Census figures indicate AZ gets 10th seat in House

Arizona is one of five states likely to gain at least one seat in Congress in 2020. SOURCE: ELECTION DATA SERVICES ANALYSIS OF US CENSUS BUREAU DATA
Arizona is one of five states likely to gain at least one seat in Congress in 2020. SOURCE: ELECTION DATA SERVICES ANALYSIS OF US CENSUS BUREAU DATA

All those folks fleeing elsewhere puts Arizona on track for picking up a 10th seat in the U.S. House of Representatives beginning in 2022.

And that’s going to result in some political jockeying among current and would-be federal lawmakers as current members of Congress weigh whether to seek re-election in their own redrawn district or run in another. Then there’s the potential political musical chairs, with not just an open race for governor but Republican lawmakers eyeing a chance to oust newly elected U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly in 2022.

All that is the result of new preliminary estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau that show the state’s population has increased by slightly more than a million since the official decennial count in 2010. That’s a growth rate of 16.1%, which is the fifth highest in the nation.

By contrast, the entire country grew at just 6.7%. Only Utah, Texas, Idaho and Nevada had greater decade-over-decade growth.

What makes that important is that the House has a fixed number of representatives at 435. So if Arizona is growing so much faster than much of the rest of the country, it should get a bigger voice in that chamber. And states that haven’t grown as fast or whose populations have shrunk would lose.

Only thing is, it’s not a matter of simple math.

On paper, the current national population of nearly 329,500,000 would translate out neatly to individual congressional districts of about 757,434 people.

But Kimball Brace, president of Election Data Services which analyzes the data, points out that the U.S. Constitution requires that each state have at least one representative.

So Vermont gets one, as does Wyoming, North Dakota and Alaska.

There’s also the fact that the population of the District of Columbia, estimated at about 713,000, effectively doesn’t count as it is not entitled to any representation at all.

Factoring all that out, Brace figures Arizona with its more-than-a-million growth since 2010 will get one more seat.

There are even bigger gainers.

The biggest is expected to be Texas, which Kimball figures will add three more seats, bringing its representation in the House up to 39. That’s based on adding more than 4.2 million new residents in the past decade.

Florida also is likely to pick up two more seats, moving to 29 representatives.

And along with Arizona, other states gaining a seat are Colorado, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon.

But where there are winners – and a 435-seat maximum – there have to be losers.

Brace said New York, which actually lost more than 41,000 residents according to the latest estimate, will drop at least one of its 27 seats in the House.

And he figures it actually could be a net loss of two.

That’s due to the bid of the Trump administration to exclude from the count those people who are not lawfully present in the United States.

The U.S. Supreme Court late last week sidestepped the legality of that move, with the majority of the justices concluding the case was not ripe for review because the administration had not said which individuals it wanted to exclude from the count. That potentially paves the way for a future ruling.

Brace figures that if undocumented individuals are excluded, that likely would cost New York a second seat. And the winner in that scenario appears to be Alabama, which might be able to hang on to all of its seven representatives.

California also is likely to lose a representative, leaving it with just 52 members in the House, but still far ahead of anywhere else.

Also declining would be Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

The analysis by Election Data Services of the newly released data shows that if Arizona gets 10 seats in the House, that means 10 districts each with about 742,000 residents to meet the legal mandate for equal population.

But the fact is that all parts of the state haven’t grown equally fast in the past decade.

The biggest growth rates have been in the Phoenix metro area, extending into parts of Pinal County. So it’s likely that a new congressional seat would have to be carved into that area.

That means even more clout for central Arizona. Six of the state’s nine congressional districts include parts of Maricopa County – add Pinal into the mix and now it’s seven.

It ultimately will be up to the Independent Redistricting Commission to decide where to draw the boundaries.

The bipartisan voter-created panel is required to consider a variety of factors, like respecting communities of interest and using county boundaries when possible.

Commissioners also are required to create as many politically competitive districts as possible. That means there is a mandate of sorts to take what have proven to be “safe” districts, like those occupied by Republican Andy Biggs and Democrat Raul Grijalva, and find ways to try to even them up by party registration.

The new lines, by definition, won’t match the existing districts. So incumbents will have to decide whether to continue to run in the district where they live or another district. Nothing in federal law requires a member of Congress to live in her or his district, though is usually is politically advisable.

Complicating matters is what else is up for grabs in 2022.

Kelly, elected this year to serve the last two years of the term of the late Sen. John McCain, would have to seek his own six-year term, assuming he runs. And that could prove tempting to Republican congressmen like Biggs and David Schweikert.

