Once again, politics and legalisms seem poised to trump common sense and the public good. On any given day, that sums up developments in Washington, D.C. Sadly, today it applies to Gila County.
This week, two members of the Gila County Board of Supervisors signaled their willingness to play politics behind a smokescreen of lawyers. Specifically, the board rejected a redistricting map that would reflect population shifts in favor of a lopsided gerrymander.
But thanks to the tortured rationalizations of the county’s hired consultants, the board majority hopes to blame it all on the Voting Rights Act.
Granted, some lawmakers a decade ago did try to manipulate the redistricting process to marginalize Hispanic voters. That’s why Arizona ended up on Voting Rights Act probation. So now even Gila County has to listen to demeaning lectures by Justice Department lawyers munching on their $16 muffins.
Supposedly the Justice Department now has rigid rules to protect minority voting rights from abuse at the hands of white politicians. As a result, the Justice Department will supposedly automatically reject any change in the minority percentages in two of the three supervisorial districts.
So despite significant growth in population in one part of the county nothing changes. The rule of one-man-one-vote is ignored. One of the county’s consultants said the Voting Rights Act takes precedence over a constitutional mandate to make the population in each district the same. How does a law passed by Congress overrule what is in our Constitution? And politicians wonder why the Tea Party movement gains new members every week.
How convenient for the defenders of the status quo, which ensures two of the three supervisors will spend most of their time placating south county voters, although Rim Country now has a narrow majority of the voters and pays the bulk of the property taxes.
As a result, the county barely pays attention to things like protecting forest communities from forest fires, securing water rights for unincorporated communities and providing equal access to county services.
The board’s majority staged an empty, two-month-long charade to reach its pre-ordained conclusion, wasting the time of a dozen dedicated committee members.
The county supervisor-appointed redistricting committee, made up of volunteers from throughout the county, is frustrated with the process and the result. This group spent hours and hours in meetings, reviewing maps and listening to public comments on how the county supervisor maps should be amended.
But for what? The hired consultants overruled the committee of citizens and their map selection. Why have the citizens committee if the supervisors are just going to ignore their recommendations?
One of the committee members who spent months studying the alternative maps, said “This whole process was a waste of time.”
North county supervisor Tommie Martin said “It’s just politics.”
The board of supervisors ignored their own committee of volunteers and went with the paid consultants, who don’t live here.
So the board rejected a plan proposed by the Tonto Apache Tribe that would have protected the political clout of Apaches in one district and Hispanics in another while also reflecting the distribution of population between north and south.
That’s why both Payson and Star Valley supported the tribe’s map.
But this week the board majority protected their own seats by casting the Tonto Apache map aside. The consultants said the Justice Department would flip out because the plan would reduce the total minority percentage from 50 to 44 in one district — while increasing minority totals by a similar percentage in the neighboring district.
We don’t believe it for a minute. No one knows for sure how the DOJ would respond to a map that protects both Apache and Hispanic voting rights, while also reflecting population shifts.
We should find out — especially given this county’s worthy and honorable history of electing Hispanic supervisors even in majority white districts.
Alas, the board majority seemingly cannot resist playing politics if the lawyers give them cover. The fix is in, just as we feared.