Andy Biggs, Colleen Coyle Mathis

Arizona State Senate Majority Leader Andy Biggs (R) speaks to Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission Chair Colleen Coyle Mathis on Wednesday, Dec 7, 2011, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Matt York

TEMPE --  A divided Independent Redistricting Commission late Tuesday adopted a plan for the state's nine congressional districts that Republicans contend is not only politically unfair but unnecessarily splits up communities with common interests.

The controversial plan keeps Cochise County in a single district as preferred by residents there. An earlier map had split it between two districts.

But to do that, the commission put Saddlebrook, Marana and Oro Valley into a sprawling district that goes all the way to Camp Verde, Sedona, through most of the state's Indian reservations through Flagstaff all the way to the Utah border.

And a crescent-shaped district carved into Maricopa County runs from the Ahwatukee section of Phoenix on the city's far south side, circumventing midtown and going through Tempe and parts of Mesa, Chandler and the south side of Scottsdale. That, however, splits Paradise Valley from the closely aligned and nearby Arcadia and Biltmore sections of Phoenix.

Commission chairwoman Colleen Mathis, a political independent, sided with Democrats Linda McNulty and Jose Herrera in approving the plan. Herrera said it creates a map with four districts with a Republican voter edge, two that should be safe for Democrats and three districts in which the number of voters in each party are close enough to make them politically competitive.

But Republican Scott Freeman, visibly angry about the move, said the numbers tell a different story. He said the final version adds enough Democrats to those supposedly competitive districts to essentially make it difficult for a Republican to get elected.

"The scales are being manipulated to get a desired political result,'' he said. Freeman predicted the outcome after the 2012 race could be a congressional delegation of five Democrats and four Republicans despite the GOP registration edge in the state.

Later Tuesday night, the panel also adopted a plan for the state's 30 legislative districts. But that move was bipartisan, with one Republican and one Democrat each voting against the map based on their specific objections.

On that congressional map, a big point of contention involves Tucson's far northern suburbs.

"Why would we pull away these cities that are tightly aligned with the city of Tucson away from urban Tucson for their congressional representation?'' Republican Richard Stertz asked.

He preferred a plan that kept Cochise County whole -- but included it with the rural district that covers central and northern Arizona. That would have kept not only the Pima County communities in the same district as the east side of Tucson but also much of southern Pinal County.

McNulty, who pushed for the version adopted, defended her plan.

"It's truly a competitive district,'' she said. And McNulty said the idea actually benefits southern Arizona.

"We're talking about having three (congressional) representatives who share the job of representing over a million people'' in the area. She said whoever represents that vast rural district will have to pay at least some attention to what voters in the Tucson area want -- at least if they want to get reelected.

Freeman said that ignores the fact that most of Cochise County, with the possible exception of the Sierra Vista area, is rural. He said it would be a more logical fit to have it in a district with other rural areas of the state.

And Stertz read a letter from the Oro Valley town council where members said they feared their 41,000 residents would get little or no attention from a member of Congress who also has to represent that vast rural district.

"These are connected communities to Tucson,'' he said, much more linked to that area than rural eastern and northern Arizona.

McNulty was unconvinced those suburban communities will lose political clout.

"I don't think inclusion in a competitive district of this nature will result in them not being represented,'' she said.

"It will result in everyone's voice in that district being heard,'' McNulty said. "Whoever has the fortune or misfortune to represent that district is going to be all over it and is going to have to pay attention to everybody in it.

Anyway, McNulty said, she does like the alternative because she does not believe Cochise County residents want to share a congressional district with Flagstaff.

Freeman said the adopted map proves Democrats are not truly interested in politically competitive district.

He said the rural district he proposed is very similar to the existing congressional district, one which has proven competitive. It is currently represented by Republican Paul Gosar who ousted incumbent Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick.

In fact, Freeman noted, Gosar did not even get 50 percent of the vote in a three-way race.

The map adopted, Freeman said, tilts that balance.

"A lot more Democrats have been piled in,'' he said, saying that party has a registration edge of about 10 percent.

Freeman said some Democrats have said they need that edge because party members do not turn out in the same numbers as Republicans in some areas.

"Well, another aspect of competition is rewarding success, not punishing success,'' he said.

Stertz also said he believes the district being created out of the east side of Tucson and Cochise County, much of which mirrors the district currently represented by Democrat Gabrielle Giffords, will lean Democratic even though Republicans have slightly more registered voters. He said that's because the political independents in the area tend to side with Democrats.

Freeman said the same politics were at play in creation of that crescent-shaped district, also proposed by McNulty.

"That was a prearranged district that's been sitting on a drafting table of the Democratic Party,'' he said. 

McNulty has defended the plan.

The map -- and, specifically, Mathis siding with the Democrats -- only adds fuel to contentions by Republicans that she is not really an independent.

Early in the process, Mathis voted with Democrats to choose Strategic Telemetry, a firm with deep Democratic ties, to help draw the both congressional and legislative maps. And she voted a bid by Republicans to get an attorney of their own choice while the Democrats got their first choice of a lawyer for their side.

"There was no compromise,'' Freeman said of both. "It was a result-oriented process.''

Commission attorney Mary O'Grady said she believes the map complies with the 2000-voter approved constitutional provision. It has various requirements of what the panel has to consider, ranging from technical issue like having equal population in all districts to complying with the federal Voting Rights Act that forbids states from diluting the voting strength of minorities.

That amendment also requires the commission, when possible, to create compact districts and protect communities of interest. And it says that the panel should look to making politically competitive districts when that does not impair other goals.

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