On the Democrat side, there is the chance that Congressman Greg Stanton might choose to run for governor – it will be an open seat with Doug Ducey unable to serve a third term – rather than seek another two years in Congress. And with Ducey out of the way, GOP members of Congress might eye that office.


Democratic blitz, GOP votes doomed redistricting measure

The threat of a massive infusion of political spending by a liberal advocacy group during campaign season helped thwart a legislative effort to overhaul Arizona’s redistricting process.

Sen. Bob Worsley (R-Mesa) (Photo by Rachel Leingang/ Arizona Capitol Times)
Sen. Bob Worsley (R-Mesa) (Photo by Rachel Leingang/ Arizona Capitol Times)

Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, was one of two Republicans who cast decisive votes against Senate President Steve Yarbrough’s resolution to overhaul the makeup of the Independent Redistricting Commission. Now a five-member commission, Yarbrough’s resolution would have increased the size of the commission to nine, and changed certain rules for how legislative and congressional maps are redrawn every 10 years.

The measure would’ve gone to the ballot in November. Any change to the IRC must be approved by Arizona voters, a vote that could have sparked a contentious campaign.

Local progressive organizations like Arizona Wins and Arizona Advocacy Network opposed that effort, and they had help from the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a group led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

That fact wasn’t lost on Worsley, who voted against one of the signature legislative efforts of the Senate’s top Republican, Yarbrough of Chandler.

“The attorney general under Obama was going to target Arizona if we, in fact, passed that,” Worsley said. “That was just one more thing we didn’t need for November. The [House] speaker wasn’t happy, and the Senate president wasn’t happy, but folks that probably would’ve had to put up the money to fight that didn’t want to fight the millions [of dollars] that were on their way.”

The National Democratic Redistricting Committee had already invested $75,000 in Arizona, which they provided to help fund Arizona Wins’ efforts to raise awareness about the proposal to overhaul the redistricting commission, according to Kelly Ward, the committee’s executive director.

And in late April, Holder took a three-day trip to Arizona to meet with voting rights communities, progressive groups, and liberal candidates, and to speak at the Arizona Democratic Party’s Heritage Dinner on April 27, and tout the IRC.

“Arizona has the gold standard for commissions,” Ward said. “And I think what we’ve seen out of the commissions are really fair maps that reflect the will of the voters, and our overall mission is to achieve fair maps in the next round of redistricting, and we think that the current makeup of the commission is the best way to achieve those maps. So we would go all in to protect that very fair process, so any threat to change what is in my mind the gold standard in the country for commissions was a major priority for us to defeat.”

Sen. Kate Brophy McGee (R-Phoenix)
Sen. Kate Brophy McGee (R-Phoenix)

Those efforts were ultimately successful. Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, also voted against the resolution, and credited feedback from her constituents for her opposition.

Both Brophy McGee and Worsley voted for SCR1034 when it first cleared the Senate, but voted against an amended version of the resolution that was approved by the House. The no votes of two GOP senators left the measure to amend the IRC one vote shy of approval and a referral to the ballot.

Brophy McGee said she heard “so much” about the bill when she voted to get it out of the Senate – “none of it good, from my constituents.”

Her prayer, she said, was the House would fix it.

“Not only did it not get fixed, it got worse,” Brophy McGee said, adding that such a measure must be approved with an overwhelming majority, but that Yarbrough failed to garner Democratic buy-in. “When you put something like this forward, in my opinion, you need bipartisan support. You need it to be something that most everybody thinks is a good idea. And instead, it just got more and more split.”

Worsley, too, said the issue grew too partisan, and could have threatened Republicans at the ballot in a year when they’re already expecting a blue wave.

“We just didn’t need that extra heavy lift in November,” he said.

On May 5, Holder touted SCR1034’s defeat.

“When we fight – justice wins,” he tweeted, adding that the “citizen-led commission creates fair, competitive districts and is a model for the country.”

House set to begin votes on bills Tuesday

House Speaker Rusty Bowers votes Monday in the Rules Committee on what bills will be heard this week. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
House Speaker Rusty Bowers votes Monday in the Rules Committee on what bills will be heard this week. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

The Arizona House of Representatives is set to hear potentially dozens of bills this week — including a measure to shield businesses from legal liability if a patron or employee gets COVID-19 — even as the Senate sits recessed, poised to finalize last week’s adjournment motion and end the session. 

