandering, he acknowledges that it will be hard to sell at the Legislature. And one influential Republican lawmaker, who represents the district with the highest prison population, said he’ll do everything in his power to kill the bill.

Six of Arizona’s nine congressional districts and 10 of its 30 legislative districts contain correctional facilities. The impact those prison populations can have varies from district to district.

Each member of Congress represents about 710,000 people, while each state legislator has a district with about 213,000 constituents. At the state level, the impact of non-voting prison populations is small. Even in the 4th Congressional District, which has the largest prison population in Arizona, prisoners make up just 2 percent of the total population.

At the legislative level, about 13,600 people or 6% of the residents of the 8th Legislative District are behind bars, according to June 2019 prisoner population data from the Arizona Department of Corrections.

This gives voters in the 8th Legislative District, which includes Florence, Coolidge and Eloy, more voting power than those in districts without a prison, said Wanda Bertram, communications strategist at the Prison Policy Initiative.

Wanda Bertram
Wanda Bertram

“You might get a district, and this is an exaggerated example, where there’s actually only 30 people living there and there are a thousand prisoners, and the amount of political clout it has is as if there were 1,030 people living there,” Bertram sad. “Ultimately this gives a disproportionate amount of clout to districts that contain prisons and given who is incarcerated, it tends to take electoral power away from poorer communities and communities of color and center it in rural communities where prisons are located.”

Lawmakers should recognize that it’s “simply wrong” to wield any kind of political clout that doesn’t reflect the constitutional principle of one person, one vote, Bertram said. She said voters should care about prison gerrymandering because even if they might benefit from being in a state legislative district that contains a prison, they could have less voting power than a neighbor in school board elections if that prison is in the neighbor’s school board district.

Quezada said the issue matters especially to him because his West Valley district has the most returning prisoners. These constituents aren’t being well-represented if they’re counted in districts where they’re temporarily incarcerated, he said.

“My argument would be that they truly reside in their home communities before they’re arrested and after they’re released,” he said. “That’s where their families are, that’s where they’re going to be seeking work, that’s where they’re going to spend the majority of their life. If they’re not being counted there and instead they’re being counted where they temporarily reside in a prison, their interests as far as all of their life matters aren’t really being counted.”

Census data is also used to allocate federal funding to states, but advocates for changing where prisoners are counted note that counting prisoners at home won’t affect funding for rural areas. Most federal funds tied to census counts are disbursed through block grants to states, and individual states then divide that money among jurisdictions.

Six states — Nevada, California, Washington, Maryland, New York and Delaware — have passed laws requiring prisoners to be counted at their home addresses. Cities, counties and school districts throughout the country have also passed policies that prevent the counting of prison populations when drawing new maps for their districts.

Pinal County adopted such a policy after the 2000 census, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. County spokesman Joe Pyritz said the county used census numbers that included incarcerated people when it last redrew its supervisor district maps.

Tony Sissons
Tony Sissons

Attempts to change how the census is used for redistricting are usually political, said Tony Sissons, an Arizona redistricting consultant.

“Most of the time when there is a call for an adjustment to the census and how the census is used, it usually has partisan underpinnings,” Sissons said. “All adjustments seem to work well for one party and not work well for another.”

Because smaller communities invite prisons for economic development purposes, counting inmates at their prisons tends to benefit rural areas, Sissons said.

House Speaker Pro Tem T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, represents the district with the highest prison population. He said he’s very aware of efforts to change how prisoners are counted.

“This is a national effort to have more voting power as far as redistricting is concerned within inner cities,” Shope said. “It’s a purely political move.”

Shope said he considers Quezada’s planned legislation an attention-seeking type of bill that members on both sides of the aisle run without a chance of passage.

“If it were to ever go anywhere, I would use every ounce of will that I have to make it die a quick death,” he added. “There’s no way I’m going to punish Florence and Eloy in my district.”

Redistricting panel draws closer to final maps

The Independent Redistricting Commission is circling in on what could decide the political future of Arizona for the rest of the decade. 

But after weeks of meetings and public comments, elements of the latest version of the maps remain controversial, even with plans to put out what are billed as final draft maps on Thursday. 

And the biggest controversy appears to be an effort — so far successful — by the Southern Arizona Leadership Council to get the commission to draw lines that could help elect Pima County Republicans to the legislature. 

That’s not to say everyone is pleased with what else is moving forward for preliminary adoption on Thursday. 

