Pima GOP official submitted legislative map favored by southern Arizona business group

By: - October 27, 2021 4:05 pm
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A set of proposed legislative districts that was attributed to a Tucson business group was actually submitted to the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission by the No. 3 official in the Pima County Republican Party. 

The proposed map, titled SaguaroMaps002 in the AIRC’s mapping submission system, was submitted to the commission by Anna Clark, who is the 2nd vice chair of the Pima County Republican Party, as well as third vice chair of the GOP in legislative District 11, which includes communities north of Tucson. The submission was made under a user name identical to Clark’s Twitter handle and an email address she uses.

Clark submitted the map to AIRC’s online mapping hub on Oct. 20, and Ted Maxwell, the president and CEO of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, brought it to the attention of Republican redistricting Commissioner David Mehl and the AIRC’s independent Chairwoman Erika Neuberg in an email several hours later. 

Near the end of the commission’s Oct. 20 meeting, Mehl informed his colleagues he’d received an email from the head of SALC, a group of Tucson area business leaders, regarding a map the group had submitted. He described it as a creative alternative to some of the other maps the commission had considered, and said parts of the proposal were appealing to him. Notably, the map achieves his goal of keeping Marana and Oro Valley in the same district, which has driven many of his actions over the past couple weeks as the AIRC has worked on the maps. 

Mehl, a Tucson developer, is a founding member of SALC. 

The following day, the commission voted unanimously to adopt a new legislative map that incorporated the seven southern Arizona.

SALC insists it doesn’t know who created the map

Though the seven districts that Maxwell favored have widely been attributed to SALC, he said he and the organization had no role in crafting or submitting them. Maxwell’s email to Mehl and Neuberg said the map — one of more than 100 citizen proposals that had been submitted to the AIRC at the time — addressed one of his main priorities, which is that at least one Republican district and one Democratic district be wholly or mostly contained within Pima County. That would ensure that no matter which party controls the legislature, Pima County would have local lawmakers who would represent its interests.

Maxwell made similar comments over the summer during the AIRC’s statewide listening tour, which was its first opportunity to get in-person public input on how the new districts should look.

Currently, all legislative districts that include portions of the city of Tucson favor Democrats, though several have previously elected Republicans to the legislature. The only current Republican district that includes any part of Pima County is District 11, which stretches from Oro Valley and the area northwest of Tucson up through Pinal County. 

Of the seven districts in the map that Maxwell supported, three would favor Republicans and four would favor Democrats.

Maxwell told the Arizona Mirror that SALC wants legislators from both parties representing Pima County so that there are local representatives the group can turn to if it needs someone to sponsor legislation important to the county. In 2019, SALC asked Republican Rep. T.J. Shope, who is from Pinal County, to sponsor a bill pertaining to Pima County’s Regional Transportation Authority. 

Maxwell insisted he did not know who submitted the proposed map that he endorsed only hours after it was created and said he doesn’t believe he’s ever met Clark.

“It was not our map. But that doesn’t mean we don’t support it,” he said. “This is more in line with what we’re hoping to achieve.”

Shelley Kais, the Pima County GOP’s chairwoman, said Clark submitted the map on her own and not on behalf of the county’s Republican Party. Clark did not return messages from the Mirror.

The map’s origin doesn’t concern commissioners

Mehl said he knew that Maxwell didn’t submit the map, but that he was unaware of who did and he’s not concerned about its provenance with a GOP official. He also said he doesn’t know Clark. 

Mehl told the Mirror that he’s looked at many of the maps submitted by citizens, as the commissioners are supposed to be doing, and that many are very pro-Democrat or pro-Republican. But Mehl said he was attracted to the map that Maxwell cited in his email because it was a good map.

“I think that map really reflects what I heard from the public,” he said.

Mehl also questioned why the map would be viewed as partisan, considering it reverses the current trend of all districts in Tucson favoring Democrats.

“The funny thing is, suddenly this is a partisan map when there’s a chance that a Republican can win one out of the four urban districts in Tucson, instead of Democrats winning all four,” Mehl said. 

Neuberg was also unconcerned about the map’s origin, and that she initially believed it came from SALC. She said she assumes that the Democratic and Republican commissioners are all looking at proposed maps that are more aligned with their parties’ interests. 

“I presume both sides are learning from their respective parties and integrating parts of maps they get from their respective parties. And if they bring it to the table and it gets a majority vote from the commissioners, then great idea and we’ll go with it from here,” she said.

