An independent redistricting commission established by voters has released a draft of new congressional districts that would split Gila County in half.
The eight proposed district lines have also provoked a full-throated attack on the commission by top Republican officials statewide.
The voters overhauled the redistricting process by creating a commission, whose members include three Republicans, three Democrats and one Independent. The key criteria the commission said it followed in drawing the district boundaries included protecting minority voting rights and creating as many competitive districts as possible.
The proposed district lines would create four districts in which Republicans would have a big advantage, two districts that would favor Democrats and three districts with nearly equal percentages of Republicans and Democrats.
The commission has promised to release proposed new lines for state legislative districts today.
The proposed congressional maps would split northern and southern Gila County between two districts.
The Fort Apache and San Carlos Apache reservations together with the heavily Hispanic areas around Globe would end up in District 1, which would also include the Havasupi, Hopi and Navajo Reservations. It would run from the Grand Canyon over to the New Mexico border and then all the way down to the border of Mexico.
Northern Gila County, where Republicans dominate, would end up in District 4 that skirts Maricopa County and runs through Prescott before reaching the Colorado River. It would encompass most of the western quarter of the state, running along the Colorado River from Yuma to Utah.
District 4, containing northern Gila County, would have 42 percent Republicans, 23 percent Democrats and 35 percent Independents. Based on past voting patterns, Republicans would normally expect to get about two-thirds of the vote, making it a safe Republican seat.
District 1, containing southern Gila County, would have 30 percent Republicans, 40 percent Democrats and 30 percent Independents. However, past voting patterns make it one of the toss-up districts.
Much of the controversy comes from the commission’s decision to split cities and counties between different districts in order to create as many competitive districts as possible.
The Justice Department will review any legislative maps produced by Arizona based on allegations that the redistricting process in the past has violated the voting rights of minority voters. Past court cases have ruled illegal district boundary lines that split up minority voters among several different adjacent counties, on the logic that such divisions limit the clout of minority voters in a single district.
Based on the commission’s analysis of past voting patterns, the proposed maps would give Republicans the majority in districts 4, 5, 6 and 8 — most of them located almost entirely in Maricopa County. Democrats would have an advantage in districts 3 and 7. Districts 1, 2 and 9 would remain virtual toss-ups.
However, Republicans, said the congressional district lines showed a clear bias in favor of Democrats.
Gov. Jan Brewer issued a statement saying “the proposal is simply gerrymandering at its worst. This unaccountable, unelected commission has misused its authority to draw a congressional map that is every Democrat’s dream. In doing so, they’ve violated their bedrock legal requirements to maintain districts that protect communities of interest and are geographically compact.”
Republican First District Congressman Paul Gosar, who represents all of Rim Country and whose district would undergo major changes, also criticized the independent commission’s process.
“I serve my constituents daily with several key principles in mind. They include honesty, integrity and accountability. Today I applaud Gov. Brewer’s efforts to demand these same principles to be used to make sure that all residents of Arizona are fairly represented and maintain the community of interest as required by the Arizona Constitution. All of those factors apply to the Independent Redistricting Commission and should in every step of the process.”
State Senate President Russell Pearce said “the commission has already failed in three key missions. It is anything but independent. It is producing dangerously partisan maps that blatantly disenfranchise Republicans and weave through the state, searching for any Democrat advantage. It is incompetent, running weeks behind schedule and working with a mapping firm that has faulty data and more questions than answers. And it is secretive, facing an attorney general investigation over open meeting law violations and limiting public comment.”
Republican Attorney General Tom Horne has already filed suit against the commission based on the process by which the district picked its consultants and that it violated open meeting and public record laws. The commission has refused to release documents to the state’s attorney general.