The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission last week adopted final state and congressional maps that favor Republicans – and restore Show Low and Pinetop to a safe Republican district that includes Rim Country.

Democrats have already threatened to sue to overturn the maps.

Congressman Tom O’Halleran promptly announced his intention to run in the new Congressional District 2, which includes Gila, Navajo and Apache counties. The incumbent Democrat will face an uphill battle in a new district with a 7% Republican advantage.

The Arizona Democratic Party blasted the commission for the last-minute changes that increased the Republican advantage.

“As the Arizona GOP has become a proving ground for far-right extremist politicians,” said the statement, “Independent Redistricting Commission Chair Erika Neuberg has delivered them the gift of the most imbalanced, gerrymandered congressional map that Arizona has seen in a generation.”

The commission voted unanimously to adopt a Congressional map that will likely hand Republicans two more seats in next year’s election – boosting Republican chances of regaining control of the narrowly divided U.S. House of Representatives. Currently, Democrats hold five of the state’s nine congressional seats. The new map would give Republicans an advantage in five or six of the nine seats.

The final map puts all of Rim Country and the White Mountains in Congressional District 2, which has a 7% Republican advantage, based on vote patterns in the last nine elections. The map encompasses most of Northern Arizona, including most of the reservation communities.

The map includes the homes of both Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Prescott) and O’Halleran (D-Oak Creek). This could set up a high-stakes contest.

The commission split on the state legislative maps, which give Republicans a good chance of building on their narrow margin in the state House and Senate.

The two Democrats on the five-member panel voted in opposition to the state maps, but the commission chairwoman – an Independent – joined with the two Republicans to adopt the map.

The state legislative map included 13 safe Republican seats and 12 safe Democratic seats. That left five highly competitive seats. However, four of those five seats “lean” Republican. Democrats would have to win at least four of the competitive seats to gain control of the legislature. Currently, Republicans have a 16-14 advantage in the state Senate and a 31-29 advantage in the House.

The final state legislative District 7 map includes a portion of Flagstaff, all of Rim Country, Show Low and Pinetop. Republicans will have a 21% advantage. That means the election will almost always be decided in the primary.

The district includes the home of state House Rep. Brenda Barton (R-Payson). It’s unclear whether Sen. Wendy Rogers’ claimed home address in Flagstaff falls within the new district lines. District 7 also includes the home address of Rep. Walt Blackman (R-Snowflake), but he is currently running for the Republican nomination to challenge O’Halleran. He might drop that challenge if Congressman Gosar opts to run in the district, since Blackman and Gosar both represent the stridently pro-Trump element of the party.

“Despite having changed her registration from Republican to Independent in 2016, it is now all too clear that Chair Neuberg is a partisan in sheep’s clothing. After two decades of the IRC successfully fulfilling its mission to take the power to draw districts away from politicians, Chair Neuberg has abandoned her role as nonpartisan arbiter and negated the voting strength of Independents and Democrats throughout the state. She has been an active participant in the Republican Commissioners’ efforts to achieve a warped congressional map so gerrymandered, it might as well have been drawn by a Republican legislature.

“If this congressional map, or a map resembling it, is passed, the legacy of Chair Neuberg and the 2021 IRC will be one of rank partisanship that enabled the rising extremism in the Arizona Republican Party, prioritizing it above the needs of Arizonans,” said the Democrats in a release.

The Latino Coalition for Fair Redistricting also blasted the maps, saying the commission ignored multiple attempts by the coalition to suggest districts in which Hispanics have a chance of winning.

The maps will now go out to the counties for technical adjustments and approval, before going to the Secretary of State’s Office for approval. The maps will be used for the 2022 election cycle.

Previously, Arizona’s redistricting maps needed prior approval by the U.S. Justice Department, due to a history of gerrymandering that diluted minority voter rights – mostly Hispanics. A U.S. Supreme Court decision overturned the need for prior review.

However, groups can still sue to overturn the maps – especially based on claims the maps infringe on the Voting Rights Act by diluting minority voting rights. The voting rights act was passed to end decades of abuses in which mostly southern states disenfranchised blacks.

The Supreme Court decision that eliminated prior review also narrowed the grounds on which maps can be challenged. The law still protects minority voting rights, but not whether the maps give a partisan advantage to one party or another.

The shift of seats due to the census as well as seats gained through gerrymandering could easily determine control of the House in 2022, say political experts – including the two seats Republicans will likely gain from the final Arizona congressional maps.

Currently, Democrats hold a 225-215 lead in the House.

Contact the writer at paleshire@payson.com

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