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Latest Arizona redistricting changes bolster GOP chances

Republicans would fare well in the state’s next congressional map under a series of changes members of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission proposed.

At the commission’s meeting on Thursday, its second since it resumed work drawing what will become the final maps that Arizona will use for the next decade, independent Chairwoman Erika Neuberg suggested that the AIRC consider substantial changes to the 3rd Congressional District, a heavily Latino enclave covering much of southern and western Phoenix, that were requested by Phoenix City Councilwoman Laura Pastor. 

The changes would remove predominantly Democratic areas from the competitive 1st Congressional District, which would in turn gain Republican strongholds in northern Phoenix. Specifically, the proposal would see the 3rd District take in the area between Interstate 17 and State Route 51 and from Interstate 10 to the Sunnyslope neighborhood in north-central Phoenix. In the eastern part of the district, Neuberg suggested moving the boundary between the 3rd and 1st districts from Thomas Road north to Missouri Avenue. Neuberg said the district could also extend east along Indian School Road to the boundary between Phoenix and Scottsdale.

In a letter she sent to the commission, Pastor said the changes would ensure that the 3rd District includes historic neighborhoods, LGBTQ areas, the city’s bioscience sector and key transportation corridors, particularly along the light rail line. The bulk of the areas that the proposed changes would bring the western half of Pastor’s city council district into the 3rd Congressional District.

It’s unclear where the 3rd District will shed population, or which district will get the areas it loses. Each congressional district must have about 794,000 people, almost to the person. Federal courts have traditionally allowed almost no population deviation between congressional districts in the same state.

To make up the population it would lose, the 1st District would pick up new territory in north Phoenix. That would replace Democratic areas in central Phoenix with Republican neighborhoods in the northern part of the city, likely pushing the district — the most competitive on the draft map — further toward the GOP. 

The territory that the 1st District gains would come out of the Peoria-centric 8th Congressional District, which would expand westward. Neuberg suggested that district should include all of Peoria, Sun City and Sun City West. By picking up those conservative areas, the 8th District, which is within the range that the AIRC considers competitive, would also likely become more favorable to the Republican Party. 

Neuberg said the changes requested by Pastor would also align with a request by Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego that her city be well represented in Congress. The chairwoman said that means Phoenix should have two members of Congress who will be attuned to the city’s needs. 

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But Gallego had a very different vision for the 1st District. In a letter to the commission, she recommended that the district extend further into central Phoenix, with its southern boundary being Interstate 10 and the Loop 202, and the western boundary move to the city’s border with Glendale. She urged that the portion of the district that lies north and east of the Loop 101 be moved elsewhere. 

The areas that are severed from the 1st District could move into the 8th District, creating what Gallego described as a district for people who choose to live outside the urban area of Phoenix. 

Where Neuberg asked the mapping consultants to draft a proposal that incorporates Pastor’s suggestions, Lerner requested a map with Gallego’s requests. Lerner also noted that the Pastor-inspired district would be significantly different than the proposed district that the Arizona Latino Coalition for Fair Redistricting submitted to the AIRC. 

Neuberg said Pastor’s changes would also give Gallego what she wants regarding representation for Phoenix.

“As long as we have confidence that the member of Congress from either D1 or D8 … is going to be sufficiently motivated to be concerned about Phoenix needs, I’m comfortable,” she said. 

Lerner, however, disagreed.

“I don’t see how this meets the needs the way this District 1 is currently configured and provide the mayor with her request, as has been mentioned, of having two solid districts. This really doesn’t do this at all,” she said.

Republican Commissioner Doug York had his own suggestions for the 1st District. He recommended moving south Scottsdale and northern Tempe into the neighboring 4th Congressional District. Doing so would pull Democratic areas out of the 1st District and put them in a competitive but Democratic-leaning district.

Whatever changes the commission makes to those districts will be applied to a new congressional map that the AIRC adopted after several hours of tense debate.

Front and center was an ongoing dispute over the fate of the 2nd Congressional District. The sprawling rural district covers most of northern Arizona, running south through the eastern part of the state before wrapping around the southern side of the Phoenix metro area in Pinal County. It would be home to the Navajo Nation and numerous other tribes, who would make up about 22% of the district.