Work officially began this today with a meeting of the House Rules Committee, which gave party-line approval to ten Senate bills and voted to allow the late introduction of a liability bill sponsored by Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills. The Legislature has long passed the official deadline for the introduction of new bills, which can only be circumvented through a vote in the Rules committee. 

In the coming days, 11 House committees will meet to hear a bevy of unamended Senate bills leftover from the first half of the session, according to an email House Speaker Rusty Bowers sent to members and staff obtained by the Capitol Times. These committees may consider more than 60 bills, House Majority Leader Warren Petersen told the Associated Press this weekend — though how many will actually make it to the floor is unclear. 

And Tuesday at 1:15 p.m., the House will take to the floor for the first time in months to begin voting on some of the bills that will have by then made it out of committee. 

Rep. Athena Salman checks messages as the House Rules Committee votes Monday on which bills will be considered this week by the Legislature. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
Rep. Athena Salman checks messages as the House Rules Committee votes Monday on which bills will be considered this week by the Legislature. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

House leadership is imposing a variety of safety protocols — members, staff and guests in committee hearings must wear masks and follow federal social distancing guidelines, for example. 

The primary reason for returning to work is to pass that liability bill, Petersen, R-Gilbert, said in the Rules committee today. If passed, the bill would require those who sue a business as a result of contracting COVID-19 to prove gross negligence with “clear and convincing evidence,” a lofty legal standard. The legislation would also decriminalize violations of executive orders related to COVID-19 and stop the state from seizing the licenses of non-compliant businesses, churches and other entities.

Kavanagh had hoped Democrats would come on board, giving him the two-thirds supermajority necessary to pass the bill as an emergency measure that can be enacted quickly. 

Kavanagh has yet to file a final version of the legislation, though Petersen today referred to it as a liability, enforcement and licensing bill, which could hint at its content. Kavanagh said the language is “up in the air,” as he had hoped Democrats would come on board, giving him the two-thirds supermajority necessary to pass the bill as an emergency measure that can be enacted quickly. 

But if today’s Rules meeting is any indicator, the proposal has few fans in the Minority. Three of the committee’s four Democrats  — Rep. Domingo Degrazia of Tucson was absent — voted against the motion to allow the late introduction of the bill. 

They said they wouldn’t vote for a motion to only allow a single liability protection bill from one Republican, effectively preventing them from introducing their own version of the bill. Plus, they said, the language wasn’t yet publicly available. 

“This is not a bipartisan process,” said Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe.

Democrats have been working on a similar proposal that would include protections for workers, said House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez.  

“We have to make sure … that if we’re going to hold a business harmless, they have to be doing everything they can to protect the patrons and the workers that are there,” the Yuma Democrat said. “You can’t protect a business that has everybody crammed in there.” 

John Kavanagh
John Kavanagh

She said her caucus members might vote for the Kavanagh bill if he’s open to an amendment. But she said she hadn’t seen a copy of the bill yet, and as such, can’t commit to voting one way or another.

The liability measure, as Petersen said, is this week’s primary focus. The hope is that the chamber adjourns by Thursday night, prompting the Senate to get the votes together to come back to the Legislature — currently, it’s in a recess as it awaits the House’s approval on an adjournment measure passed last week — and hear the bill.

What might sweeten the pot is the dozens of other Senate bills the House will be taking up this week. In theory, these are non-controversial bills that passed out of their chamber of origin with broad bipartisan support. These range from symbolic resolutions to a bill that would facilitate adult adoptions.

“We have no plans to put up bills with amendments since the senate has indicated they won’t do anything but the liability bill and a couple bills that are ready for 3rd read on their side,” Petersen said to his fellow Republicans in a text obtained and verified by the Capitol Times. 

But Democrats are poised to put up a fight, as they see these bills as extraneous distractions that are diverting time and resources from further coronavirus aid.

“My caucus has been and remains ready to work on COVID relief,” Salman said this morning. “But the time has passed to resume business as usual. As you can see, every person in this room is wearing a mask. We are not living in usual times.” 

She continued: “This agenda does not reflect that.

If Democrats succeed in pushing back, Republicans will paint them as an obstinate opposition that’s stopping the state from returning to those halcyon pre-COVID days.

“We need to constantly push the narrative that the Ds are stalling and keeping AZ society from getting back to normal as needed,” Petersen said in the text. 

Regardless, it’s not yet clear whether every bill that lawmakers debate this week will be as uncontroversial as promised. 

