Redistricting panel mulls a step back in drawing new legislative maps

By: - October 20, 2021 7:42 am
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As it pushes toward a possible vote on final draft maps as early as Thursday, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission made clear that it has a lot of work left to do on its proposed legislative districts, especially in Maricopa County. And it may be taking a step back in the process.

On Tuesday morning, the commissioners voted unanimously to approve a new version of their legislative map that incorporated several changes they discussed Monday. The map took one they approved the prior day and made changes to keep the Kyrene School District whole in one district, put Marana and Oro Valley together in another district and, most significantly, plug in eight heavily Hispanic districts proposed by the Arizona Latino Coalition for Fair Redistricting.

However, after a lengthy discussion about potential changes the commissioners wanted to see, primarily in the eastern and northern Phoenix metro area, Republican Commissioner David Mehl suggested they take a different approach. 

While acknowledging that the commission will have problems no matter what map it uses as a starting point, Mehl asked the commission’s mapping consultants to draw a new proposal that considered the Latino Coalition’s proposed legislative districts, but without trying to add an eighth Hispanic district. Arizona’s current legislative map has seven heavily Latino districts.

Mehl, a Tucson Republican, also wanted to take the northernmost Pima County district and add more of southern Pinal County to it.

“We’re not yet going back. I’m not asking for us to go back yet. I’m thinking that once we see this revision, I may then ask for us to go back. But at this point, I am not,” Mehl said. 

Independent Chairwoman Erika Neuberg told the Arizona Mirror after the meeting that the map that the AIRC was working with for most of Tuesday, dubbed version 4.1 by the consultants, didn’t incorporate enough of the changes that the commissioners wanted. Furthermore, it effectively adopted the Latino Coalition’s proposals wholesale and wrapped the commission’s ideas around that, rather than the other way around, she said.

“This is taking into consideration the Latino maps, as well as the direction of the commissioners, so it’s a little bit more of a hybrid,” Neuberg said. 

Neuberg said it’s also premature to lock in the Latino districts that the AIRC is drawing to comply with the Voting Rights Act because it hasn’t yet received the analysis it needs of racially polarized voting. The commission’s consultants will provide that analysis Wednesday morning. 

The AIRC set an Oct. 27 deadline to approve its draft maps, and hopes to approve final maps by Dec. 22. Mehl expressed optimism that the commission could approve the maps on Thursday, describing the odds as 50-50. Neuberg was also hopeful the commission would hit that milestone this week, though she said she didn’t want to rush things.

Once the draft maps are approved, the Arizona Constitution requires the commission to put them forward for a 30-day public comment period. AIRC staff laid out a tentative schedule for that statewide tour that would begin Oct. 28, which was contingent on the AIRC approving draft maps this week. Mehl said even if that happens, he would prefer the later starting date of Nov. 3.

Nonetheless, Neuberg didn’t view the possibility that the AIRC would revert to an old legislative map as much of a delay.

“If you’re moving forward and you don’t like where it’s going, you step back. But yet there’s all that extra feedback that we gave them. So, even if you do step back, there’s so much knowledge and consensus that’s already been achieved that the mapping team, I think, is a step ahead,” she told the Mirror

The commissioners spent much of Tuesday proposing changes to the legislative map, primarily in Maricopa County, and Neuberg said she expects the mapping consultants to incorporate a number of those proposals into the revised map that Mehl wants to see.

There were some areas of agreement across party lines on where certain boundaries should lie. Democratic Commissioner Shereen Lerner and Republican Doug York agreed, for example, that Wickenburg should be moved into a Yavapai County-centric district to the north, and that Black Canyon City should move out of that district and be joined with neighboring areas like Anthem and New River. 

In other areas, the commissioners didn’t see eye to eye. York expressed concern that Tempe is split between three legislative districts. However, Lerner, a Tempe resident, said it made sense to join the area around Arizona State University with south Scottsdale, the central portion of the city with west Mesa, and the southern part with Chandler and Ahwatukee. 

York preferred to put the university area with its large student population with the part of town that’s in a district with west Mesa. And he proposed moving the Scottsdale-based district north to take in Fountain Hills. 

Elsewhere in the Valley, York wanted to avoid splitting cities that are divided between districts. He lobbied to keep Paradise Valley contained within one district. And in the West Valley, he urged the commission not to split up fast-growing Buckeye. 

Neuberg expressed concerns with the West Valley part of the map, as well. Incorporating the Latino Coalition districts led the mapping team to redraw that area to include a district that runs from northern Yuma to western Maricopa County near Buckeye, similar to the pre-existing District 13. She said the two areas have very different concerns.

“It’s doable, but it’s different interests,” she said.

One issue the commission must confront when making changes is the “ripples” that they’ll have elsewhere on the map, even on opposite ends of the state. Mapping consultant Doug Johnon at one point said a proposed change to legislative boundaries in the East Valley would ultimately require the mapping team to separate the Verde Valley from Prescott, an issue that divided many residents in the area.

Neuberg said that issue shouldn’t dictate the commission’s decision-making in the Phoenix metro area.

“I don’t think Verde Valley should control Maricopa County. Struggling to map for the whole rest of Maricopa County based on that area just doesn’t make sense. Especially when there’s not even a unified vision from the people who live there about where their natural community is,” she said. 

The AIRC is further along with its congressional map, which has only nine districts instead of the 30 on the legislative map.

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Jeremy Duda previously served as the Mirror's associate Editor. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”