"Downtown District an Intriguing Idea." September 30, 2001
It was bad enough when Arizona's proposed congressional districts offered only two seats which either a Republican or a Democrat could win.
Now, a new analysis of voting patterns shows the draft plan doesn't have two competitive districts after all. It has one.
One out of eight.
If two of eight was disappointing, one of eight is absolutely, completely and unequivocally unacceptable.
The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission must find a way to increase the number of competitive districts so that voters have some actual choices.
One idea that offers great promise is a proposal to create a downtown congressional district. The plan, offered by the Coalition for a Downtown Competitive District, would create a seat that included all of Tempe, southern Scottsdale and a diagonal swath, southeast to northwest, through central Phoenix to the border of Glendale.
We like the looks of it, for three principal reasons:
1. It unites a critically important community of interest, the central city. Having a congressional representative wholly focused on issues affecting downtown areas - issues such as redevelopment, mass transit and crime among them - would give voice to a group that has for too long been sliced, like a pie, into inconsequential pieces.
2. It creates a competitive district. Under the current plan, there is no such animal in all of Maricopa County. Instead, there are four seats set aside for Republicans and one for Democrats. This plan would create a district that is 41 percent Republican and 36 percent Democrat.
3. It gives the minority community influence in a third congressional district. Nearly a third of this district's voting-age population would be minority citizens, giving them a strong voice where they have had virtually none. This, without endangering either of the two proposed "majority-minority" districts. That seems appropriate, given that 36 percent of Arizonans are members of a racial or ethnic minority group.
It should come as no surprise that not everyone likes this proposed district.
We suspect that Democratic Rep. Ed Pastor may not be so happy. This proposal would drop the percentage of voting-age Hispanics in his neighboring district to 48 percent from 52 percent. However, the district still would maintain its solid majority-minority status, with 60 percent of the voting-age population belonging to a minority group.
If Pastor dislikes this district, Republican Reps. John Shadegg, J.D. Hayworth and Jeff Flake are likely to despise it.
All three would wind up in the same district under this proposal. Hayworth lives in north Scottsdale, Shadegg lives in north Phoenix and Flake lives in north Mesa.
That, however, cannot be a consideration. The law properly bars the Independent Redistricting Commission from considering the home addresses of incumbents.
Under this plan, the southeast Valley would continue to have its own congressional district, as would rural Arizona - two points for which residents in those areas have argued strongly.
In fact, according to a new analysis, the rural district would be Arizona's only competitive district if the current draft maps are adopted.
The study, conducted by Michael P. McDonald, an assistant professor of political studies at the University of Illinois, found that although voter registration numbers may reflect two competitive districts, an analysis of voting patterns during the 1990s indicates there would be only one.
If true, that would leave Arizona with five so solidly Republican districts and two so solidly Democrat districts that for the next miserable decade there'd be virtually no reason to go the polls in November - at least, not to cast a congressional vote.
We believe the Independent Redistricting Commission wants to make these districts more competitive. Last week, the panel directed its consultants to draw up a central city district, in an attempt to increase competition. The challenge is doing this without causing serious harm to the other legal principles guiding this process, most notably protecting minority voting rights.
We believe it can be done. We believe this proposal shows it can be done. We believe Arizona must have at least three competitive districts.
A downtown seat would be a good place to start.
Hispanic leaders are suggesting changes to the proposed legislative boundaries that they insist would bolster minority voting strength and more evenly distribute Republicans and Democrats.
Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, a Democrat who represents District 5, which covers south Phoenix and the surrounding county, said the proposal by a coalition of Hispanic leaders does not create more "majority-minority" districts than the state redistricting commission was already considering.
Hispanic leaders were elated earlier this year when the redistricting panel's consultants proposed new maps that had 10 of 30 legislative districts dominated by minorities. The most recent maps have nine, but that is still higher than the current system, which has only seven "majority-minority" districts.
But some Hispanic leaders, including state Sen. Peter Rios, D-Hayden, who represents part of south-central Arizona, said giving minorities more strength shouldn't come at the expense of competitive districts in the rest of the state.
The latest proposal "protects all rights for all people," Wilcox said Wednesday at the final public hearing in the county held by the Independent Redistricting Commission. Commission members said they will take the proposal into consideration.
The proposal also seems to have support from other minority groups, reducing the threat of legal challenges if the proposal is adopted.
In the Valley, the coalition's maps have minority-dominated districts in south and southwest Phoenix and in Avondale and Tolleson. Other minority districts would be in the southwest part of the state.