Rep. Kelly Townsend’s House Elections Committee was on Tuesday set to hear SCR1018, a voter referral that would limit the ability of the Independent Redistricting Commission to draw legislative district boundaries, constitutionally prohibiting the population of the largest legislative district from exceeding the population of the smallest district by more than 5,000 people. But the committee meeting was abruptly canceled Monday evening.


As is often the case with the House, there are no guarantees. The tempestuous chamber has twice promised to return to the floor only to balk at the last minute. Ill-will between the parties has intensified during the break, and the Senate’s role in all of this is still an unknown variable. 

“I don’t necessarily buy that this will go off without a hitch,” said Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, who serves as speaker pro tempore. “Now we’re just waiting to see where the hitch is.”

Julia Shumway and Hank Stephenson contributed to this report. 

IRC on track to turn southern AZ congressional district red

The Independent Redistricting Commission is moving to give Republicans an edge in electing members of Congress for the coming decade. 

And one of the ways that is happening is with changes being pushed by David Mehl, a Republican on the commission, for the area in and around Tucson. Those changes could help Juan Ciscomani win the seat in what would become Congressional District 6, an area roughly comparable with the one that has been occupied for the past four years by Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick, who is retiring. 

Mehl’s plan would move many Democrats out of CD 6 and into Congressional District 7. That is the district proposed to run from midtown Tucson west to Yuma and north into the largely Latino areas on the western edge of Phoenix. 

That is the area that, generally speaking, is currently represented by Raul Grijalva. And there already is little danger to Grijalva — or any other Democrat — as draft maps show that voter registration and historical voting patterns would give Democrats a 2-1 edge. 

Mehl would push the boundary between the two districts all the way to Alvernon Way in Tucson. 

That runs contrary to the wishes of Tucson Mayor Regina Romero, a Democrat. 

Responding to her earlier concerns about dividing downtown from the University of Arizona, commissioners agreed to move the line to Campbell Avenue. 

Mehl, however, said that’s not far enough, calling Alvernon Way “midtown.” Anyway, he said, all that area east of the campus, all the way out to Alvernon Way, should also be considered part of the university community. 

That alteration, however, changes the political balance, giving CD 6 more of a Republican edge than if the line is on Campbell Avenue. 

David Mehl (Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services)

So does the change that Mehl wants south of Tucson, pushing Sahaurita from CD 6 to CD 7. 

Mehl said that community has a large Hispanic population, making it a better fit with CD 7. But CD 6 then would have to pick up population elsewhere, likely from Republican areas. 

There is a link between Mehl and Ciscomani who used to be a political adviser to Gov. Doug Ducey. 

The candidate’s wife, Laura, sits on the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments. That is the panel which selected Mehl as a nominee for the Independent Redistricting Commission. 

And the campaign finance reports for Ciscomani list $5,800 in donations from Jonah Carson Mehl, David’s son, who also is a vice president for Cottonwood Properties, the firm owned by his father. 

Mehl does not dispute the partisan nature of some of what he is proposing. But he sniffed at the idea that there is a link between how he is drawing the lines and the support for Ciscomani by his son. 

“We don’t have any business interests in this,” the elder Mehl told Capitol Media Services. 

Like whether Republicans control Congress? 

“I was appointed as a Republican appointee,” he responded. The 2000 voter-approved law creating the Independent Redistricting Commission requires two Republicans and two Democrats, with those four choosing someone to chair the panel who is not affiliated with either party. 

“Our family’s contributed to candidates for 30 years, 40 years,” Mehl said. 

“My sons are free to do whatever they want,” he continued. “They’re their own people. 

Romero aide Nate Sigal would not comment on motives. 

“Folks can draw their own conclusions,” he told Capitol Media Services. Sigal said “anybody could tell” that the moves are designed to give Republicans an advantage. 

Partisan politics aside, Sigal said the changes also would dilute the influence of Tucson. 

“It is in the city’s best interest to have two congressional districts that are anchored in the city of Tucson,” he said. “I think by pushing it all the way to Alvernon that increases the district’s share of population elsewhere.” 

And that “elsewhere” in the map for CD 6 runs up to the edge of Casa Grande and out to Safford in one corner and Douglas in the other. 

Mehl, for his part, defended his plan. 

“If you’re trying to divide Tucson into two major districts, which is what we are, dividing it into the middle of the city is a pretty logical place to be dividing it,” he said. 

And Mehl called Romero’s concern about losing Tucson influence “incorrect.” 

The panel, which has a Dec. 22 deadline to adopt final maps, also is looking at other changes sought by Mehl that could have political implications. 