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Lerner and fellow Democratic Commissioner Derrick Watchman, a member of the Navajo Nation, have recently revived concerns that the district as it was drawn in the AIRC’s draft map would be too Republican to give Native American voters, who largely support Democrats, a voice in the district. Lerner urged the commission to reconsider her plan to carve off conservative Yavapai County, or at least the majority of it, and add more Democratic areas to the south.

Neuberg and the Republican commissioners have been resistant to Lerner’s suggestion. She reiterated her reminder to Lerner from Monday that the current version of the 2nd District was a compromise from October — a rare 3-2 vote in which Neuberg sided with her Democratic colleagues over the Republicans — when she supported keeping staunchly conservative Mohave County out of the district, as Republican Commissioner David Mehl proposed. 

Lerner and Watchman advocated for a map the AIRC’s consultants drew at her request, which would keep most of Yavapai County  — all but the Verde Valley — out of the 2nd District and add in most of Pinal County. Under that plan, it would be the most competitive congressional district in the state.

Mehl acknowledged that his plan to put Mohave County in the district didn’t have enough support to pass, and said he was happy with the 2nd District as is. He indicated a willingness to negotiate changes that would give Lerner and Watchman more of what they wanted. But Neuberg made clear her opposition to additional changes to the 2nd District. 

“I made one argument and it’s not being listened to,” Neuberg said. 

The commission ultimately voted 3-2, with Mehl, Neuberg and York over Lerner and Watchman, to adopt a new starting point for the congressional map that left all of Yavapai County in the 2nd District. The new map did, however, bring the district barely within the range that the AIRC considers competitive, swapping portions of Pinal County with a neighboring district.

The 2nd District wasn’t Lerner’s only objection to the congressional map the AIRC approved on Thursday. She also said the southern Arizona-based 7th Congressional District, an overwhelmingly Democratic, predominantly Latino district, pushes too far east into Tucson, a boundary that Mehl requested. She preferred a map that would have set its boundary with the neighboring 6th Congressional District at Campbell Avenue near the University of Arizona. That boundary was instead set two miles east at Alvernon Way.

Either way, the 6th District would remain competitive. But the approved plan gives it a Republican advantage, while Democrats would have had a slight edge in the map Lerner preferred. 

Legislative districts

On another 3-2 vote, the commission adopted a legislative map as a new starting point that incorporates a map proposed by Yuma Mayor Doug Nicholls that would put a significant chunk of Yuma into a district with much of the southwest Valley, extending into Glendale.

That, however, leaves the AIRC with a lot of work to do when it comes to balancing the population between that new District 25 and neighboring District 23, which has the remainder of Yuma, running east through the Tohono O’odham Nation and to the southwestern edge of the Tucson area. 

Legislative districts have an average population of 238,000. Unlike with congressional districts, federal court precedent permits the populations to deviate up to 5% above or below average. The plan the commission adopted based on Nicholls’ proposed changes to three legislative districts, leaves District 23 underpopulated by 78,000 people and District 25 overpopulated by more than 90,000, deviations of 32.75% and 37.93%, respectively.

Lerner said Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers, a former state lawmaker, objected to having part of his city in a legislative district with Yuma. She suggested moving western portions of the district elsewhere, and said she preferred a proposal from the Latino Coalition that would join Surprise, rather than cities in the southwest Valley, with Yuma. She also suggested that District 23, a heavily Democratic district drawn to comply with the Voting Rights Act, could add the population it needs by pushing into Tucson.

The commission’s new starting point for the legislative map would have six competitive districts, like the legislative draft map approved in October. There are 12 solidly Republican districts 12 Democratic ones.

On the northern end of the map, Neuberg expressed a willingness to consider a proposal from the Navajo Nation that would pull most of Flagstaff out of the predominantly tribal District 6. Lerner and Watchman have said they worry that including Flagstaff would make it harder for Native American candidates to win elections in the district, particularly in Democratic primaries. 

“I’d be very interested in seeing two visions of LD6. I am very concerned about honoring the Native American opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice. I want to do a little more learning about statistics and performance issues,” she said. 

Lerner and Mehl asked the AIRC’s mapping consultants to draw a pair of proposals for the commission’s next meeting on Monday based on a host of proposed changes they wanted to see.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.


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Proposed new Southern Arizona congressional districts could decide the region's representation for the next decade.

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