In a state where even most Democrats are moderate to conservative, party affiliation does mean a lot. To be a Republican means you are almost guaranteed a seat at the table of power. To be an ultra-conservative Republican improves those odds even more. Independents are deemed to be the deciding factor in close races and even they tend to vote Republican when push comes to shove.
In a state with a registered political make up that is split almost evenly between Republicans, Democrats and independents, you would think that the Republicans couldn’t enjoy such success. In steps the affect of redistricting: The process of creating congressional and legislative districts that is mandated by the U.S. Constitution. Before 2000, the Arizona legislature was tasked with creating the various districts and it did everything possible to secure a permanent Republican majority in the state legislature as well as congressional representation.
In 2000, voters were so fed up with the protection of incumbents that they stripped the legislature of its authority to redistrict and put that authority into the newly created Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (AIRC). The AIRC isn’t tasked with simply redrawing existing districts to meet its charge. It must start from scratch, thus ensuring that the state’s congressional and legislative district maps change dramatically decade from decade. To give a quick example of the dramatic change: I currently reside in what is Congressional District 3, but under the draft map, I would be in Congressional District 6.
Now, the AIRC is composed of 5 members. Two are Democrats, each of who were nominated by the respective Democratic leaders in both houses of the legislature. Two are Republicans, each of who were nominated by the respective Republican leaders in both houses of the legislature. The registered independent is picked by the other 4 members of the AIRC. In my opinion, there should be 3 Democrats, 3 Republicans and 3 registered independents, but that will require a voter modification that could turn very messy.
Throw into the redistricting mix the fact that Arizona is one of the states required to receive “pre-clearance” of their efforts by the U.S. Justice Department before the new districts can go into effect. The 2001 AIRC was actually rebuffed by the Bush Justice Department for not protecting minority voters and had to reconfigure their maps to meet the requirements of the Voting Rights Act. We are all hoping that the 2011 AIRC doesn’t repeat the same mistake.
Now that I have some of the background laid out, let’s fast forward to 2011. The AIRC members were chosen in great controversy, some with court challenges, all due to the machinations of state Senate Majority Leader Russell Pearce and Speaker of the House Andy Tobin. After the members of the AIRC were formally seated, the “tea party” movement tried to call into dispute the AIRC’s legitimacy, even getting Attorney General Horne to open an “investigation” into accusations of the AIRC violating Arizona’s open meetings law.
Through all of this, the five members of the AIRC have done their job and have approved draft maps of congressional and legislative districts. Now that the draft maps have been adopted, the public has 30 days to comment and recommend changes. In steps the Republican elected officials and their bold claim that the draft maps represent too much competiveness and threaten their respective incumbencies. They are hell bent on protecting the Republican super majority in the legislature and the Republican majority of held seats in the House of Representatives. Of course, they are bitching about draft maps, not the final product. And like it or not, they will probably bitch more after it the final maps go through pre-clearance.
I myself am not happy with the draft maps because they allow for safe districts for both Republicans and Democrats while only proposing three competitive districts. I think every district should be competitive, giving anyone running a real chance to win. No district should be “safe” for one party or for an incumbent. No one party or incumbent should feel they are entitled to their elected seat.
I think the goals of meeting the requirements of the full mandate of the AIRC can be done with full competitiveness and without gerrymandering. The AIRC just has to have the will do so and I don’t think they do. I think, they will bend to Republican political pressure and adopt final maps that won’t be pre-cleared by the DOJ. I am hoping the AIRC does the right thing. I just don’t think it will, which will be a huge disservice to the voters of Arizona.
For more information about meetings of the AIRC, please take a look at The Arizona Eagletarian and his great work.