The redistricting commission has a final public hearing scheduled for Saturday in Show Low and Bullhead City. Both meetings begin at 3 p.m.
Redistricting happens every 10 years on the basis of the latest population and demographic information from the U.S. census. The 2000 census showed that the state had a 40 percent growth rate during the 1990s and a 79 percent increase in its minority population.
Redrawing political boundaries makes plenty of people yawn.
Yet across the East Valley, cities and towns and even neighborhoods are closely watching a redistricting process that will reshape how residents are represented in the state Capitol and in Congress. So many people turned out at a public hearing in Mesa one night that organizers ran out of public comment forms.
Tempe leaders are busy pleading to be kept together. So are Ahwatukee Foothills leaders. And Chandler, now carved into three different legislative districts, is a bit giddy at the latest plan to only divide the city twice.
State Sen. Jay Blanchard, D-Gilbert, knows many people still don't have any idea about the whole redistricting process or care much about the results. But they should. *"This fundamentally affects government and government's relationship with voters," he said.
The state is required to change its districts based on the 2000 census, so the Independent Redistricting Commission went to work molding new congressional and legislative boundaries.
Change was inevitable, with Maricopa County's population jumping 45 percent in the past decade. The redistricting commission's charge: create districts of equal population without messing with what redistricting officials call "communities of interest," or places with the same concerns and interests.
The boundaries are being reviewed by the public, including those who will attend a meeting at 6:30 tonight at Mesa Community College. Finalized maps will be reviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice later this fall.
As East Valley cities review the proposed maps, there's a common theme: Many feel they are being left intact rather than having their cities further divided, and their power diluted, into more districts. If the boundaries remain as they are, many in the East Valley will be pleased - or at least relieved.
John McComish applauds the fact that "Ahwatukee is whole."
"So far, we're glad we're in one piece," said McComish, president of the Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce.
Redistricting is a difficult process, he knows. Change one boundary line to please one city and you create a problem for another. But the results are key: "Who's going to represent you?" he asked. "Who's going to represent your interests?"
Tempe, too, has heavily lobbied the commission. Former Tempe mayor and current legislator Harry Mitchell, a Democrat; state Rep. Meg Burton Cahill, also a Democrat, and others from Tempe asked the commission not to divide the city into numerous different districts. In the latest plans, all but a small sliver of south Tempe is in the same district.
"It's important for us to have one voice," Tempe Mayor Neil Giuliano said. "Tempe has a lot of like-thinking people . . . There is a view and there is an outlook on life and issues and public policies that is a little different in Tempe."
Voters in Tempe supported tax hikes for transit improvements and football stadiums when other more conservative neighbors did not, he said.
There's a side effect of trying to keep cities together, said Blanchard: "Splitting the cities up, gerrymandering, runs counter to what cities are trying to do to build a sense of community, a sense of belonging."
That approach by the commission to carve up cities as little as possible is why the current plan is "good for the East Valley as a whole," Chandler spokesman Dave Bigos said.
It's not a simple approach, though. There will be roughly 640,000 people in each proposed congressional district and about 171,000 in each legislative district.
'Drawn and quartered'
McComish said the commission is guaranteed to upset some.
At a recent public meeting on redistricting, nearly 100 attended. Some talked about cities being "drawn and quartered" through redistricting. Others blasted the present District 7 as an example of political boundaries gone bad. The abstract district stretches more than a Slinky, taking in little parts of numerous areas including Chandler, Apache Junction, Mammoth, Kearny, Sacaton, San Manuel, Dudleyville and others.
Reach the reporter at [email protected] or (602) 444-7942.
John P. Frank won the landmark Miranda case in 1966, which requires police to read suspects their rights. He also represented Anita Hill when she accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.
Paul Eckstein helped prosecute the impeachment of former Gov. Evan Mecham, ran Bruce Babbitt's successful gubernatorial races and has represented big tobacco interests.
Now both attorneys are helping the state Democratic party prepare a potential lawsuit if new congressional and legislative draft maps proposed by the state's Independent Redistricting Commission don't change. Democrats have criticized the draft maps for being too friendly to Republicans. They say the maps don't embrace the concept of competition and keep the GOP's stranglehold over state politics. Republicans say those complaints are off base.
Frank and Eckstein, who have longtime ties to the Democratic Party, said it's too early to talk about suing. But it's not too soon to have a Plan B just in case.
"Certainly we hope the Independent Redistricting Commission considers all of the requirements of Proposition 106," said Eckstein, referring to the voter-approved initiative that created the citizen redistricting panel. "It's premature to talk about legal actions, but we are actively following what the maps look like."
