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What the Devil won't tell you

Arizona redistricting map still gives democracy a glimmer — with a supreme caveat

I’ve been a bear on democracy.

Its stock is way down, trading for pennies on the dark markets. One political party violently attacked it with a mob at the U.S. Capitol, with legislatures in state capitals, and is on the precipice of of being rewarded with the Virginia governorship.

A year from now, the party bent on absolute and perpetual minority rule will likely take over Congress in a wave.

Personally, I blame it on two things: A failure of imagination that’s dogged us throughout the Trump era but before, too; and yeah, we are a more racist country than we are happy to admit.

We don’t believe we can lose democracy, so we don’t care about it that much. Voters can’t picture a day when they wake up and say, “My vote doesn’t matter? Why do they get to make the rules when they keep losing elections? I should keep my mouth shut about it or do hard labor? Fine, I’ll go back to Instagram.”

Second, as a country we like to pat ourselves on the back for racial progress, but has anyone noticed that our elections are whites drawing a line on progress? From “silent majorities,” to “welfare queens,” to affirmative action, to Willie Horton, to Sister Souljah, to defund the police to critical race theory, the fastest way to short-circuit a conversation about any other topic is racially distract it.

We are more comfortable voting about how to constrain racial equity than in moving to advance it.

So yeah, we’ll quash democracy to defend the racial hierarchy, all under the alibi of “high inflation.” Or complain that Toni Morrison book shouldn't be taught in class.

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But out of the West, in the form of an Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, rides at least a platoon of the cavalry.

The AIRC has planted a flag. Those flags are draft maps of the boundaries of new districts for future office-holders. Those maps represent hope, at least locally, that democracy still has a future because this could have been a lot worse (and still could be).

The local upside might mean something on earth might be less worthless than a Southern Arizona state lawmaker. Imagine that.

That’s not a slight on the people who serve. They do the best they can. As long as one party dominates legislative control of Arizona, the other party is largely ceremonial. If those lawmakers don’t come from Phoenix, then they are your basic seat-fillers.

Our Redistricting Commission just came out with draft maps of new congressional and legislative districts. After a 30-day public comment period, the commissioners will vote for final approval.

For now, all I give a damn about is the Legislature. It makes most of the rules we live by, and one party has been in charge of it for 51 years.

The maps don't propose big changes. They don't particularly help the Democrats but they don't hinder the changes that are underway in Arizona.

OK, real quick about the congressional maps: Four competitive districts out of nine is a good thing. The East Side Tucson competitive district is tweaked some. It tilts Democratic but a Republican could still win it.

Back to what matters.

Shop local

Let me take care of local housekeeping and give a quick rundown of what would happen to Southern Arizona, if these maps stay essentially the same.

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The Tucson region will keep seven legislative districts. 

The Midtown area will be carved up by three districts. 

LD 18 would take in northern Midtown, the East Side, the Catalina Foothills and Casas Adobes.

LD 20 would include the Southwest Side and Downtown area.

LD 21 would cover basically the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base area and run down to Nogales.

They would be safe Democratic districts.

Moving outward, LD 17 would cover Vail, Tanque Verde, traverse the Santa Catalina Mountains and take in Marana and Oro Valley. LD 19 would stretch from Corona de Tucson almost to Lordsburg, N.M.

LD 16 kinda blobs across the desert west of Interstate 10, out to Three Points and up to the Gila River Indian Community.

Republicans won't have to worry much about them.

LD 23 would encompass the Tohono O'odham Nation and everything west to California. It would be competitive but tilt Democratic.

Most of the Tucson population would be in safe Democratic districts. However, the voters' road to legislative relevance runs through the Valley of the Sun.

The old Valley road

Phoenix is changing and the Republicans hate it.

Once was the day, the state GOP changed elections rules to void the old style of electing representation by county. Phoenix was Republican. The rest of the state was Democratic. Maricopa County had as many state senators as Santa Cruz County.

The GOP got the state to in switch in 1966 to the current LD format and has been in charge since.

Under the proposed new maps, there will be 13 safe Republican legislative districts and 11 safe Democratic districts. Six will be competitive to varying degrees.

The two most competitive districts now lean Democratic and they are on the north side of Phoenix. The result is a status quo and that ain’t bad because Republicans will not be able to map their way into clawing back parts of the world they are losing.

LD 20 voters who last elected Republicans Sen. Paul Boyer and Shawna Bolich will be joined by a few more Democrats in a highly competitive district. So the Legislature would, if this map is approved, remain a fight.

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Let’s not get lost in the the road atlas of Arizona politics. Think about the big trend. Phoenix and its immediate suburbs would have 11 districts. Nationally, those inner suburbs are trending blue and doing it fast. A district where Republicans hold a 2021 8-point edge, which the commission deems non-competitive, could dwindle to a three-point edge in five years.

Educated voters are leaving the GOP over audits and a political style that's just-plain gosh.

