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Latino legislative districts begin to take shape as redistricting commissioners strike compromise

By: - October 19, 2021 8:45 am
Arizona redistricting flag

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Members of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission will consider incorporating a proposal from a Latino political group that would create eight predominantly Hispanic districts into its legislative map. 

The Arizona Latino Coalition for Fair Redistricting submitted its proposed map to the commission before its meeting on Tuesday. 

Republican Commissioner David Mehl said he wants the AIRC to at least match the 2011 commission in drawing eight majority-minority districts to comply with the Voting Rights Act. The most recent draft map has eight districts where white people make up less than 50% of the voting age population, though one is marginal and could go over 50% based on small changes.

Mehl said the AIRC may be able to create another majority-minority district in the Tucson area, as well.

The Arizona Latino Coalition for Fair Redistricting’s map would give the state eight heavily Latino legislative districts, with a predominantly tribal ninth Voting Rights Act district in northern Arizona that takes in the Navajo Nation and numerous other tribes. 

However, only two of the eight districts proposed by the coalition are more than half Latino, mapping consultant Doug Johnson told the commission. The other six would still give Latino voters the opportunity to elect candidates of their preference, he said. 

“It’s more about, do they perform and are they effective than hitting that magic number?” Johnson said. “They all perform and hit our benchmarks.”

Even if the AIRC uses the coalition’s districts, there may be some changes. For example, Republican Commissioner Doug York said he disliked the shape of one proposed district, which runs from southern Tucson down to Nogales, then hugs the U.S.-Mexico border as it runs east to the New Mexico state line, with the eastern and western parts of the district connected by a thin strip just a few miles wide. 

Before the commissioners could consider the coalition’s proposal, it had to choose a new legislative map to use as a starting point, a debate which, like an earlier debate over a rural, northern congressional district, fell along partisan lines. 

Mehl favored a plan that put the Verde Valley in the same district as the remainder of Yavapai County, and kept the tribal-centric District 6 from encroaching into Pinal County, while keeping most of Flagstaff in the district. Conversely, Democratic Commissioner Shereen Lerner preferred the consultants’ other proposal, which took part of Flagstaff out of District 6, added communities in eastern Pinal County into the district, and split Verde Valley from the rest of Yavapai to put it into neighboring District 7.

“No matter which one we start from, there’s going to be a lot of adjustments coming,” Mehl said as they debated the plans.

Independent Chairwoman Erika Neuberg reminded her colleagues that the map is more of a starting point and doesn’t have to be perfect. She urged the rest of the commission to find a compromise rather than force her to the tiebreaker.

“I’d really like it if we could get consensus,” Neuberg said. “I’m not choosing a map, but I will.”

After the commission voted 3-2 against Lerner’s preferred map, Lerner said she would support the map that Mehl wanted “in the spirit of compromise.” The commission approved the map 4-1, with Democratic Commissioner Derrick Watchman, who voted first before Lerner expressed her willingness to compromise, as the only dissenting vote. 

Johnson said he will adjust the draft legislative map to include several instructions from the commission: keeping the Kyrene School District intact in one legislative district, putting Marana and Oro Valley into the same district, as Mehl wanted, and balancing out the population numbers between districts, along with incorporating the coalition’s eight proposed districts. The coalition’s districts could require a second map, Johnson said. 

Neuberg expressed confidence near the end of the day that the commission was making progress on the legislative map.

“I’m starting to begin to hear some consensus on general issues,” she said.

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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.”