So far, Eckstein, Frank and Rick Halloran, who works with Frank at the Lewis and Roca law firm, have been doing the legal work for free. The legal team is looking at two key issues: political competitiveness and whether the commission is using the Voting Rights Act to dilute the voice of minorities by packing them into too few districts.
The hiring of the high-powered attorneys drew immediate criticism from the Republican Party.
"At this point of the game, I think it's inappropriate for the Democrats to be threatening lawsuits," said Nathan Sproul, executive director of the Arizona Republican Party. "It seems like political arm twisting."
The congressional and legislative maps are being shown across the state during a second round of public hearings. The commission wants to send the maps to the Department of Justice by October.
State Sen. Pete Rios has lived comfortably for 10 years in a heavily gerrymandered district he helped carve out 10 years ago. But his fortunes may soon change.
A plan for new state legislative boundaries lumps Rios, D-Dudleyville, and four other incumbent Democratic lawmakers, including a fellow state senator, into a single legislative district that stretches 240 miles northeast from Douglas in southern Arizona past Fountain Hills to Yavapai County. Now Rios, who represents District 7, and others worry that Democratic lawmakers will end up defeating each other, rather than Republicans, in the 2002 elections.
"The current district I represent is beautiful compared to this mess they created that goes from the Mexican border all the way up and abuts the county line in Yavapai County," Rios said. "This is the worst I've ever seen."
The overall redistricting plan would make Democrats a "second-class party" in Arizona for the next 10 years, Rios says. Other influential Democrats say the draft maps, which show Republicans with an edge in 17 of 30 districts, will leave Arizonans with a one-sided debate on key issues such as health care, education, energy and the environment. Republicans disagree, saying that the new maps pack GOP incumbents into districts in places like Paradise Valley and Sun City West and that Democrats have no reason to complain.
"It's refreshing to see that politics has been taken out of the redistricting process," said Nathan Sproul, executive director of the Arizona Republican Party. "The Democrats should be happy. The districts are symbolic of an evenly divided state and country as far as political leanings go."
Public hearings begin today on the proposals created by Arizona's Independent Redistricting Commission. The goal of the panel, established when voters approved Proposition 106 last year, has been to replace a highly political exercise in drawing new legislative boundaries with one based on reason.
But so far the new system hasn't stifled partisan bickering.
Democrats point to the odd-shaped district that stuffs Democratic Sens. Rios and Marsha Arzberger and three Democratic House members into a funky-looking political home. Rep. Bobby Lugo, a Bisbee Democrat in the district, said the commission has created "communities of disinterest."
"They are doing a disservice by making a district like this," Lugo said. "This district dilutes the minority representation. That's how I was elected."
But Rios' current "beautiful" district is considered by many to be the poster child for gerrymandering. It meanders from Pinal County to Maricopa County, scooping up pockets of Hispanic voters while skipping over Republican sections of Casa Grande.
The draft map will probably change after the round of public hearings. Steve Lynn, chairman of the redistricting commission, said the map is "a work in progress."
"Any criticism at this point is premature," said Lynn, the commission's only Independent. "We're not hiding behind anything. Nobody is avoiding competition. We know these maps aren't perfect. That's what the public comment is for."
Figures provided by the commission show only four potential "swing districts," where the numbers of registered Republicans and Democrats are separated by 5 percent or less.
Other districts are either heavily Republican or heavily Democratic. Currently, Republicans have about a 100,000-person edge in voter registration in the state.
Jim Pederson, chairman of the state Democratic Party, said there could be a lawsuit if the maps don't change. He is pushing for eight competitive districts.
Meanwhile, the redistricting plan would pack incumbents into numerous districts throughout the state:
ï A Tucson area district has seven incumbent lawmakers who can run for re-election, including three Republican House members.
Four Republican House members, Barbara Leff, Steve Tully, Jeff Hatch-Miller and Steve May, are pushed into a new northeast Phoenix district that includes the residence of former Gov. Fife Symington, who has talked about running for the state Senate or House.
ï A Mesa district would have three conservative Republicans, Reps. Russell Pearce, Dean Cooley and Karen Johnson, battling for two spots in the House.
Chuck Coughlin, a lobbyist and Republican strategist, said the griping about new boundaries shows that politics can't be stripped away from redistricting.
"It really doesn't matter who is drawing the lines, people are going to complain," Coughlin said.