Democratic Commissioner Shereen Lerner initially voted for a map that included the seven southern Arizona districts that SALC supported, but said she viewed it as a starting point and that she wanted to see changes. Later in the day, when a majority of the commission seemed inclined to approve the districts without changes, she raised concerns about the way some of the districts had been drawn. 

Lerner has since proposed a number of revisions to the map, and the commission expects to vote on final draft maps for Arizona’s congressional and legislative districts on Thursday. That will trigger a 30-day public review period. After the AIRC receives public input on the maps, it will make additional changes before approving the final versions of the districts Arizona will use for the next decade.

After learning that the districts were submitted to the AIRC by a Republican official, Lerner said her perception of the map didn’t change. Lerner still has issues with the map, but those are unrelated to who drew it. 

“My concern was meeting the constitutional requirements that we have, and I didn’t feel that that map did, because it was taking disparate communities and putting them together. So, this just clarifies a little bit more about why that was done, perhaps,” she said. “Those concerns still exist.”

SALC ruffles feathers by jumping ‘to the front of the line’

SALC’s role in persuading the AIRC to consider the seven legislative districts hasn’t sat well with many observers. Some question why the commission was so quick to adopt that proposal at SALC’s insistence, noting that Mehl is a member of the organization, while the AIRC rejected proposals from the Navajo Nation and Arizona Latino Coalition for Fair Redistricting.

Deborah Howard of AZ Indivisible, a progressive organization that has been closely following the redistricting process, said SALC has every right to participate in the redistricting process. But, she said, “I do not believe they have the right to have their map moved to the front of the line.”

Mehl said that’s not the case. The commission did consider the Latino Coalition and Navajo Nation proposals — and in the case of the coalition, it included some of the recommendations the group’s submission contained, though not all. 

The coalition wanted to expand the number of predominantly Hispanic legislative districts from seven to eight, an idea that the majority of the commissioners opposed. The AIRC rejected the Navajo Nation’s proposed district because it contradicted some of its priorities for northern Arizona. 

Mehl said he’s not concerned that the origins of the southern Arizona legislative districts will create a perception problem for the commission.

“I don’t think so. All the maps are by people who care, and all the people that care are interested in politics,” said Mehl, who added that half of the maps submitted to the AIRC were probably from partisans on the right or left. 

SALC is very active in legislative issues, but the organization itself rarely spends money to elect legislators. Over the past decade, the contributions it’s given at the state level have been $1,500 to a PAC run by the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association in 2015 and $2,500 to a Tucson firefighters’ union PAC the following year.

Though it’s composed of CEOs and business leaders and promotes legislation and policies it views as pro-business — traditionally political hallmarks of the GOP — it would be a mistake to view it as a partisan organization that strictly favors Republicans, said Steve Farley, a former Democratic lawmaker from Tucson.

Farley described SALC as a more centrist group that supports issues favored by both parties. It’s members probably contribute more to Republicans than Democrats, Farley said, but 

SALC has backed tax hikes in the past for things like transportation infrastructure, and advocates for increased funding to K-12 education and the University of Arizona. 

“Anything that makes a stable business climate is what they want,” Farley said. “Janet Napolitano is much more of their ideal governor. They like Ducey because of his business background.”

Spoiler: Mapping is a political act

Attempts by partisan individuals or organizations to influence the AIRC is nothing new. 

D.J. Quinlan, then the elections director for the Arizona Democratic Party, had numerous phone conversations and in-person meetings with Democratic members of the 2011 commission. A reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times saw Quinlan and a Democratic commissioner viewing a map of a proposed congressional district on his laptop during a break in a commission meeting. A Republican lawsuit also alleged that a former Democratic legislator submitted several proposed districts to the last commission that Quinlan helped him draw.

Quinlan, who no longer works for the party, said he played no role in actually crafting the districts that the AIRC approved a decade ago, despite Republican accusations to the contrary. But he acknowledged providing technical assistance to the two Democratic commissioners and helping them understand the ripple effects that proposed changes would have on the maps.

This year, the Latino Coalition has been active at the commission, as its predecessor organizations have been in previous decades. Quinlan, who is currently working with the group, said the coalition is not a Democratic organization and that its goal is to ensure that the districts comply with the Voting Rights Act.

However, the coalition is led by Democratic elected officials. Quinlan acknowledged that Latinos tend to vote for Democrats, and that the group’s membership is overwhelmingly Democratic.

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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.”