The congressional map, for example, draws everything from Kingman south to the edge of Yuma into a single district that actually stretches all the way into Glendale. That could impair the ability of Mohave County residents to elect someone from their area. 

And Tucson Mayor Regina Romero is unhappy with where the commission is drawing a line through the city to separate congressional districts. 

But the commission is hobbled to a great extent by the laws that govern how it crafts the 30 legislative and nine congressional districts. 

While they are supposed to respect communities of interest and be geographically compact, they also have to have equal populations. And the growth rate in the Phoenix metro area has outstripped most of the rest of the state, meaning fewer opportunities for relatively small districts in rural areas. 

And then there’s the requirement to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act which precludes changes that dilute minority voting strength. 

The focus Tuesday, however, was on the legislative district map for Southern Arizona, the one that Commissioner David Mehl got the panel to adopt as its latest iteration. He said the aim was to put the communities of Oro Valley, Marana and SaddleBrooke into the same district as communities of interest. 

But there are political implications. 

On a prior version of the map, 51% of the residents voted for the Democratic contender for attorney general in 2018. That race is an indicator of relative party strength. 

Under the new lines, the results would have given the Democrat just 45.6%. And the GOP voter registration edge would be 54.5% to 45.5%, not counting independents. 

Similar changes in the SALC map reduced the Democratic edge in the district from Casas Adobes and the Foothills to Tanque Verde. 

“There are still solid Democratic districts,” Mehl told Capitol Media Services of the Tucson area. 

Those changes are based on concerns from the business-oriented Southern Arizona Leadership Council. Ted Maxwell, the organization’s executive director, said it’s hard to get desired changes in law from a Republican-controlled legislature without more Republicans from the area. 

“As you know, the majority party is the one that gets to vote legislation,” he said. But he said there isn’t a single Republican whose district is entirely within Pima County. 

How bad is it? 

Maxwell said when SALC was pushing for changes in the Regional Transportation Authority it needed to get Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge to sponsor it. Hence, the support for the map that Mehl, a member of SALC, submitted. 

“This map does capture a district that would appear to have a significant Republican advantage, with a majority of the district residing in Pima County,” Maxwell said of the Mehl-backed plan. “It also preserves Democratic districts within the county as well.” 

Further changes may be coming. 

On Tuesday, Mehl asked the commission’s staff to draw yet another map ahead of the Thursday meeting. This includes moving the Flowing Wells area out of the district that currently stretches through Casa Grande into the Gila River Indian Community and instead unite it with the district that takes in much of downtown Tucson. 

But that has ripple effects, such as moving Coolidge into the same district as Casa Grande and out of the district it had shared with Florence and Vail into the district that encompasses Cochise, Graham and Greenlee counties. 

A lot of what is being pushed by Mehl, a Republican, is drawing opposition from Commissioner Shereen Lerner, a Democrat. 

Lerner said Tuesday she supports Mehl’s desire to connect Marana with Oro Valley. But she said that district also should include Catalina Foothills, Casas Adobes. 

“These are communities that are contiguous, that are neighbors to each other,” Lerner said. Conversely, she said, it should not include the Tanque Verde area which is the way the current map draws the district. 

“It would be mostly a suburban district,” Lerner explained, without adding largely urban areas. 

Lerner is also less than happy with having a legislative district that includes Cochise, Graham and Greenlee counties stretching all the way into not just Green Valley but into Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and the surrounding area. 

Her plan has the backing of Commissioner Derrick Watchman who also is a Democrat. 

“It provides more compactness, it respects the communities of interest, especially for the Latinos,” he said. 

Watchman noted that the panel accepted Mehl’s submission on behalf of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, “which is great.” 

“I think we also need to go back and look at the Latino community, especially for the Tucson area,” he said. “I think that’s important.” 

And Watchman also wants the commission to get more input from all the Native American tribes in the state about what they think of the lines. 

Romero, for her part, is concerned about exactly how the commission intends to split the city into two congressional districts. 

The latest version separates the city along Broadway, with the University of Arizona and Casas Adobes lumped into a district that extends through Cochise, Graham and Greenlee counties. More to the point, it separates the university and the Fourth Avenue area from downtown. 

“In many ways, Fourth Avenue is an extension of downtown, with many restaurants, bars, and shops whose interests align closely with their counterparts in downtown Tucson,” Romero wrote the commission on Tuesday. 