A decade ago, it was strictly Capitol basement stuff. There, a few legislative powerbrokers toiled over maps with the precision of a neurosurgeon, carving up political turf.
What came out of that basement wasn't always good for Arizona, but it worked fairly well for Arizona's politicians.
Why else do you think the Sun Cities were dropped into three legislative districts but to bolster the Republicans' power in the northwest Valley?
Democrats weren't much better. When tiny Casa Grande was split in half, it wasn't good for the town. But it worked really well for a Hispanic Democratic leader who wanted the "rednecks" out of his district.
Fortunately, those days of blatantly self-interested incumbents selecting who they will represent are over. During these dog days of summer, a citizen panel is sweating over a set of legislative and congressional districts that will see Arizona through the decade.
It is a maddening process, painstaking, plodding, tedious. But done right, this business of mapmaking must be messy because it is so very public.
From all corners of the state, people have come, offering advice on how to draw districts that unite people with common interests. Unfortunately, it isn't quite so simple.
Central Phoenix's historic neighborhoods, for example, want their own district but if they stay together, it could dilute the voting strength of the city's minority populations. The Salt River and Fort McDowell reservations logically belong with the Gila River community, but accomplishing that may mean pushing Apache Junction out of the East Valley and into a rural district. A coalition of eastern Arizona counties want their own district but to do so could well mean the Prescott Valley area gets fractured into three pieces. And what do you do with the Navajo and Hopi, who by geography belong together and by disposition do not?
How the commission resolves these and other conflicts will have an impact on Arizona politics for a decade.
After a month of public hearings and two weeks of work, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission last week adopted draft congressional maps and wrangled with a legislative plan. Public hearings start Saturday and once done the maps will be refined, approved and sent off to the U.S. Justice Department, which will toss them in the trash if they trample the rights of minority voters.
The draft maps represent a monumental amount of work. Clearly, the commission is trying to draw districts based on the needs of Arizonans rather than its politicians.
There are some disappointments, however. So much emphasis on drawing districts based on race and ethnicity is leaving precious little room for any partisan competition.
Currently, two of Arizona's six congressional districts are competitive, meaning that neither party has more than a five-point registration advantage over the other. Under the new draft plan, it's two of eight.
In the Legislature, a whopping one district now boasts voter registration numbers that allow for actual competition. An early draft showed that number skyrocketing all the way to . . . three! Better than one, certainly, but not nearly good enough.
It's a given, legally and morally, that the districts must be fair to Arizona's minority populations. But surely there is a reasonable compromise that would allow for both fairness and some bona fide choices come November.
This is in part what Proposition 106 was selling, and it is certainly what voters expect.
Minorities could gain a second House seat in Arizona if a new map being considered by the state's bipartisan redistricting commission is enacted.
The two proposed minority districts, spanning southwestern Arizona, would have 62 percent and 72 percent minority populations, respectively.
Hispanics alone would have 54 percent of the voting-age population in one district. Also, Hispanics, American Indians, Blacks, Asians and other minorities would have a fighting chance for House seats in two other districts, each with about 36 percent minority populations.
The House map would create five House districts in the increasingly populous Phoenix area, put two others in southern Arizona and create a purely rural district centered in the state's northern reaches.
Under the 1990 redistricting, Phoenix has just two districts. But the Phoenix area's population exploded during the past decade and now has more than 3 million residents - about three-fifths of the state's total population of 5.1 million. Still, it's roughly 125,000 residents short of the number needed to obtain all five districts.
Because Arizona's population grew by 40 percent during the 1990s, including a 79 percent increase in the minority population, the state's six-Member delegation is gaining two House seats in reapportionment.
The maps released last Wednesday offered the first glimpse of House maps the commission is reviewing. They were drafted by the bipartisan commission's consultant, National Demographics Corp. The commission is comprised of two Republicans, two Democrats and one Independent.
Arizona's new, non-political Independent Redistricting Commission, created by a statewide vote last year, is expected to approve a new House map this fall.
Arizona's proposed new congressional map grants minority and rural voters newfound political strength while dividing the intertwined but feuding Hopi and Navajo tribes.
The Independent Redistricting Commission, which released a draft congressional map late Saturday, was expected to grant one of Arizona's two new congressional seats, earned by population gains in the 2000 census, to an expansive rural district covering most of northern and eastern Arizona.
The other would go to a southwestern Arizona district where Hispanics and Native Americans make up the majority. The state's six sitting congressmen each landed in a separate district, despite the commission's mandate to ignore incumbent addresses in drawing the maps.
