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Redistricting

Area leaders pressing for ‘river district’ in western Arizona

LAKE HAVASU CITY – Here, the Colorado River is more than water; it’s this rural community’s lifeblood.

“We depend on the river for our economic vitality,” said Charlie Cassens, Lake Havasu City manager. “The river brings millions of recreationists each year.”

Because cities with ties to the river share common interests, Cassens says it’s important for them to have a united voice in Washington.

“There’s the idea that what’s good for one city is good for all cities,” he said.

With that in mind, representatives from western Arizona communities are pushing for a so-called river district.

Cassens said that communities along the river face congressional legislation that has the potential to halt water access and damage their economies.

“It’s important to us to have representation at the federal level that recognizes the value that the river brings to this community and others like ours,” he said.

So far, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission has taken the suggestion into account.

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The commission voted Monday to adopt a draft map that includes a congressional district stretching along most of the Arizona-California line. The proposed version would extend the river section of Rep. Trent Franks’ district downstream to include Parker and the northern outskirts of Yuma.

“It seems to fit our desire to keep rural Arizona rural,” Cassens said.

Original proposals for a river district stayed mostly on the west side of the state, but the proposed district would stretch into central Arizona to pick up the necessary population. The district would scrape the edges of the East Valley to include San Tan and Apache Junction.

“We’re different from San Tan and Fountain Hills, but (the redistricting commission’s) view was that these areas are somewhat similar,” said Janice Paul, a Bullhead City administrative analyst.

Buster Johnson, a Mohave County supervisor from Lake Havasu City, said differences in location and economy between communities like Lake Havasu City and Apache Junction make the current version of the river district less than ideal.

“It’s not a community of interest,” he said. “You don’t have the same interests as the other people do.”

The size of the district, which would be the second largest in the state, could also be an issue because the representative may not travel to the least-populated areas, Johnson said.

“There’s a big portion of the population who are going to feel disenfranchised,” Johnson said.

Those concerns aside, river district supporters say they’re happy to be represented separately from the urban areas.

“If we are grouped together with cities of like size and like scope, I think it’s really going to be beneficial to Kingman,” said Kingman Mayor John Salem.

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For Cassens, the importance of a river district lies in a representative’s ability to keep the interests of Lake Havasu City and the other rural communities in balance with the needs of less isolated areas.

“We would hate to see the rural Arizona message, and especially the rural Arizona river communities’ message, somehow diluted by an urban interest,” Cassens said.

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Whitney Phillips/Cronkite News Service

For the community of the Lake Havasu City, the Colorado River is an economic lifeline.

Redistricting Arizona

  • A voter-approved proposition in 2000 assigned responsibility for drawing lines for state legislative and congressional districts to the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission.
  • The commission adopted a draft congressional district map Monday after a series of first-round public hearings.
  • The commission is in the process of developing a draft legislative district map.
  • After further public hearings, the commission will adopt final maps.
  • The Department of Justice must approve final congressional and legislative districts.