Redistricting has shifted northern Gila County into what’s shaping up to become one of the most hotly contested state senate races in the state.
The race in the redrawn legislative District 6 will likely pit Republican Senate President Pro Tem Sylia Allen against incumbent House Democrat Tom Chabin.
The lines drawn by the Independent Redistricting Commission split Gila County in two and added the north half of the county to a district dominated by Flagstaff, Chabin’s hometown.
The new district lines must pass review by the U.S. Justice Department and perhaps survive a contemplated legal challenge by the Legislature. However, candidates are facing May deadlines to make a decision on whether to run in the August primary.
District 6 ranks as one of the most competitive districts in the state, although it leans Republican in voter registration.
The new district includes Young, Payson, Star Valley and Pine. To the east of Rim Country it includes Snowflake, Heber and Holbrook — but not Show Low. To the north of Payson, the new boundaries take in Camp Verde, Cottonwood, Sedona, Flagstaff, Williams and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Hispanics account for 15 percent of the population and Native Americans for about 6 percent. Based on past voting patterns, Republican candidates should have a roughly 10 percent edge. The registration breaks down to about 38 percent Republican, 29 percent Democratic and 33 percent Independent.
More than half of the voters live in Coconino County, which is dominated by Flagstaff with its population of 65,000. Gila County accounts for about 18 percent of the district’s population, dominated by Payson, with a population of 16,000.
Sen. Allen, a former real estate agent who represented Gila County in the old district, has declared her bid for re-election. She gained considerable support in Rim Country during her term for her support for Gila Community College’s efforts to gain fair treatment and a path to independence, which endured last-minute setbacks in gaining equal funding. She also pushed through a bill that would have allowed ASU to join with Payson in forming a separate legal entity to build a university here, but a surprise veto by Gov. Jan Brewer crushed that effort and set back the effort to build a campus here by a year or more.
Allen, a fifth-generation Arizona native with five children and 18 grandchildren, has focused much of her attention on security on the border with Mexico and on fighting for more state control over management of federal lands, especially fire-prone tangles of the national forests.
Put in charge of a new legislative committee on Border Security, Federalism and States’ Rights Sovereignty, Allen has presided over committee hearings on her bill to spend an estimated $2 million to create an armed, 300-member state militia to augment efforts of the 3,000 federal border patrol agents to prevent drug smuggling and illegal immigration on the Arizona-Mexico border.
Chabin advocates much different priorities, including balancing and rationalizing the state tax code, lowering university tuition, bolstering state support for K-12 schools and providing access to health care.
He works as a consultant in funding affordable housing projects and has previously served two terms on the Coconino County Board of Supervisors as well as stints on the Coconino County Planning Commission and on the Tuba City School Board. Widowed with one teenage son, the Kansas native has lived in the district for 35 years. His wife taught on reservation schools for 20 years and the couple also served as licensed foster parents.
Appointed to the House Seat vacated when Ann Kirkpatrick resigned to run for Congress in 2007, Chabin has spent the past five years in the often-ignored Democratic minority in the House. However, he noted that in the last session in managed to slip through a bill that would allow testing of a non-surgical means of sterilizing dogs and cats, for which the Humane Society honored him as the legislator of the year. He also won approval of a bill that would streamline the process of freeing for adoption children removed from their homes as a result of abuse or neglect.
Chabin said he strongly supports helping Gila Community College’s effort to gain its independence and equal funding — as well as the plan to build a university campus in Payson.
“Having lived in Flagstaff, I know how much a university brings to a community. It’s a wonderful thing to achieve.”