One is putting Flagstaff into Legislative District 6, the legislative district that includes the Navajo and Hopi reservations, rather than have the tribes in an area that now includes communities in the White Mountains. Mehl argued that the tribes have more in common with Flagstaff. 

“The Native Americans, they do their shopping in Flagstaff, they attend school in Flagstaff,” he said. 

“Flagstaff’s a more diverse community with a younger population,” Mehl continued. “They share tourism and resources.” 

By contrast, he said, the communities in the White Mountains “have nothing in common with Flag,” arguing that their positions on issues like water are in direct opposition with those of Native Americans. 

The tribes, however, have made it clear they’re not interested in that configuration amid concerns that adding those Flagstaff voters would make it more difficult for them to elect a legislator of their choice, as they have been able to do for the past few years. Commissioner Shereen Lerner, a Democrat, said their concerns make sense even though it is not a partisan thing. 

“Part of why we did not want to put Flagstaff in with the Navajo Nation is actually what we’ve heard what might happen with (Democratic) primaries which is why we think they need to be separate and be placed into LD 7,” she said, the one with the White Mountain communities.

That question on the ability of tribal members to have a say in the biennial legislative elections, in turn, could raise legal issues as the Voting Rights Act prohibits changes in election laws and procedures — including district boundaries — that dilute minority voting strength. 

Commissioners appear sensitive to potential legal challenges like this. In fact, they got a closed-door briefing from their attorneys on a lawsuit the U.S. Department of Justice just filed against Texas over the fact that the Republican-controlled legislature there, which draws the lines, found ways to make both of its two new congressional seats largely Anglo — and Republican — even though more than 95% of the population growth of the past decade is attributable to minorities. 

But any lawsuits there or here may have a hurdle. 

While federal law precludes drawing lines to discriminate against minorities, courts have not been willing to extend those protections when districts are crafted for partisan advantage. That means anyone challenging changes would have to show that the real reason for any changes are racial or ethnic and not for political reasons. 

Mehl acknowledged that, at least for the past decade, the reservation has been in a district that includes the White Mountains. And Flagstaff, by contrast, was in a district with Sedona, Cottonwood and Camp Verde. 

The result has generally been there are two state representatives and one senator from tribal lands. But Mehl said there’s nothing magic about that, saying the lines drawn 20 years ago created a different result. 

“It’s my opinion, a pretty strong opinion, that the White Mountains are a better fit with the valley down through Payson and with the other district” than with the reservation, he said. 

But it’s far beyond Payson, with that proposed district stretching as far as Florence and San Manuel and Oracle. 

This isn’t Mehl’s first foray into redrawing lines with political implications. 

He is the one who insisted on crafting a legislative district that runs from Marana around the far northern suburbs of Tucson to Tanque Verde and Vail. That would create a safe district for GOP candidates, compared with earlier proposals which would have combined the Marana area with Casas Adobes in what would have been a politically competitive district. 

Latino city in Arizona grew, but census says it shrank

Middle school wrestlers are greeted by coach Chris Polanco, right, as they enter the gym for wrestling matches at Somerton Middle School Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in Somerton, Ariz. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Middle school wrestlers are greeted by coach Chris Polanco, right, as they enter the gym for wrestling matches at Somerton Middle School Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in Somerton, Ariz. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

It’s a Thursday evening in Somerton, Arizona, and parents and students packed inside a middle school gym are roaring for the school’s wrestling team at decibels that test the eardrum. 

The young wrestlers are seventh and eighth graders who will be among the first to attend this town’s first public high school, which was approved just weeks ago after years of lobbying by local officials. The overwhelmingly Hispanic community has grown enough over the last decade that it’s also building a new elementary school. 

But the Census Bureau says Somerton actually lost 90 residents during that time, putting its official population at 14,197 people, not the 20,000 that the mayor expected. 

“So we’re trying to make sense of where these numbers are coming from, because they do not make sense whatsoever,” said City Manager Jerry Cabrera, who cited 853 new homes over the past decade as evidence of growth. 

An accurate census is crucial for the distribution of hundreds of billions of federal dollars, and it determines how many congressional seats each state gets. But a review by The Associated Press found that in many places, the share of the Hispanic and Black populations in the latest census figures fell below recent estimates and an annual Census Bureau survey, suggesting that some areas were overlooked. 

For the share of the Black population, the trend was most visible in southeastern and Mid-Atlantic states, including Alabama, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. For the Hispanic population, it was most noticeable in New Mexico and Arizona. 

In Somerton, about 200 miles southwest of Phoenix near the Mexico border, community leaders were incredulous. 

