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Opinion

What the Devil won't tell you

Don't sweat the gripes of Pima County Democrats in LD 17 redistricting fight

The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission is set to choose between Democratic and Republican maps that will determine the condition of democracy for the next 10 years — in Arizona, at least.

That's another way of saying Erika Neuberg will determine the state of democracy. She's the independent chairwoman sitting on a commission with two Democrats and two Republicans. Those partisan contingents are both set to offer for a vote competing maps that will prove the template to be used the rest of the way.

So far, Neuberg has been voting with Republicans. Based solely on the maps and developments I'm seeing, it looks like a case of Republicans doing a better job of working to satisfy Neuberg's priorities than her simply being a shill for the GOP.

The maps may favor Republicans in the short term. However, demographic trends in urban and suburban areas favor Democrats long-term. So a Republican district with a slight GOP tilt (or even lean) will drift toward the Dems on the current of generational changes.

Note: Shifts in the demo alone won't guarantee good or bad news for either party but the state of play means automatic Republican control will likely be over so long as independent redistricting remains intact.

In Southern Arizona, for instance, Commissioner David Mehl, a Republican, is proposing moving the eastern congressional district's boundary from North Campbell Avenue to North Alvernon Road. That would tilt (what's for the moment) Ann Kirpatrick's district to the Republicans by about 3 points. Kirkpatrick won by 10 percent in 2020. That's not Texas-style gerrymandering. 

That's the hot controversy right now, regarding Southern Arizona. The one still burning, involves the redistricting that truly matters because it redraws the legislative district maps.

Let's keep our eyes on the ball. Most of the laws and decisions affecting everyday life happen in state capitals. Republicans know this and take state politics a lot more seriously than the celebrity-driven Democrats, who prefer the glitz of Washington.

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Republicans have held the Legislature more or less unbroken since 1967. One party rule is bad. One party rule where the party in charge can't possibly lose, is worse. It's corrupting. It puts a political premium on bad law to satisfy the most self righteous. And it makes government lazy.

The controversy involves the creation of LD 17, a wild, unwieldy district that connects Vail to Marana for the purposes of creating a Southern Arizona district. It was born of Mehl putting forward a plan hatched by the Southern Arizona Leadership Coouncil, the group of business honchos which the commissioner helped form. The map was further championed by state Sen. Vince Leach, a Saddlebrook Republican out to save his own electoral skin.

So clearly as a ferocious watchdog against gerrymandering, I have an opinion: I'm fine with it.

Creating a safe Republican district in Pima County is a worthy trade if it makes way for a few competitive districts in the Valley of the Sun.

Give them the district

Pima County Democrats are losing their minds over this and I say good for them. They are being disingenuous and a little hypocritical but I say "Welcome to the political game as it’s now played, Donkeys." I was wondering when you were going to show up.

It’s been said Republicans play tackle football, while Democrats play touch. That’s not the case at all. Democrats don't even play touch. They stripe the field eager to show how straight they can make the lines, so everything is fair. Then they get their molars knocked out by a blitzing Georgia lunatic.

Maybe the way to beat anti-democratic forces is to engage in the same kind of sand-kicking and obfuscation that animates those just a little too comfortable with fascism.

The proposed Legislative District 17 would "assure" that Republicans win the two state House seats and one Senate seat. I'm just not sure for how long.

Two Saturdays ago, a bunch of speakers, presumptively Democrats or Dem-leaning folks, argued against the idea for compactness and persuasively for communities of interest. They also said — repeatedly — that Oro Valley doesn't belong in the same district as distant Vail, let alone nearby Marana.

I wasn't sure if this was a coordinated effort. Then I read the well-plugged-in liberal Blog for Arizona even whooped and hollered in celebration of the Democratic turnout to protest the injustice of LD 17, claiming it will cobble together a conglomerate of neighborhoods with different interests.

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Dudes, what are you doing?

