The Payson Town Council voted to strongly support a state legislative redistricting plan that would add Camp Verde to District 5, which currently includes all of Gila County.
The council voted unanimously to support a plan proposed by a local group, developed to counter other proposals that could chop up Gila County and put portions of the county in as many as four legislative districts.
“Some of the other maps would totally cannibalize Legislative District 5,” said Shirley Dye, a member of the town’s Traffic Advisory Committee and a leading local organizer for the Tea Party. “Those maps would totally mess up District 5.”
Don Ascoli, a member of the Gila County planning commission and leading Republican Party official in the county, said the District 5 map pushed by the citizens group called Friends of District 5 would have just enough people and would make sense.
“We are people of the land and the forest,” and so is Camp Verde, said Ascoli. “I urge you to adopt a resolution expressing your opinion on an important issue.”
Ascoli said the proposed district would have 37 percent Democrats, 37 percent Republicans and 26 percent Independents.
Representatives now include Senate President Pro Tem Sylvia Allen (R-Snowflake) and House Representatives Chester Crandell (R-Heber) and Barbara Barton (R-Safford). The vast district includes all of Graham, Greeley and Gila Counties, plus a portion of Navajo and Apache Counties. That territory includes the Tonto, White Mountain and San Carlos Apache reservations.
Voters created an independent redistricting commission with an independent board that includes Democrats, Republicans and Independents. The system was supposed to limit the party-based gerrymandering that ensures most state legislative races in the state are decided in the primaries. Critics say a party-run redistricting system empowers people who can appeal to their party base in the primary and so works against moderates in both parties.
Ascoli and Dye are Republican Party activists, but insisted the proposed redistricting plan will produce a compact, competitive district that makes sense. District 5 has to pick up about 20,000 voters to make up for population shifts since the last census. The plan presented by Dye and Ascoli would simply add Camp Verde, a small, rural town with a Western history in a county heavily dependent on tourism that in many ways resembles Payson.
The proposal would result in few changes in the boundaries of District 5. That stands in stark contrast to some of the other plans floating around, including a plan favored by the Navajo Nation to create a district dominated by Native Americans by picking up the large Apache Reservations in District 5 to the district that includes the 200,000-member Navajo Reservation.
The plan presented by Dye and Ascoli drew praise from both Republicans and Democrats on the Payson council.
“I’d like to express public appreciation for your work on this,” said Councilor Ed Blair, a Democrat. “It seems this is extremely helpful and wise.”
Payson Mayor Kenny Evans, a Republican, said local officials in District 5 are lining up behind the plan developed by the Friends of District 5. Dye noted that the independent redistricting committee plans to release proposed maps on about Aug. 15. That release will spur another month of hearings before the committee prepares final maps.
The maps adopted will have to win the approval of the Department of Justice in October. The independent redistricting committee has moved slowly, bogged down by disputes about whether the mapping and legal consultants hired by the committee are biased toward one political party or the other. The state’s Republican attorney general is investigating complaints, even though the committee hasn’t yet released a single proposed map.
The committee will also have to come up with new maps for the state’s congressional districts, including major boundary shifts to accommodate the additional congressional seat the state gained as a result of population growth since 2000.