State Sen. Sylvia Allen, who represents all of Rim Country, last week called upon the Payson Tea Party to help prevent the Independent Redistricting Committee from “turning us into a Blue State.”
Senate President Pro Tem Allen (R-Snowflake) decried the work of the commission, saying “this is the tool that the progressives who don’t like our country are using to change our country. Gila County needs to intervene to file a brief to block these maps so it’s not just the Republican Party. They’ve redesigned our state arrogantly. It doesn’t make sense unless you’re out to isolate the voters so that their vote doesn’t matter. We have to fight to keep from letting our state go down the drain.”
Voters established the independent commission in 2001 to draw new legislative district lines after the 2010 Census.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer supported by the Legislature responded to the commission’s preliminary maps by voting to remove the chairman, the lone independent on the board. An Arizona Supreme Court Justice overturned that action and reinstated the chairman. Several lawmakers have vowed to file a lawsuit to prevent those maps from taking effect.
The commission composed of two Republicans, two Democrats and an Independent has proposed a tentative map that would increase the number of competitive seats with roughly equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans and put its primary emphasis on protected minority voting rights as required by federal law. However, the commission’s preliminary maps split up many cities and counties and made drastic changes in current districts.
The preliminary maps released by the commission would split Gila County into two different congressional districts and three different state legislative districts.
The resulting maps focused on keeping together minority communities, like Indian reservations and Hispanic voters in Pima and Maricopa counties.
That fragmented Gila County, usually in order to combine the heavily Democratic San Carlos and White Mountain Apache Reservations with other reservations to the north, like the Navajo Reservation. The attempt to combine Indian reservations in different counties took precedence over keeping counties in the same district.
Under the proposed maps, northern Gila County would end up in a state legislative district that would include conservative Prescott and the Verde Valley, but not the more Democratic portions of southern Gila County and the San Carlos Apache Reservation.
Currently, the whole county sits in Sen. Allen’s District 5, which includes 16 small cities and five sprawling rural counties. Many of those counties and cities, including both Payson and Star Valley, adopted resolutions supporting an alternative map that would have kept Payson in a mountainous, rural district augmented by the addition of the Verde Valley.
Payson is one of the largest towns in the current district, but few Rim Country residents have ever held the seat, which is dominated by towns farther east.
When it comes to the congressional district, northern Gila County would end up in a strangely shaped district dominated by much larger cities along the Colorado River. Currently, Payson sits in Congressional District One, which is dominated by Flagstaff but that stretches from the Navajo Reservation to Casa Grande and from the New Mexico border to Payson.
Sen. Allen said the governor should have continued to fight to replace the chairman of the commission, despite the judge’s ruling.
The judge ruled that the governor and the Legislature had offered no evidence of “gross misconduct,” which the voter initiative specified as a reason to remove a member of the commission.
Republican critics had argued that the commission conducted too much of its business behind closed doors and showed bias by picking a mapping firm that had previously worked for some Democratic candidates.
Courts have subsequently ruled that the commission has to meet constitutional requirements that its decisions be “transparent” but that it is not subject to the state’s open meeting laws.
“That judge had no business getting involved,” said Allen. “We should have stood up to that judge, but we didn’t. We could not get the governor to act on that.”
Sen. Allen said the task of drawing the district lines should be returned to the lawmakers. “We’ve been taught to hate the Legislature — but that’s like hating yourself, because the Legislature represents the people.”
She said the proposed new district would leave just five of the 16 cities she represents in her district.
“We’re going to put this back on the ballot and just throw everything out. All we have left now is a lawsuit and we need the city of Payson and Gila County to be interveners. The county needs to intervene and file a brief, so it’s not just the Republican Party. So I’m hoping we’ll have all those cities and counties involved.”
She said the struggle transcends party.
“There are divisions in every party. We’re breaking off into whether we want to be Americans anymore or change it and redefine it like (President) Obama has done in the last three years. Are we going to be sovereign or subjects?”