Public comment begins Tuesday on proposed Arizona legislative map - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

Public comment begins Tuesday on proposed Arizona legislative map

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Draft legislative map

Draft congressional map

Posted: Monday, October 10, 2011 8:49 pm | Updated: 4:05 pm, Tue Oct 25, 2011.

The Independent Redistricting Commission adopted a draft legislative map that puts Pima County's northern communities in bed politically with Pinal County, separates out Flagstaff from a flood-prone suburb, and splits Yuma in half.

But that may not be the last word.

Monday's 4-1 vote clears the way for public comment on how the state's 30 legislative districts will be drawn for the next decade. The first hearing is Tuesday in Phoenix; the last of the 26 is set for Green Valley on Nov. 5.

Commissioners already are expecting criticism for exactly how they have drawn the lines.

Republican Richard Stertz pointed out that Oro Valley, Catalina and Saddlebrook will now be part of a district that stretches through the eastern edge of Pinal County and into Globe in Gila County. An analysis of prior voting patterns shows that district should be safe for Republicans.

Casas Adobes, however, currently in the same legislative district as Oro Valley and the other communities, will instead become part of the district that includes the Tucson foothills.

Nearby Marana and Picture Rocks, though, will remain politically separated from those other communities. But instead of being in a far-flung district which runs from Douglas to Avondale, as it is now, it will become politically linked to Eloy, Casa Grande and the Gila River Indian Community, likely to be a politically competitive district.

"We've got volumes of testimony saying we don't want to see that happen,'' complained Stertz, who cast the lone dissenting vote.

But Democrat Linda McNulty defended the lines.

"It was not hastily put together,'' she said.

"We got a lot of comment from Saddlebrook and Oro Valley in particular that they wanted to stay together,'' McNulty said. "And we got scores of letters, maybe even hundreds of letters, saying that they seldom visited Tucson.''

Scott Freeman, the other Republican on the panel, agreed to adopt the draft map. But Freeman said he believes the public will demand a lot of changes -- beyond simple tweaking of a few boundaries -- before it can be adopted.

"I hope that the public shows up and gives us a lot of feedback on it and tells us about their communities of interest and tells us about the error of our ways,'' he said, "and doesn't show up with too many pitchforks and torches.''

Stertz agreed that this is far from the last word.

On paper, the commission was required to craft 30 districts each with a population of about 213,000. There also is the prohibition in the federal Voting Rights Act against diluting minority voting strength.

The commission complies with the latter by creating eight "majority-minority'' districts where voter registration and patterns show a minority candidate could easily get elected, and two more where the numbers might allow election of a minority legislator. That compares with nine total such districts now.

But the constitutional provision approved by voters in 2000 giving the task of crafting legislative and congressional districts to the commissioners also requires them to respect communities of interest, geographic boundaries and even highways.

And, to the extent possible, they are required to create as many competitive districts as possible -- those where a member of either party stands a chance of getting elected -- if it does not undermine other mandates.

Commissioner Jose Herrera, a Democrat, figures that six of the districts meet that competitive standard, up from four when the last maps were drawn a decade ago. But he was not satisfied with even that.

"We can do a better job,'' he told his colleagues.

But Stertz complained that the push to create any many "majority-minority'' and competitive districts is being done at the expense of "big breaches'' in the other goals.

"We're breaking communities of interest, we're breaking county lines, we're breaking geographic transportation corridors, we're breaking geographic barriers already,'' he said. "We've also got rural communities that are being broken away to be represented by groups and concentrations of counties that they've got no affiliation with.''

One area divided was in Flagstaff. That community was placed into a district with Sedona, Snowflake, Payson and Cottonwood, but separate from Prescott and Camp Verde. But the subdivision where last year's Shultz Fire has left residents downgrade of the devastation still facing flooding instead would be part of a district including Winslow and Holbrook but politically dominated by the Navajo Nation and other Native American tribes.

Similarly, Bisbee and Douglas are part of a district that runs through Nogales through Sahuarita into the southern edge of Tucson. But the rest of the county runs from Vail on Tucson's east side into Graham County, and includes Green Valley, just up the road from Sahuarita.

Colleen Mathis, who chairs the commission, said many of the splits were unavoidable.

"It's a big puzzle, really,'' said Mathis, an independent, finding a way to meet all of the goals. But she agreed with Stertz and Freeman that alterations are more than possible.

"There will likely have to be changes,'' she said, once the public weighs in.

Stertz, however, was unconvinced. "I've got a concern it won't be looked at down the road,'' he said.

One of the splits occurred in Yuma, with the community's west side put in with San Luis and Somerton in a district that stretches through the Tohono O'odham Reservation to the Three Points area outside of Tucson, and north into the edge of Goodyear in Maricopa County. But that district was drawn with the intent of being one of the districts with enough Hispanics and other minorities to virtually guarantee that a Latino can get elected. It also is likely a safe Democratic district.

That left the rest of Yuma in a Republican district running into Litchfield Park in western Maricopa County.

McNulty said it is wrong to simply look at the lines and criticize specific splits.

"When you look at communities of interest, you look at specific locales, groups of people who share common cultural, historical heritage,'' she said.  "The districts are collections of communities ... not homogeneous communities.''

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