"If we agreed with anything else the commission was doing, that would be good news," said Nathan Sproul, executive director for the state Republican Party. "The way the commission has drawn the map, they clearly gave the advantage to Democrats for the two new seats."
House Minority Leader Ken Cheuvront said the rural district is far from a lock for Democrats.
"We don't think the rural district is competitive," Cheuvront, D-Phoenix, said. "When you analyze it for voter turnout, you'll see that Prescott and Payson will control that district." Those are heavily Republican areas.
The commission is expected to adopt the draft congressional map once it finishes the companion legislative maps, either today or later this week.
"This map is not perfect, and we know that," commission Chairman Steve Lynn said Saturday. "It's not our intent to put out a finished map, we still want public input."
The plan also would give the East Valley its own congressional district and carve out another one for most older Phoenix and Glendale neighborhoods. In all, Maricopa County would dominate five of the eight districts because that is where 62 percent of the state's population is concentrated. Tucson and Pima County would control the two southern Arizona districts.
Under the plan, the number of minority-majority congressional districts would double to two.
"For the most part, we're pleased, but we're concerned about the inclusion of the Biltmore area in the central-south Phoenix congressional district," said Rudolfo Perez Jr., attorney for the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
In the Legislature, minorities would have the majority in 10 of 30 proposed districts, up from seven. Latino leaders have criticized the early drafts of the legislative map, however, because when the population is broken down by voting age, minorities lose their advantage in three of the 10 districts.
The job of drawing legislative districts is proving much more thorny. Debate about whether to divide cities such as Tempe and Casa Grande mixed with pressure from Latino leaders not to dilute minority voting strength had temporarily stumped the commission's consultants, the National Demographics Corp. If the commission does not produce a legislative map by 3 p.m. today, it will reconvene Thursday in Tucson and try again.
The commission was created under voter-approved Proposition 106 to take redistricting out of the hands of the Legislature. The commission is pushing itself to finish because Proposition 106 mandates a 30-day public comment period on the draft maps, with possible tweaks to follow. Any more delays would hurt hopes of delivering maps to the Justice Department by October.
The most noticeable irregularity on Arizona's new congressional district map, the eastern balloon of District A, which takes in the Hopi Reservation, is the legacy of a 140-year-old feud between the Hopis and the Navajos. The legislative map also will likely keep the tribes separate.
"It's an old, old issue," said John Crow, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Arizona. "It wouldn't make sense to keep them together. There's very little that they have in common."
About 7,000 Hopis live on a series of Mesas surrounded by more than 100,000 Navajos. Frank Seanez, an attorney for the Navajo Nation, argued that Hopis and Navajos should have more commonalties than differences in the eyes of the Justice Department, which must give final approval to the maps. Both are minority and Indian, and the Hopis' loss dilutes minority voting strength in the area.
"It's a pretty small tail wagging a very big dog," Seanez said.
But it's also an arrangement the Justice Department has approved before, four out of five commissioners noted.
The two tribes have been at odds since the 1860s, when Navajos returning from a forced exile in New Mexico began to settle on lands claimed by the Hopis. The dispute has played out this century in a series of lawsuits, a complex and expensive federal resettlement of Navajos, and the splitting up of congressional representation in 1992.
"Simply and frankly put, the interests of all Indian people are not always common interests," Hopi Chairman Wayne Taylor wrote to the commission last month. "The Hopi voice would simply be swallowed up and drowned out within the context of the much larger Navajo voice."
Although the bulk of the Hopis and Navajos tend to swing heavily Democratic at the ballot box, the leadership of both tribes also has enjoyed the friendship of Republicans. The late U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater always remained on good terms with the Hopis but broke with the Navajos in the mid-1970s over the land dispute.
Today, both reservations are represented by the GOP, the Hopis by Rep. Bob Stump and the Navajos by Rep. J.D. Hayworth.
Reach the reporter at [email protected] or (602) 444-8146.
The independent panel of citizens charged with drawing new political boundaries is expected to wrap up its work today, but so far there haven't been many jaw-droppers in the proposed congressional maps.
Not a single congressional incumbent, for example, will have to duke it out with another incumbent to retain his congressional seat.
And don't expect particularly vigorous competition at polling places because the majority of districts should be easy wins for politicians in the district's majority party. Because of that, political observers say there could be heartburn among voters who approved changes to the way lines were drawn last year.
"I think at a minimum, the voters expected that this process would do what it was sold to do and it was sold principally on producing competitive districts," said Bob Grossfeld, a Phoenix-based pollster.