Then there’s the fact that the “modern streetcar” connects downtown through Fourth Avenue to the university and continues to Banner University Medical Center. She said more than 100,000 people live and work within a half mile of the streetcar route. 

“Simply put, it does not make sense to separate the University of Arizona and Fourth Avenue from downtown,” Romero wrote. 

Beyond that, the mayor told the commission that the proposed boundary between the two congressional districts would separate some largely Latino majority neighborhoods in the Broadway and 22nd Street corridor from those on the city’s south side. That, she said, would dilute minority voting strength, something prohibited by the federal Voting Rights Act.  


Redistricting panel hits road for map input


The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission is in the middle of a 17-day tour around the state, asking Arizonans what makes up their community of interest and how they think the state’s districts should be drawn. 

The 15 public hearings are an effort to inform the commission on fulfilling its six goals under the state constitution, including to “respect communities of interest to the extent practicable.” 

Many at the hearings so far have taken the opportunity to let the commission know where they think the last commission went wrong.  

Republicans from Legislative District 24 asked the commission to consider how district demographics have changed over the past 10 years at one of these hearings July 25 in Phoenix. Democrats have represented the district in the state House and Senate the entirety of the current maps’ lifetime. LD24 Republican chairman Barry Wong requested the commission keep neighborhoods in LD24 intact but acknowledge the current district’s “eclectic” makeup. 

“LD 24 is more of a horizontal orientation. South Scottsdale is different from Central (Phoenix) and East Phoenix is different from Central Phoenix, so please keep all of those factors in mind when you review our district,” LD24 Republican chairman Barry Wong said.  

Others, such as Tracey Ireland of Tempe, also said their communities were quite different from some in the same district. Ireland said she felt her community identified more with the current Legislative District 18, not Legislative District 27. 

LD27 encompasses some of Tempe and stretches west into South Phoenix. 

“We have different school boards, different city councils, different everything except for legislative leadership,” Ireland said. “…The candidates are always going to be from South Phoenix; they’re never going to be from our community of interest.” 

In addition to the in-person testimony, the commission has a community of interest survey on its website where people can provide input and draw the boundaries of their community with a mapping tool at irc.az.gov/survey. If the survey is completed before a person provides testimony, commissioners can pull up his or her individual map during the hearing. 

Erika Neuberg
Erika Neuberg

While turnout was “better than expected” for the first several stops on the listening tour, IRC Chairman Erika Neuberg said during the commission’s July 27 regular meeting she was concerned about the voices that were not included. 

“For example, people that are remarkably satisfied with their districts, they’re probably not showing up,” Neuberg said. “And so, we’re giving such a premium on these surveys and the public sharing the data with us, (but) do we need to do more proactive work with soliciting information from people like county supervisors, superintendents of schools, city council members?”  

Mapping consultant Doug Johnson agreed with Neuberg that the people coming to these listening sessions were unlikely to be the ones happy with current districts but said that more input is expected once the grid maps are drafted. 

Grid maps are the precursors to the draft and final maps — they’re compact and have equal population but don’t factor in the other criteria. They are created with the goal to “wipe out the current map as a reference” and then used as a basis for the design of the actual districts.  

“It’s a useful starting point but it’s a starting point that is a bit of a mess, obviously, by design,” Johnson, with National Demographics Corporation, said. 

In addition to aiming for compactness and equal population, commissioners are also tasked with creating districts that respect communities of interest, comply with the U.S. and state constitutions and the Voting Rights Act, use visible geographic features, city, town and county boundaries and undivided census tracts to draw lines and are competitive. 

Because grid maps are “a bit of a mess,” Johnson said it’s likely to solicit more feedback from the public about how they’d like the mess to be fixed. 

The mapping process will begin once the commission receives population data from the 2020 U.S. Census on Aug. 16. The commission has set a tentative timeline for the process, adopting grid maps by Sept. 14 and draft maps by Oct. 27 with time after each for public input. Commissioners hope to approve final maps by Dec. 22. 

Johnson said that once grid maps are adopted, the commission could hold another listening tour or just hear from the public at the weekly meetings or online through the community interest survey and online mapping tool. 

He added that even if the commission doesn’t hear from a particular community, that doesn’t mean commissioners aren’t aware of it or won’t factor it into their maps. 

However, as the hearings continue, some groups are working to ensure more communities and their interests are heard.  