Conversely, rural regions that have voted Democratic are trending red. Who’s going to have more power in 2030, Scottsdale or Safford?

This is why Republicans are freaking out and trying to cheat with fraudits and claims of “stolen elections.”

I would suspect that next time a Republican is in the White House, Democrats will take the Legislature with this map. Perhaps as soon as 2026. It’s just how the waves are breaking.

In 2022, voters will retain the opportunity to oust enough Republicans to take control of the Legislature. That’s the theory anyway.

Imagine a world where Andrés Cano is chairman of a legislative committee. Hey, how’s this: Senate President Victoria Steele. Suddenly, Tucson has some swagger in Phoenix.

Let's be real...

In practice, prospects look bleak for Dems right now and that’s problematic, because across the country the 2022 election could be a presage of the 2024 presidential election.

Let’s assume Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin don’t decide to completely destroy Joe Biden’s presidency. Things stabilize over the next four years as coronavirus falls further down the list of priorities and the economy booms.

Voters decide Biden should get four more years. Key state legislatures look increasingly willing to entertain vetoing their state’s popular vote. How can they get away with that? They are gerrymandered into districts where a minority of voters can insist the majority vote be overturned with bogus claims of fraud.

Their orange leader from South Florida who once lived in a white public housing mansion will demand it.

So voters would be wise to treat the 2022 midterm as the 2024 presidential election. It may well be.

Hell, it’s part of our history and constitutional law that every legislature can decide for themselves who wins that state’s electoral votes. And it’s not the new legislatures. No, no, no. Lame duck majorities voted out of power on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November can overturn the voters’ will on the third Wednesday of the month.

Of course, the 2022 election won’t be big on democracy because it’s process. That election will be about the price of pork and the importance of teaching white kids racism is a thing of the past.

The only thing that might stop a legislature like Arizona's from usurping the general will in 2024, would be fear of voters in 2026.

These Redistricting Commission maps would provide just enough fear to lawmakers in Phoenix to perhaps allow for a somewhat free and fair presidential election.

The maps reflect — more or less — the change. Democrats have a fighting chance to take over the Legislature at some point during the next decade. And that’s a lot. The fear of losing power means the party in charge must pay some attention to what the Enlightenment philosophers called “the general will” and what the Declaration of Independence referred to as “consent of the governed.”

Gerrymandering, the art of drawing political district boundaries so one party is guaranteed victory, deprives voters from inflicting electoral remedy on political questions.

Voters have no power to vote the bastards out so the bastards aren’t leaders. They are rulers.

Where ever it rears its head, it’s a big problem because elected leaders are like the rest of us. If they can’t lose their gig, they care less about doing it well and are more likely to care about “what’s in it for them.”

The AIRC did not completely gerrymander. Republicans look to be set to hold on to their 55-year largely unbroken run of legislative control over the Arizona by just one seat in the House and Senate. But voter will is stretched about as far as it can go because there wasn’t much give left in the GOP wall.

Retrenchment isn't in the first draft.

The Court also rises

That is … if we assume that the maps withstand court challenges.

I’ve opined on it before but suffice it to say the Supreme Court found commissions like ours to be constitutional in a 5-4 decision,. Justice Anthony Kennedy proved decisive. Chief Justice John Roberts provided snippy dissent. Flipping Roberts’ heart and mind would only buy the election reform crowd 4 justices.

I wouldn’t hold out to get Roberts to flip his heart and change his mind, let alone getting originalist justices Brett Kavanaugh or Amy Coney Barrett to embrace the newfangled idea of independent redistricting.

The Constitution says it’s the job of the legislatures dammit. No one else is allowed to play.

So there’s that.

The Supreme Court has ruled that each state is free to turn themselves into dictatorships where the general will is squashed for the good of the ruling minority party until voters vote them out even if the voters can’t because they should have thought of that before. Plus, this court likes its oligarchy with a side of fascism to make the world more orderly.

It also goes great with a nice merlot.

Until the court rises up to ruin my day (and assuming this map becomes the map used in 2022), I’m going to take some heart in how it doesn’t take us backwards. 

It might show us some history.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years, and a former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.

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1 comment on this story

Nov 3, 2021, 1:40 pm
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The draft LD17 was brought to the IRC by a Pima County Republican official and endorsed by Commissioner David Mehl, a Pima County developer and the appointee of House Speaker Rusty Bowers.  Mehl offered the map with LD17 as the preference of the “non-partisan” Southern Arizona Leadership Council, of which he is co-founder.  As approved, draft LD17 removes the Tanque Verde Valley from its longstanding and logical connection to the east side of the city of Tucson, joins it to Marana and Oro Valley 20+ miles away and to the Houghton corridor south to Vail.  Thus we have a non-contiguous, non-compact. non-competitive pretty safe Republican district.  My prediction would be that if not changed and not successfully challenged in court this district will bring forth candidates with no appeal except to the Republican base.

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After months of hearings and finagling, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission released new maps that keep alive some hope for democracy in Arizona.


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