12/22/2011 9:03:00 AM Redistricting Commission adopts congressional maps amid controversy
Not everyone happy with state's new Legislative map
BY HOWARD FISCHER
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- The political lines that will govern legislative elections for the coming decade will make some people happy but more than a few thinking they got the shaft.
In fact, that's precisely the term state Rep. Olivia Cajero Bedford, D-Tucson, used to describe what happened to some of her constituents who now find themselves in a district likely to be dominated by Pinal County Republicans.
Cajero Bedford is not the only one upset with the final legislative lines adopted late Tuesday by the Independent Redistricting Commission.
Paradise Valley Mayor Scott LeMarr complained because the map separates his incorporated town from the nearby Biltmore and Arcadia areas of Phoenix.
He said more than just geography is involved, saying that his town has an agreement to share the cost of fire services with that area of Phoenix, with Phoenix firefighters actually staffing town fire equipment. And half of town residents get city of Phoenix water.
And officials from Litchfield Park on the western edge of the Phoenix area are less than pleased that their residents are in the same district as -- and possibly will be outvoted by -- people living in Yuma.
But all of them appear to have been victims of the legal requirement for the commission to protect minority voting strength.
That's part of what happened to the district where Cajero Bedford now lives.
Commission members were attempting to create a "majority minority' district out of large portions of Pinal and Gila counties. That meant drawing the lines in a way to include as many Hispanics as possible and exclude as many who are not.
By extension, that meant putting Democrats into that minority district and shifting Republican areas into the adjacent one.
But the law also requires that all districts be close to equal in population. So that required finding areas to add to that non-minority district.
And that, in turn, pulled the line not only into northern Pima County, including Oro Valley and Marana, but all the way around the west side of the Tucson Mountains, down all the way to Gates Pass Road -- and three blocks beyond where Cajero Bedford lives.
In testimony before the commission, she pointed out that the lines were drawn to keep some communities of common interest together at the expense of those in her area who are now being politically separated from Tucson.
"The feeling of the residents of the Tucson Mountains is that Oro Valley and Saddlebrook are getting their way,' she said. "And so the people on the west side, the Tucson Mountains, are getting the shaft.'
But the five-term state legislator said she won't be among them, stuck in a district heavily dominated by Republicans.
"I'm going to move,' she told Capitol Media Services on Wednesday, saying she already has a house in what's left of her old southwest Tucson district.
While Cajero Bedford has decided what the new lines mean to her, it remains to be seen how they will affect not only other incumbents but also the political makeup of the Legislature.
Last year was a low point for Democrats, with Republicans taking 21 of 30 Senate seats and 40 of 60 House seats.
On paper, the new maps would seem to ensure that the GOP will maintain its hold on both chambers.
Using one political yardstick, there are 16 safe Republican districts and up to 11 where a Democratic candidate would have an edge. That leaves just three districts where the voting patterns and party registration figures are close enough that it could go either way.
But a different measurement based on weighting various prior elections all the way back to 2004 finds seven districts which might be considered competitive.
The vote by the redistricting commission on both the legislative and congressional maps is not necessarily the last word. Now the U.S. Department of Justice gets to review both plans to ensure compliance with that provision of the Voting Rights Act that nothing in the plan dilutes minority voting strength.
That determination is not as simple as it sounds.
The commission has created districts where minorities make up a majority of the population. But the Department of Justice may be interested in some other figures.
One is the number of voting-age Hispanics in the district, given the relatively higher percentage of children among Hispanics compared with some other groups.
But there also is the fact that the Census Bureau, whose population figures form the basis for the division, counts people whether they are in this country legally or not. So the commission has also tried to figure out how many Hispanics who are of voting age are citizens.
Those changes can make a difference.
In the new version of the district on Tucson's southwest side, for example, Hispanics make up 57.7 percent of the population. But by the time citizenship and voting age are factored in, their share drops to 44.4 percent.
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.