The independent commission charged with drawing up new districts for state and federal lawmakers in Arizona hasn’t produced a single map yet — but has generated plenty of controversy.
Rim Country advocates have already started campaigning against a plan that could split the county in two. Instead, they want to keep the sprawling state District 5 mostly intact but add to it the Verde Valley.
Meanwhile, the state’s population gains mean that Arizona will pick up an additional Congressional seat, which will almost certainly force significant changes in the boundaries of Congressional District One, which includes all of Rim Country in a district that stretches from Flagstaff to the Navajo Reservation and far south to Casa Grande.
Voters took the political charged task of drawing those new, post-census boundaries out of the hands of the Arizona Legislature and entrusted it to an independent commission with two Republicans, two Democrats and one Independent. The commission is supposed to design districts that are nearly equal in population, protect the voting rights of minority residents, keep “communities of interest” like cities and counties and reservations together and create as many politically competitive districts as possible.
But the commission has already been peppered with complaints. That includes a complaint that the commission was spending too much time in closed-door executive sessions, which triggered a just-launched investigation by Attorney General Tom Horne.
Moreover, some Republicans have complained that the commission selected a map-drawing consultant with too many ties to Democratic groups.
“They’re not even arguing about the maps yet,” said Stuart Robinson, the public information officer for the commission. “They’re still arguing about who got on the commission, who got hired to be the Democratic counsel and who got hired to be the Republican counsel and the choice of the mapping consultants — the inside-politics kind of stuff.”
The commission has started a series of hearings throughout the state, although none are scheduled in Gila County. The closest approach was a meeting in Pinetop on Saturday. At this point, the commission is just getting suggestions, without offering any proposals.
“There are a lot of purported maps floating around out there, but so far the commission hasn’t put a single line on a single map. They’re trying to gauge public opinion,” said Robinson.
The state redistricting commission so far is moving much more slowly than the redistricting advisory committee set up by the Gila County Board of Supervisors to suggest new boundaries for the three county supervisor districts and the five community college districts. The board of supervisors is expected to pick one of the recommended maps on about Aug. 5.
However, one Rim Country group has already put forward a plan to modify the boundaries of District 5, now represented in the state senate by Senate President Pro Tem Sylvia Allen (R-Snowflake) and in the state House by representatives Brenda Barton (R-Safford) and Chester Crandell (R-Heber).
Currently, District 5 includes the southern parts of Navajo and Apache counties, plus all of Greenlee, Graham and Gila counties. Each district in the state should end up with about 213,000 voters. Because Maricopa and Pima counties have grown much faster than the rural areas of the state in the past decade, District 5 will need to gain a total of about 21,000 residents to hit that population target.
The Navajo Nation has put forward a plan that would create a state legislative district with a large Native American population, created by uniting the Navajo, Apache and Hopi reservations in a single district. Such a plan would shift the San Carlos and White Mountain Apache reservations out of District 5. Northern Gila County would then end up pasted onto a district dominated by Prescott.
Instead, the citizens group wants to keep District 5 largely intact, with the addition of about 21,000 people who live in the Verde Valley, which is not split between two districts, said Shirley Dye, who is a member of the group.