Proposed new borders for the state’s legislative districts could create the kind of shake-up at the Capitol that has not been seen in years.
The lines crafted by the Independent Redistricting Commission pit several incumbent lawmakers against each other. That means if the districts remain the way they are after some final public hearings, some legislators who are there now will be out of work after the 2012 election.
Perhaps the most prominent is Senate President Russell Pearce. His largely Republican east Mesa district was altered to now include fellow GOP senator Rich Crandall.
Both lawmakers said they intend to run again. And both said they expect to win.
Before that happens, though, Pearce needs to survive a recall vote next month that pits him against fellow Republican Jerry Lewis. But if Lewis wins — and becomes the incumbent next year — that’s good news politically for Crandall, as the lines put Lewis into an adjacent legislative district.
Elsewhere, the new lines put Tucson Republican Sen. Frank Antenori into the same district as fellow Republican Sen. Gail Griffin who lives south of Sierra Vista.
Griffin, who is in Georgia this week, said she had not seen the maps. And she said she wants to discuss the situation with Antenori.
But Griffin said that, at this point, she intends to run again next year.
Antenori, however, said he’s not worried — and that there will be no head-to-head race.
“If the lines don’t change, we’ll work it out,” he said.
“I’ll sit down with Gail and see what she’s up to,” Antenori continued. He said the likely outcome is one of them would run for another office.
Antenori said it appears that the commission intentionally put incumbent Republicans in the same district. But the constitutional provision that took the task of drawing district lines away from lawmakers specifically bars members of the Independent Redistricting Commission from considering where incumbents and would-be challengers live.
Several other incumbent legislators also are being placed in a similar situation. But there are no similar conflicts in the proposed congressional map, at least in part because the decennial census gave Arizona a ninth House seat.
Protest from incumbents to the proposed new lines is only part of what commissioners are likely to hear during the more than two dozen public hearings they have scheduled around the state to hear comments on the proposed maps. There also is the question of the rights of minorities.
Federal law precludes Arizona from enacting any changes in voting laws that would dilute minority voting strength.
The current lines created nine legislative districts where minorities either make up the majority of the voting-age population or are close to that figure. The proposal contains eight such districts — seven dominated by Hispanics and one by Native Americans — but two others where commissioners say there are sufficient number of minority voters to be able to potentially elect someone of their choice.
But Rep. Richard Miranda, D-Phoenix, is not happy. He said commissioners should have packed more of the minorities into fewer districts rather than trying to create 10 of high minority influence.
The way Miranda sees it, having a district with a lot of Hispanics of voting-age population does not guarantee political influence.
“The concern I have is voting performance,” he said.
Miranda said that, for whatever the reason, Hispanics do not turn out in the same numbers as other groups. He said that means there need to be far more minority voters in a district to protect its minority status, suggesting it should be as high as two-thirds of the population.
None of the districts created approaches that number, with three of them close to 62 percent.
While Miranda hopes to convince commissioners to adjust the lines, he does have an alternate option.
That federal law protecting minority voting strength requires any election law changes to be “precleared” by the U.S. Department of Justice. That agency then has 60 days to object.
“If the maps don’t meet up to the community needs, I do think DoJ has to get involved,” Miranda said.
Packing more Hispanics into some districts, though, would have a ripple effect, as Latinos generally registered as — and vote for — Democrats. That could give Republicans, who already have a strong voter registration edge in 16 of the 30 districts, an even tighter grip on the Capitol.
But pollster Earl de Berge said there is a wild card in all this: Those affiliated with neither party make up at least a quarter of the registered voters in each legislative district. And it some cases, it tops 40 percent.
He said it used to be that independents did not matter that much. He said while they left one party or the other, they tended to continue to vote the same way.
That, however, no longer is the case.
“They appear to be more issue oriented,” he said, casting their votes on philosophy rather than party affiliation. And he said the fact that they might live in a district where most of their neighbors are of one party does not mean they will follow the herd.
“We don’t see any evidence that the independents are being moved very much by partisan surroundings,” de Berge said.
All that is critical because there is not a single district where one party or the other has an absolute majority. The closest is what would be District 12 which encompasses the Gilbert and Queen Creek area, where 47 percent of voters identify themselves as Republicans.