What has trumped any discussion of political competition, so far, is a large umbrella the redistricting commission calls "communities of interest." Hispanic and other minority voters, for example, make up a community and are generally kept together. Agricultural or mining interests are kept together, as are rural interests.
Some say there is justification for that. When the retirement community of Green Valley initially was put in with a bloc of South Side and Nogales voters, retirees complained they didn't share commonality with the border region. Green Valley later was put into a primarily Cochise County district, only to have commissioners ask it be moved once more, this time into East Tucson because of economic and political similarities.
That long process of assigning communities was expected to mitigate many of the obvious red flags in the Tucson maps. Marana and Oro Valley are now no longer expected to be in the same district with Mesa. Consultants also are considering moving Ajo, which was initially put in with Yuma voters, back to Tucson.
But the minute geography becomes a focus, out goes competition. It's a safe bet that South Tucson voters will have a Democrat representing them at the Legislature. In conservative East Mesa, it will be a Republican.
But Grossfeld says he thinks voters would be happier in a district with meshed interests than in what he sees taking shape. "Voters want to know that they can use their individual vote in a meaningful way - not that they needn't bother voting because races are being decided in the primary and it's a foregone conclusion."
If it's any consolation to Grossfeld, neither party claims to be pleased with what it sees. Republicans say they are counting five of the eight congressional districts as theirs, with three going to Democrats. GOP officials note that since they've already got five Republican incumbents, Democrats are the beneficiaries of the state's two brand-new congressional seats.
Democrats say they think Republicans really got six, because the one Democratic-leaning swing district contains large numbers of American Indian voters who have low voter turnout. And by their math, with 38 percent of the state Democratic compared with 42 percent Republican, a 6-2 split isn't quite fair.
In the Tucson area, a southwest border congressional district taking in the West and South Sides of Tucson would have a majority of ethnic voters and a majority of Democrats. What is currently Congressman Jim Kolbe's district would remain a swing district, with a slight GOP edge.
Democratic Congressman Ed Pastor has expressed support for his district, since it's a South Phoenix, heavily-Hispanic district, as he requested. Republican Congressman Jeff Flake would keep his Mesa-Gilbert area district with its heavy GOP registration. GOP Congressman J.D. Hayworth ended up with a Scottsdale-Tempe district with a heavy Republican edge. Congressman John Shadegg loses his Scottsdale base, but would be in a central Phoenix district with a 13 percent GOP advantage. Congressman Bob Stump, a Republican, could retain his West Phoenix base.
But not all observers say voters will be unhappy with the results. "No matter what plans are adopted, someone will say it will disadvantage one party or other, because the parties want to improve their positions," said John Garcia, head of the University of Arizona's political science department. "My suspicion is that voters didn't perceive this as removing partisanship from the process because it is such a partisan process anyway."
Commissioners are expected to discuss what, if anything, can be done to the draft maps to increase political competition as they continue to meet through today and possibly into Sunday, to approve the draft maps. Those maps will be taken around the state later this month for public comment before being finalized.
Political boundaries recommended Wednesday represent not only a reshaping of election district geography, but the dawn of a new system for defining the coming decade of state politics.
The plan would give the East Valley its own congressional district, carve out another one for most older Phoenix and Glendale neighborhoods, and keep Navajos and Hopis in separate districts.
Under the plan, minorities would have majority voices in two of the eight congressional districts and 10 of the 30 districts that elect state legislators.
That's a jump from the current count of one "minority-majority" congressional district among six statewide, and seven such legislative districts.
The two proposed minority congressional districts, spanning southwestern Arizona and the Valley's southwest, would have 62 percent and 72 percent minority populations, respectively.
Hispanics alone would have 54 percent of the voting-age population in the latter district. Also, minorities - Hispanics, Native Americans, Blacks, Asians and others - would have a fighting chance for congressional seats in two other districts, each with about 36 percent minority populations.
The state's new non-political Independent Redistricting Commission, created by a statewide vote, will review the maps over the next several days before approving the versions to be discussed in statewide public hearings over the next six weeks.
The commission is made up of two Republicans, two Democrats and one Independent.
The maps released Wednesday were the first look at possible boundaries. They were the work of the commission's consultant, National Demographics Corp.
Because of Arizona's 40 percent growth rate during the 1990s, paced by a 79 percent increase in the minority population, the state will have eight congressional districts, two more than it has now.
The redistricting plan would divide most of the northern part of the state into two districts, give the Valley major influence in five districts, and bisect Tucson to create two districts in southern Arizona.