Kendra Alvarez, All On The Line Arizona state director, said her organization is holding training sessions for people to attend ahead of the listening tour meetings. She said the sessions focus on teaching redistricting concepts so that people can advocate for their communities of interest effectively. 

All On The Line is an anti-gerrymandering organization funded by the National Redistricting Action Fund, an affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. Arizona is one of nine target states. 

Alvarez said in addition to encouraging participation in the listening tour, her group will be watching how the IRC builds on the public comment. 

“What we will be watching is how the IRC actually handles that input, how they facilitate the process that a lot of people can participate in and how they incorporate the feedback they’re getting to make maps that are truly reflective of the state at large and the communities where they’re going to get input,” Alvarez said. 

Fair Maps Arizona is also encouraging people to testify, providing an outline of what to include and telling people to send their drafts in to the organization’s statewide director Jay Wilson, who will “help you finish it up” and offer one-on-one assistance, according to the group’s website. Fair Maps Arizona was founded by Republican and former Secretary of State candidate Steve Gaynor in 2019 to hold “Arizona’s elected leaders and the IRC accountable” during 2021 redistricting. Gaynor did not return an interview request. 

The full list of public hearings can be found here: irc.az.gov/public-meetings/listening-tour-round-1.  

Senate president to amend redistricting commission overhaul

redistricting map arizona620

A raft of changes is coming to a Republican-led effort to overhaul the Arizona commission responsible for redrawing the state’s congressional and legislative district boundaries.

Senate President Steve Yarbrough told the Arizona Capitol Times he hopes amendments he’s preparing for SCR 1034, which increases the membership of the Independent Redistricting Commission from five to eight, will bring Democrats on board and create truly bipartisan reform.

“The goal is to eliminate all of the opposition that makes sense, anyway,” the Chandler Republican said. “I don’t know what there’s left for them to oppose, frankly.”

Opponents criticized the resolution as a measure designed to fail, noting that Yarbrough’s vision of an eight-person commission would inevitably lead to gridlock. Yarbrough has said an even-numbered commission would eliminate the power that the lone independent has had in previous commissions and force the members to find a true bipartisan compromise

With the IRC unable to function, Democrats pointed to another provision in SCR 1034 that allows the Legislature, currently controlled by Republicans, to refer their own redistricting maps to voters. If approved, those maps would become the final congressional and legislative boundaries for a decade to come.

Senate President Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler) (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)
Senate President Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler) (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Yarbrough’s amendment will propose eliminating the legislative-referral provision and increasing the IRC to a nine-member commission, rather than eight.

Currently, commissioners are chosen from a pool of 25 candidates vetted by the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments. Republican and Democratic legislative leaders get to choose two commissioners each from the pool. Those four commissioners must then select a fifth candidate, typically an independent or anyone who’s neither a Republican or Democrat, to serve as chair of the IRC.

Yarbrough still wants to bypass the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments and allow Republican and Democratic legislative leaders to choose six IRC commissioners, three for each party. And each party would select an independent commissioner to serve as well.

His amendment would have the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments nominate five candidates to be the ninth commissioner, also an independent, who would also be the IRC chair.

The other eight commissioners would then select from among the five nominees, and if they couldn’t reach an agreement, one of the five would be chosen at random.

Yarbrough said the amendments respond to criticism from Democrats and other opponents, like the Arizona Advocacy Network, who viewed SCR 1034 as a measure designed to let the Republican-controlled Legislature back into the redistricting process. Voters stripped the Legislature of that responsibility in 2000, when they approved a proposition creating the IRC.

Yarbrough said his original intent was for the Legislature to be a backstop in case the IRC couldn’t find a compromise, but with nine members, that scenario would be far less likely.

“I’m serious about this being a bipartisan deal,” he said. “They fussed about it. They didn’t like it. I’m taking it out,” he said of the legislative referral provision.

With these amendments, “it certainly would be my hope that the media would like this proposal and ultimately editorially support it down the road, and that the voters would pass it,” Yarbrough added. “I’m not doing this just as an exercise. I actually am truly committed to getting this done and improving the commission to indeed make it more fair and more bipartisan.”

‘Ambiguous’ pick, redistricting leader is ready


The Independent Redistricting Commission’s new chairwoman is unfazed by the late start to the panel’s work brought on by the delay of U.S. Census Bureau data.