“This is not true. This is not real numbers, you know. They don’t know our community. They did not do what needed to be done to count our people, and it’s just ridiculous. It can’t be,” said Emma Torres, executive director of Campesinos Sin Fronteras, an organization that advocates for farmworkers. The group was heavily involved in promoting the census. 

Most Somerton residents use post office boxes. A majority are Spanish-speaking farmworkers, and many lack reliable internet access. 

Electricians install wires at a newly constructed home Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in Somerton, Ariz. The overwhelmingly Hispanic community has grown enough over the last decade that it's also building a new elementary school. But the Census Bureau says Somerton actually lost 90 residents during the that time, putting its official population at 14,197 people, not the 20,000 that the mayor expected. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Electricians install wires at a newly constructed home Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in Somerton, Ariz. The overwhelmingly Hispanic community has grown enough over the last decade that it’s also building a new elementary school. But the Census Bureau says Somerton actually lost 90 residents during the that time, putting its official population at 14,197 people, not the 20,000 that the mayor expected. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Community leaders say they are used to an undercount, but the notion that they lost residents is unfathomable. 

Here, where an annual tamale festival to raise money for college students attracts thousands of visitors, local schools are over capacity as enrollment grew by nearly 12% from 2010 to 2019. And after years of having to bus students at least 10 miles north to Yuma, Somerton finally met the threshold for its own high school. 

While there is nothing new about undercounts, and no census is perfect, there is “strong evidence” that undercounts in the 2020 census are worse than in past decades, said Paul Ong, a public affairs professor at UCLA, whose own analysis of Los Angeles County this month concluded that Hispanics, Asians and other residents were undercounted. 

“The big-picture implication is it will skew the redistricting process, our undercounted neighborhoods will be underrepresented and populations that are undercounted will be shortchanged when it comes to the allocation of federal spending,” Ong said. 

The AP analysis comes with caveats. The Census Bureau says the census figures should be considered more accurate than the agency’s American Community Survey or vintage population estimates. Additionally, the American Community Survey has margins of error, and the population estimates are edited in a way that pushes some people who identified as “some other race” in the 2010 count into more traditional racial categories such as white, Black and Asian. 

People chat in a bar Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in Somerton, Ariz. The results of the 2020 headcount have many Latino and Black communities concerned about whether the latest numbers are accurate. In Somerton, a small city near the U.S.-Mexico border that is overwhelmingly Hispanic, leaders say the results make no sense. They've seen new housing developments pop up, and the town is building two new schools. But the census found fewer residents than in 2010. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
People chat in a bar Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in Somerton, Ariz. The results of the 2020 headcount have many Latino and Black communities concerned about whether the latest numbers are accurate. In Somerton, a small city near the U.S.-Mexico border that is overwhelmingly Hispanic, leaders say the results make no sense. They’ve seen new housing developments pop up, and the town is building two new schools. But the census found fewer residents than in 2010. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Bureau officials say it’s too soon to speculate on whether individual communities were undercounted. The full extent of whether the statistical agency missed certain populations, or overcounted others, won’t be known until early next year, when it releases results of a survey used to measure how good a job it did counting every U.S. resident. 

Black and Hispanic communities historically are undercounted, and there was greater concern about an undercount in 2020 due to the Covid pandemic, which made people afraid to interact with strangers, and natural disasters, which made it difficult for census takers to reach some residents. There were also attempts at political interference by the Trump administration, including a failed attempt to add a citizenship question to the census form. 

The AP review revealed figures that suggest some communities were overlooked. 

Outside Baton Rouge, in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, for instance, the 2020 census figures show the share of the Black population to be 23.4%, but 2020 population estimates and the 2019 American Community Survey placed it at 44%. The area is home to the 5,500-inmate Louisiana State Penitentiary, and group housing like prisons, dorms and nursing homes were among the toughest places to count people during the census because of Covid-related restrictions. 

In counties along the Colorado and New Mexico border, the share of the Hispanic population in the census was lower than those in the estimates and survey, anywhere from 4 to 7 percentage points. 

The Census Bureau said in a statement that tribal, state and local governments can ask for a review of the numbers if they think they census figures are inaccurate, but that will not change the numbers used for redistricting or congressional seats. 

“Despite facing a pandemic, natural disasters and other unforeseen challenges, the 2020 census results thus far are in line with overall benchmarks,” the statement said. 

Cabrera said the city is pulling data to show that the 2020 count was off and plans to appeal. 

Somerton Mayor Gerardo Anaya worries about the city’s share of state revenues. He says Somerton’s sales tax revenue, school enrollment and building permits have gone up in the past few years. Developers continue to build. 