Redistricting is performed every 10 years on the basis of the latest population and demographic information from the decennial U.S. census.
In past decades, the mapping has been done by the party in power in the Legislature, evoking cries of unfairness and gerrymandering from interests shut out of the process.
On Wednesday, Democrats immediately cried foul despite the creation of the commission to keep politics out of mapping. They aimed most of their criticism at the legislative boundaries, although they also expressed dissatisfaction with the congressional proposal, too.
State House Minority Leader Ken Cheuvront, D-Phoenix, complained that the legislative plan split counties, cities and areas that could have produced close races. He said Democrats probably will sue if the proposed boundaries are adopted.
Republicans, meanwhile, said they wouldn't comment on the proposals until they had a chance to analyze them.
"It's just too early," said Nathan Sproul, executive director of the state Republican Party. He noted that tables released Wednesday did not contain numbers showing the relative strength of the parties in the various districts.
Paul Hegarty, political director for the state Democratic Party, said it appeared that the mapping consultants, who worked on instructions from the Redistricting Commission, did not follow the guidelines of Proposition 106, which was approved overwhelmingly in November.
The commission is charged with creating geographically compact districts that respect such "communities of interest" as ethnicity, city limits, county boundaries and school districts while also trying to ensure political competition.
"I'm not sure what boundaries they followed," Hegarty said. "It looks like the commission has a long way to go to make these actually into maps that fulfill the proposition."
Hegarty noted that most of the eight proposed congressional districts are either influenced or dominated by Maricopa County, which could erode rural voting strength.
Cheuvront was more blunt.
"It looks more gerrymandered than what the status quo is," he said. "On the legislative map, they split up Tempe, which would have been a competitive area, and they put central Phoenix in with Paradise Valley."
Hispanics and other minorities may gain 10 "safe" legislative districts for the Democratic Party, but they could come at the expense of competitive districts among the remaining 20, Cheuvront said..
A coalition of Latino Democratic leaders submitted a map to the redistricting commission earlier this summer that included 10 "majority-minority" districts, while the state Democratic Party opted for nine in their proposal. Republicans did not submit a map.
Some Hispanic leaders would trade safe seats for overall increased strength for the Democratic Party.
Sen. Pete Rios, D-Hayden, said before the maps were released that competitive districts are key.
"If we have nine Latinos in the state Senate, that's good. But we will never be able to advance our agenda," Rios said. "The magic number in the Senate is 16 and (it's) 31 in the House."
The commission will debate and possibly adopt the draft map in a series of public meetings that begin at noon today at the Pointe South Mountain Resort, 7777 S. Pointe Parkway in Phoenix, and possibly continuing through Saturday.
The Arizona Republic
It's not dead yet. But they tossed a net around it.
The five-member panel approved a grid of equal-population districts that will be used to divide the state into 30 legislative and eight congressional districts for the 2002 elections.
Already, the districts are beginning to look more compact than the bizarre shapes drawn by majority House Republicans and Senate Democrats a decade ago to ensure re-election.
The new redistricting process was launched in November when voters approved Proposition 106, to take redistricting from the partisan Legislature and give it to an appointed group with no public office to protect.
"This is a starting point - not where redistricting will end up, but where we will begin," commission Chairman Steve Lynn said as the computerized grids were projected on a wall at the Doubletree La Posada resort in Paradise Valley.
Amid a summerlong series of statewide public hearings, the grids will be poked in here and pushed out there, adjusted to protect voting rights of minorities and recognize "communities of interest."
After a second series of hearings on draft maps, the final set of districts will be submitted for approval by the U.S. Justice Department by September.
None of the commissioners would speculate on any outcome.
The grids and other information will be available Monday in "citizen kits" for anyone who wants to participate. Contact the commission at (602) 364-1350 or 1-866-864-7569.
A California firm with Valley experience was named Thursday to crunch data and draw lines for new legislative and congressional districts in Arizona.
National Demographics Inc. prevailed over nine other applicants after promising to involve local communities and individuals early in the process. The firm has drawn election districts for Phoenix, Mesa, Glendale, Peoria and Surprise.
The Independent Redistricting Commission also said the Maricopa County Elections Department, former legislative consultant Tony Sissons and Election Data Services of Washington, D.C., will share consulting duties.
Voters provided $6 million for redistricting in November when they passed Proposition 106.
National Demographics Vice President Alan Heslop said he would set up meetings with communities that might be affected by new borders for 30 legislative districts and eight congressional districts.