Erika Neuberg put a positive spin to the Census Bureau’s two-month delay, saying it gives her and the four other commissioners time to fully digest what they are in for over the next year-plus as they redraw the state’s congressional and legislative district boundaries. 

Neuberg, in a 40-minute interview with Arizona Capitol Times on January 29, also said she appreciates the Legislature taking over the headlines.  

“There’s a relief that there is so much state news and so much drama that it takes a ton of focus away from the IRC. And now that there’s delays, there’s less scrutiny, which gives us a little bit of time to kind of get our feet wet,” she said. 

The IRC met for just the second time on February 2 to address the Census delay and plans to hire administrative staff and other potential roles within the commission. 

The IRC will hire an executive director, mapping consultant and legal team, at a minimum, the five-member panel decided unanimously. Last cycle, there were two legal teams – one for Democrats and the other for Republicans – something the commission debated on whether it would repeat. Ultimately, it was decided to aim for one nonpartisan representation with a background in election law and litigation experience. 

Erika Neuberg
Erika Neuberg

Before the commission met, Neuberg told Capitol Times she wants a potential executive director to be “somebody of impeccable character, and some experience with how the government works.” That candidate should have strong communication skills and should be “fiercely independent,” she said, adding that she views “fiercely independent” to mean “not easily manipulated” by others. 

Due to the state’s Open Meetings Law, she was not able to discuss qualifications with any of her new colleagues outside of public deliberations that will take place every Tuesday at 9 a.m. for the foreseeable future. In fact, Neuberg said, she and other commissioners cannot really get to know each other outside of those weekly meetings, which is something that was disappointing to her. Everything is to err on the side of caution in the highly politicized process that could take up more than a year. 

Neuberg reiterated what she said in her interview before landing the coveted – yet unpaid – job. She does not want to be a tie-breaking vote all the time, especially favoring one side of the aisle. To avoid that, she said she would lead in one of two ways – either let the four partisan commissioners hash things out to come to an agreement before she has to take a side, or she will act quickly to break the tie.

So far the commission has voted unanimously on every task, but the tough decisions are still weeks away. The only time the commission was deadlocked was before Neuberg’s unanimous selection. It involved who would lead as interim-chair during the interview meeting for the five independent finalists on January 14. 

“I want to be a consensus maker … I want to help all different communities of interests find a voice, be able to synthesize those needs, and help guide the process where we conclude with fair maps that follow the Constitution,” she said. 

In a wide-ranging interview, Neuberg acknowledged that she used to be registered as a Republican before becoming an independent in 2016, saying she made the switch because she’s not a partisan and didn’t identify with the Republican Party anymore. 

She told Capitol Times that growing up in a deep-red Arizona back in the days of U.S. Senators Jon Kyl and John McCain shaped her political activity at a young age. 

“All of my political activity throughout my entire life has been singularly focused on advancing the U.S.-Israel relationship and along those lines, I worked to develop relationships with elected leaders,” she said. “The reality was that most of those relationships were within the Republican Party 20 years ago in Arizona.” 

She acknowledged that she probably should have changed her registration “a long time ago” as Arizona began to change, but ultimately waited until 2016 – enough time for her to qualify as an independent for the redistricting process. 

She said it doesn’t mean that she always voted Republican or contributed exclusively to Republican candidates – she has contributed to the campaigns of many politicians from both major parties. Ultimately, she said she dropped the Republican label because it was no longer an accurate characteristic of her.

“I am not a party person. I reject identity politics. I focus on policy,” she said.

Neuberg is a psychologist based in Scottsdale, but she lives in Chandler. She has spent most of her life in Arizona following in the footsteps of her father, who like her, was involved with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. 

She said she thinks her psychology background will help with her ability to lead this group and will be “as hands-on as necessary.”

“I can use different tactics, and I can see how those tactics lead to different end goals and adjust based on that. There will be times, I think, I’m going to have to be a decisive vote, and just come in and debate. … And there will be times that I will be prepared to have the process bogged down and force the other four to work their way through it,” she said.

Both the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, the body that narrowed down the list of 138 candidates to the final 25, and the IRC passed her through unanimously. It’s something of which she took note, but acknowledged it didn’t mean everybody was on her side. 

 “I wasn’t really an easy pick by both sides [of the political aisle]. I think both sides had some concerns. I have an ambiguous record and you can see in it, what it is you want to see in it,” Neuberg said.