Tempers flare as Democrats criticize Arizona’s proposed congressional maps – Arizona Daily Star

Tempers flare as Democrats criticize Arizona’s proposed congressional maps

Erika Neuberg, who chairs the Independent Redistricting Commission, defends Tuesday the decisions made so far by the panel against criticism by Democrat Shereen Lerner, right, that the congressional maps are purposely crafted to favor Republican candidates.

Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX — Tempers flared Tuesday as Democrats on Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission lashed out at the rest of the panel for creating congressional maps they say will help Republicans pick up two seats in the U.S. House.

Shereen Lerner complained that the lines would give Republicans an edge in six of the nine new districts through the 2030 elections. She said that makes no sense, given that the state’s current congressional delegation is 5-4 Democratic.

But Erika Neuberg, the nonpartisan who chairs the panel, said the current breakdown of the delegation is irrelevant when redrawing the existing lines to update them for the population changes of the past decade.

Neuberg acknowledged that the constitutional provisions directing the commission to redraw districts every 10 years do require taking political competitiveness into consideration. But the questions become, exactly what does that mean and how is that measured?

Republican David Mehl said these are competitive districts, citing numbers showing that Republicans would have just a 1.5 percentage point edge in voter registrations.

But Lerner said that tells only half the story.

She said an analysis of voter patterns in what would be CD6 shows that Republicans won seven of nine prior races for elective offices, which hardly makes it competitive.

Neuberg acknowledged as much, saying competitiveness is “measured by elections, not just a point spread.”

The commission faces a self-imposed deadline of Wednesday, Dec. 22, to give final blessing to both the congressional and legislative maps that Arizona will use through the 2030 elections.

One highly volatile issue involves Congressional District 6. It is proposed to run from a divided Casa Grande through midtown Tucson all the way into Cochise, Graham and Greenlee counties.

Lerner reserved her harshest criticism for the Republican members of the panel whom she accused of purposely skewing the maps by crafting lines that took much of midtown Tucson — and the Democrats who dominate that area — out of CD6 and putting them into the already strongly Democratic CD7, which runs west to Yuma.

“The changes you made were purely partisan in nature,” Lerner said.

“We had a map that was going to both meet communities of interest, meet geographic boundaries, do all of the things that we are supposed to constitutionally do,” she continued. “When you made those changes in Tucson it was specifically packing (Congressional) District 7 with white, liberal voters and taking them out of District 6. And it resulted in this map.”

It isn’t just about Tucson. The draft map for CD6, the one favored by Republicans, goes at least part way into Casa Grande. Lerner said that’s not acceptable.

“There are a lot of good reasons to make Casa Grande whole,” she said. Lerner said the entire city should be in CD2, which would align it with the similar  “communities of interest” of Florence, Coolidge and Sacaton.

Republicans proposed moving the largely Democratic communities of Bisbee and Douglas out of CD6 and into CD7, replacing them with potentially more Republican voters of northeast Santa Cruz County. But that appears to be a non-starter.

There are other issues that have left Democrats contending the decisions are unfairly skewed.

One is that the maps under debate do not unite all the retirement communities in the Mesa area, with Leisure World in a congressional district that extends into Tempe and others linked to a district comprising Gilbert and Apache Junction.

Altering that line would affect the political and ethnic balances in both districts. One would specifically put a highly Latino section of south Chandler, now in the Tempe district, into the highly Republican district dominated by Gilbert.

But Republican Doug York, pushing the move, said it makes sense because the district from Gilbert extending south and east is one where there is new construction. He said that dovetails with the fact that Latinos provide labor for those projects.

Lerner, however, said all that would do is “disenfranchise” the Latinos by putting them into a district where they would be a small minority of the voting population.

And Neuberg said there’s another consideration. She said this change would dilute the influence of the state’s small but rapidly growing Asian-American community.

“We ought to track them,” she said. “They also are intentionally aligning with Latino partners to maximize their collective voice from a political perspective.”

The five-member commission has two Republicans, two Democrats and one independent.  

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