The Star Valley Town Council on Tuesday lent qualified support to a plan to redraw county supervisor district lines proposed by the Tonto Apache Tribe.
Flustered by a lack of details and conflicting reports, the council nearly tabled the motion to get more information — until Councilor Vern Leis suggested the council support the Tonto Apache plan “conceptually.”
The Tonto Apache Tribe’s map would shift about 200 tribal members and the whole precinct that includes the tribe from District 2 represented by Michael Pastor to District 3, represented by Shirley Dawson. The Tonto plan would then even out district populations by moving Hispanic voters in Winkelman and Hayden into Pastor’s District.
The Payson Town Council has already endorsed the Tonto Apache map, largely because it would result in a north county supervisorial District 1, a south county District 2 and a District 3 that tilts north instead of south. Such a map would reflect population shifts in the past decade, but it could also shift political power to the north.
The Tonto Apache argued that their map would increase the clout of Apache voters in District 3 as well as the clout of Hispanic voters in District 2 — although both districts would still have a majority of white voters.
However, consultants hired by Gila County to evaluate the maps said the Tonto Apache plan would reduce the percentage of minority voters in District 3 from about 52 percent to about 45 percent. As a result, the Tonto Apache map might run afoul of Department of Justice guidelines. The DOJ must determine whether district maps in Arizona and a handful of other states violate the Voting Rights Act.
However, the consultants have also said that the Justice Department has never had to rule on the key issues raised by the Tonto Apache map.
The tribe argued that they should not be lumped together with Hispanics in calculating the impact of changing district lines — and said their map would increase Apache clout in one district and Hispanic clout in the neighboring district — and therefore should satisfy the requirements of the Voting Rights Act.
The discussion about the impact of the percentages of minority voters in drawing district lines punched Councilor George Binney’s anti-federal-government button.
“I know how politics works,” said Binney, “but if we’re ever going to be one nation under God, we have to stop talking about race all the time. It doesn’t matter which map we support — they’re all corrupt. It’s just one man, one vote. If you don’t like where you live, then move. It’s just gerrymandering and gerrymandering is part of the problem with this country. It’s all wrong. Just divide it by the numbers and draw a line across it and be done with it.”
However, the discussion got muddled by confusion about what a county-appointed redistricting committee did last week. The committee forwarded to the board of supervisors three maps adjusting the boundaries of the three supervisorial districts — including the map submitted by the Tonto Apache. The consultants told the committee the Justice Department might object to the Tonto Apache map because it reduced the percentage of minority voters in District 3, even though it increased the number of Apache voters.
Speaking from the audience Shirley Dye told the council that the committee had “disapproved” the Tonto Apache map on the advice of the consultant.
However, she noted that both the Tonto Apache map and another map that moved the Tonto Apache reservation into District 3 without also shifting Hispanics out of District 3 in the south “will have the same effect, which is great for all the people in the north.”
A mostly low-key argument between north and south has dominated Gila County politics for much of the last decade. Advocates for northern Gila County complain that the south controls two of the three seats and as a result the north hasn’t gotten its fair share of county spending, facilities and services.
Advocates for the south say current district lines adequately reflect the population and that county spending is concentrated in the south because many county programs serve the low income and minority residents who form such a large percentage of the population in the Globe/Miami area and on the huge San Carlos Apache Reservation.
Initially, Dye’s intervention seemed likely to prompt the council to put off making a decision, although Town Manager Tim Grier warned councilors the board of supervisors might adopt one of the maps before the council could take a position.
“We can take a position,” said Leis, “and look like we don’t know what we’re doing — which we don’t.”
Councilor Barbara Hartwell said “the one thing we don’t want to do is to be silent, because silence implies consent.”
Mayor Bill Rappaport said “my feeling is that we should approve it.”
Leis then offered the winning language that drew unanimous council support. He moved that the council support the Tonto Apache map “conceptually,” while leaving the door open to minor adjustments in the boundary to ensure Justice Department approval.