As it did in many Latino communities, the pandemic had an outsized effect in Somerton. Latinos were almost twice as likely to become infected and more than twice as likely to die from Covid than whites, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

In Somerton, few people have jobs they can do from home. Anaya says there was a point last summer when the Somerton zip code had the highest infection rate in Arizona. 

“This time it was just chaotic here during the summer. We all had family members that were in the hospital or dying or infected with Covid. So it was very scary,” Anaya said. 

Back at the home of the Somerton Middle School Cobras, Principal Jose Moreno bragged about his city’s tight-knit community, where wrestling is a source of pride. Moreno paced around the gym and joined the cheering as the young boys battled the San Luis Scorpions. 

Moreno said finally meeting the threshold for a high school means local educators get to keep working with kids they have taught from kindergarten through eighth grade. 

“I accept the challenge, I really do, in trying to continue the traditions that we have here at the middle school, in the city, in the things we value. And so you have that small-time feeling here, and you know we definitely want to keep that going,” Moreno said. 

As for the match, the Cobras gave the Scorpions a whupping, beating them 90 to 6. 



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. 


Redistricting panel finishes legislative maps

Members of the Independent Redistricting Commission voted Wednesday 3-2 to adopt maps that are likely to preserve the Republican edge in the Arizona Legislature for the rest of the decade. 

The 3-2 vote came over the objections of Shereen Lerner and Derrick Watchman, the two Democrats on the panel. Erika Neuberg, who is a political independent and chairs the commission, sided with the two Republicans. 

Based on voter registration, the plan creates 13 likely “safe” districts for Republicans and 12 for Democrats. At least four of the other five have registration differences of only a few points which Neuberg said makes them politically competitive. 

Lerner, however, reads the available data, including results of prior elections, to effectively give Republicans a 17-13 edge. And that, she said, is unfair given that Republicans currently control just 16 of the 30 Senate seats and 31 of 60 House seats. 

She made some efforts before Wednesday’s vote to alter several lines in ways she said would create more competitive districts. That included redrawing the lines in north Phoenix in a way that she said would better unite the Deer Valley community and make the district more evenly split politically. 

But those were rejected by Neuberg who said that she would entertain only minor alterations. 

Lerner’s frustrations, which she expressed multiple times as the final legislative and congressional maps were being crafted, finally boiled over Wednesday when it became clear that Neuberg would side with Republicans David Mehl and Douglas York. 

She said that Neuberg has sided with Republicans more often than not on changes sought to the maps. 

Neuberg has not disputed that but said it has to do with a “fundamental difference that we have in terms of interpreting our constitutional mandate.” And that includes Neuberg’s argument that while the panel is required to create as many politically competitive districts as possible, that is only to the extent that it does not interfere with other guidelines like following political and geographic boundaries as well as what she interprets as “communities of interest.” 

That explanation didn’t wash with Lerner. 

She pointed specifically to how draft maps sought to create a legislative district that encompassed the Tucson suburban communities of Marana, Oro Valley and Casas Adobes. As crafted, that would have been a politically competitive district. And she said it kept the district within specific school districts, reflecting that requirement for honoring communities of interest. 

What emerged in the final map as Legislative District 17 excluded Casas Adobes and instead extended a line around the Catalina Mountains to pick up Republican areas of east Tucson and Tanque Verde. 

And if that wasn’t bad enough, Lerner said there is evidence that Republican Sen. Vince Leach, who lives in the southern Pinal Saddlebrooke subdivision and currently represents the area, was involved in behind-the-scenes lobbying to have the Southern Arizona Leadership Council propose — and the commission to adopt — the design of LD 17 to make it a safe Republican district. 

There were other tweaks made to the legislative maps designed to help GOP incumbents. 

One change sought by Republicans on the commission moved the unincorporated community of Liberty, outside of Buckeye, from Democratic dominated Legislative District 23 into safe Republican Legislative District 25. Among the approximately 600 residents affected are Republican state Sen. Sine Kerr. 

And a line was moved just Wednesday to put Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff into safely Republican Legislative District 7, moving her residence on West Historical Route 66 out of heavily Democratic Legislative District 6. 

Republican David Mehl, who pushed the change, initially declined to answer questions about the reason. But when pushed, he sidestepped the question, saying it was done to help efforts by Watchman to improve the percentage of Native American voters in LD 6. 

Lerner did not dispute that it did help strengthen Navajo voting strength. But she said that’s not the entire story. 