The new lines are needed because the latest census increased Arizona's population to more than 5 million and added two congressional seats.
While dividing the state into districts of equal population for the 2002 elections, the commission must consider the voting power of racial and ethnic groups and communities of interest such as elderly residents, agricultural areas and school districts.
Reach the reporter at [email protected] or (602) 444-8111.
Finalists named for redistricting committee
The Commission on Appellate Court Appointments has whittled down the applicants, leaving 25 people to vie for four openings on a panel that will shape the political landscape of the state. The finalists are among the 311 state residents who applied to serve on the Independent Redistricting Commission, a group that will take over the task of drawing district borders from the Legislature. Of the 25, 10 are Democrats, 10 Republican and five have no party affiliation.
Created by the passage of Proposition 106 in November, the commission's importance has heightened since new Census figures were released and the state was granted an additional two districts because of its population boost. State legislative leaders will choose four members from the group of finalists - most likely two from each major party - later this month. Those four members will then choose a final member, most likely an independent, who will serve as chairperson of the group.
Los Angeles Times (Orange County Edition)
Arizona Democrats May Gain Clout From Remapping
December 30, 2000
Long a bastion of conservative Republican politics, Arizona is prepared for a dramatic reshaping of its political landscape. Arizona is among four states that will gain two seats in Congress because of population increases over the past decade. As a result, the state will send eight people to the House of Representatives in the 2002 election. Overall, the U.S. population rose to 281,421,906, up 13.2% from 1990, according to the census figures released Thursday. The first numbers from the 2000 national count provided a few surprises--North Carolina picked up a House seat although Indiana and Michigan unexpectedly lost representatives. And Florida and Georgia fared better than some experts had predicted, each gaining two seats.
But the figures also confirmed a decade-long trend of a population shift from the North and Midwest to the South and West. For a winner like Arizona, the increase may seem like a victory for the Republican Party, which holds five of the state's six current congressional seats and controls the state Legislature. But for the first time, state lawmakers will not control the process of redrawing Arizona's congressional map. The boundaries will be set by an independent commission. Many Democrats argue that independent redistricting will improve the party's chances at winning House seats throughout the state. "People think you get two new seats, you don't. You get eight new seats," state Democratic Party Chairman Mark Fleisher said. "It's going to be a whole new ball game. They couldn't slice up the pie with eight and give us only one."
According to the census, Arizona has added 1.5 million people since 1990, giving it a population of 5,130,632. That's a 40% increase, the second-fastest growth rate in the country, behind Nevada. Democrats see the post-census redistricting as an opportunity for Arizona's congressional delegation to better reflect the state's population, which they say has become more diverse and less conservative. Many of Arizona's new residents, including a booming immigrant population, are moderate or liberal, observers say. Consider that President-elect Bush won the state with only a narrow margin over Democrat Al Gore, despite the support of Republican Gov. Jane Dee Hull and Sen. John McCain. And four years ago, Bill Clinton became the first Democrat to carry Arizona in a presidential election since Harry Truman.
Still, the majority of Arizona's elected officials are Republicans. Things could change in 2002, when the new seats are added. In November, voters approved creating an Independent Redistricting Commission to draw Arizona's new political boundaries. That job used to be done by the Legislature, which often sought to protect Republican incumbents and cluster Democrats into just a few districts. If the five-member commission creates more so-called swing districts that are closely split between Republicans and Democrats, minorities and moderates are expected to get more attention from candidates.
"I think you're going to see a shift to people who can draw from both sides," said Daniel Lewis, a Navajo Indian who is a senior vice president at Bank of America. Political Effect of Population Shifts Are Hard to Predict As for the ultimate impact of the redistricting, Bruce Merrill, an Arizona State University pollster, echoes the view of many political observers. "I don't think anybody really knows what's going to happen," Merrill said.
Besides Arizona, other states are gaining congressional seats: California gains one to have 53 seats; Colorado gains one to have seven seats; and Florida gains two to have 25 seats. Other winners: Georgia gains two to have 13 seats; Nevada gains one to have three seats; North Carolina gains one to have 13 seats; and Texas gains two to have 32 seats. Connecticut loses one to leave five seats; Illinois loses one to leave 19 seats; Indiana loses one to leave nine seats; Michigan loses one to leave 15 seats; and Mississippi loses one to leave four seats. Other losing states: New York loses two to leave 29 seats; Ohio loses one to leave 18 seats; Oklahoma loses one to leave five seats; Pennsylvania loses two to leave 19 seats; and Wisconsin loses one to leave eight seats.