“He came over to me and he said, ‘I’d like to make this change for a friend of mine who asked me to make this change,’ ” she recalled of her conversation with Mehl. Lerner said she agreed. But she pursued the matter a bit. 

“I said, ‘Don’t tell me if it’s for an incumbent,’ ” Lerner continued. “And he said, ‘Then, I won’t tell you.” 

Those political considerations were not unusual before 2000 when state lawmakers — and specifically, the majority party — crafted the decennial changes in the legislative and congressional lines. 

That year, however, voters created the Independent Redistricting Commission with the specific goal of trying to remove some of the political influence. It requires lines be drawn based on factors like equal population, honoring geographic and political boundaries, protecting communities of interest and creating as many competitive districts as possible to the extent that does not harm the other criteria. 

And the constitutional rules for its operation specifically say “the places of residence of incumbents or candidates shall not be identified or considered.” 

The moving of lines to accommodate candidates, Lerner said, gets added to what she said was a legally flawed process. 

“This map does not meet the constitutional criteria, one of which is the partisan bias,” she said. 

But Lerner stopped short of saying that the maps are subject to being challenged in court. 

“I have no idea,” she said. “That is not my purview.” 

The Arizona Democratic Party and the Arizona Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, however, wasted no time in putting out their own criticism and raising the specter of litigation. 

“These maps do not reflect the increasingly competitive nature of our state,” the statement read. “We will examine every legal remedy available to fight for fair and competitive maps.” 

Neuberg, for her part, said there’s a reason that so many of the districts have a Republican slant. And the reason, she said, is the federal Voting Rights Act which the commission is legally bound to follow. 

It forbids changes in election laws — and district lines — that dilute the ability of minority communities to elect candidates of their choice. And given the voting patterns of Hispanic and tribal communities, Neuberg said that required the commission to effectively pack those minority districts with Democrats. 

“When you honor the VRA and you take out what is a huge proportion of the Democratic population because it happens to align with those minority interests, we’re left with a state that is so disproportionately R-leaning,” she said. 

Mehl said he was pleased with the result. 

“I think this map is a terrific map for the state of Arizona,” he said. And he specifically defended how LD 17 was crafted, saying it creates “balanced representations” with two districts that represent the core of Tucson. 

York said the maps do their best to combine communities of interest, even those separated by distance. He specifically cited LD 23. 

“The community of interest in San Luis, Somerton share interests with the Hispanic farming communities of Avondale and Glendale,” York said. And he said it made sense to combine Yuma in LD 25 with the Buckeye area based on “the economic driver of agriculture.” 

But Lerner said some communities of interest were ignored, citing the refusal of her colleagues to put the Verde Valley community into a legislative district with Flagstaff as it has been for the past decade. Instead it was combined with the rest of Yavapai County. 



The Breakdown, Episode 18: The Red (for Ed) wave?


Jennifer Samuels, left, an eighth grade English teacher who plans to run for the House as a Democrat in Legislative District 15, speaks with LD15 constituents Alex Ariemma, center, and Debbie Voll during the LD15 Democrats meeting at the Paradise Valley Community Center on May 8. (Photo by Paulina Pineda/Arizona Capitol Times)
Jennifer Samuels, left, an eighth grade English teacher who plans to run for the House as a Democrat in Legislative District 15, speaks with LD15 constituents. (Photo by Paulina Pineda/Arizona Capitol Times)

Red for Ed may be over, but it’s too soon to tell what consequences – and possibly new elected officials – it will bring to the Capitol over time.

Inspired educators are already jumping into the political fray in the hopes of unseating those lawmakers they found unsatisfactory in the process leading up to the strike. Others are rallying behind Democratic gubernatorial candidates or offering their time to the Invest in Education Act’s signature gathering efforts.

As questions continue to swirl around what comes next out of the red wave that hit the Capitol just two weeks ago, some officials have been waging other battles – and suffering defeat.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Breakdown on iTunes.

Music in this episode included “Little Idea,” “Creative Minds” and “Energy” by Bensound.

The Breakdown: In other news


in-other-newsYavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk has been targeting medical marijuana patients using extracts – until recently anyway. We’ll actually have that story for you this week.

One representative wants to make sure legislative candidates are actually residents of the districts they want to serve.

And, of course, we’ll have the latest on the ever-developing saga of former Rep. David Stringer. What did we learn from hundreds of pages of additional documents last week?

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Breakdown on iTunes and Stitcher.


Music in this episode included “Creative Minds” and “Energy” by Bensound.