The last thing Democrats – and those who don’t want to install permanent minority rule – should be concerned about is compact communities of interest. 

More than half of Pima County’s population is a very Democratic city called Tucson. You might've seen it on the map? For Pima County’s political representation in the state Capitol to reflect the county’s political sentiments, Tucson is going to have to dominate some districts that include voters who don’t live an urban lifestyle.

It's been the Republicans who say all they want is “compact communities of interest.” Communities of interest is the PC term the right uses for "gerrymandering" because it gives an advantage to the party that controls area at the expense of population. The idea is "one person, one vote," not "one acre, one vote."

Compactness is the same argument Republicans were making in Phoenix against fair districts in Maricopa County meant to keep the idea of "the consent of the governed" somewhat operable in the Legislature.

In this case, a district that runs from Marana to Saddlebrooke to the East Side and out to Vail is many things but compact is none of them. But that's fine. Arizona is a big state with gangly metro areas. 

A safe Republican district is a nothing burger in the context of an overall competitive map.

Pima County is 40 percent Democratic and 30 percent Republican. If Pima County is going to have seven legislative districts, then Republicans can understandably think they get two safe districts, which they would have.

Good lord, Republicans have had two safe districts on the five-member Pima County Board of Supervisors for 20 years, until the party abandoned educated Foothills voters, allowing Democrat Rex Scott to be elected (the Democrats giving themselves three safe-ish districts on the board isn't something I'm wild about).

Geology has isolated Republicans on the Northwest Side and East Side. They are separated by the Catalina Mountains. We have a situation where Vail and Oro Valley have grown into two distinct communities that share political partisanship but have different needs.

Just one example is growth. If I’m in Vail, who cares about growth? It’s a region of creosote flats. It’s sandy and scraggly. Oro Valley exists in a riparian habitat even the nutbar MAGAs want to protect. There’s a reason they didn’t move to Vail.

So a lawmaker would have to balance those interests in act of wisdom and judgment. Yes, Virginia! That’s how representative democracy should work. Otherwise, it’s just an act of parochial sloganeering.

Non-scandal scandals

Of course, what's a public hearing without accusations of the fix being in?

Democrats also took off after Leach, who was “caught” lobbying the commission for a safe Republican district – namely his. Democrats argue voters created the commission to remove legislators from the process.

No it didn't. It removed them from making the final say. Lawmakers, mayors, city council members and interest groups are still free to have their say. Then the commission gets to decide.

Commissioners made changes based on the advice of the Yuma mayor and an online persona named "mango_1."  

Leach barely nicked the spirit of the law and comes nowhere close to violating the letter.

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Mehl's relationship with the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, is kind of eye-rolling. Let's not pretend Mehl is to SALC as Carnegie is to Carnegie Foundation. I do hand it to SALC. It does try to be a cabal. It's just not particularly great at it.

A legit complaint may be that other interest groups didn't get their proposals fast-tracked. Well, Democratic Commissioner Derrick Watchman may be on the verge of getting a Navajo a district for his part of the world. Voters took the Legislature out of redistricting. They didn't take politics out. 

That's a cue to get involved.

If this is the level of undo influence being peddled to the commission then we are doing great.

Both sides mad

So I’m smacking the Democrats, but I do feel like I should be giving them some degree of kudos for sneakiness.

Republicans are also making their boiler plate argument in defense of gerrymandering. They even received instructions from county party leaders about what to say and how to say it. That's not sneaky. That's smart. 

It's just their general-issue blather didn't match reality and for once it might have hurt them. "Compactness and communities of interest" is a nice euphemism for killing democracy through minority rule but it's not what they should be saying when their big "win" is a legislative district that runs covers Peppersauce Canyon and Cienega Creek.

By piggybacking this Republican language, the Democrats were muddying the issue to the commission. Chairwoman Neuberg can now say "We’re pissing off everyone. We must be doing something right." That will give her the political cover she needs to protect competitive districts in Maricopa County and keep the Legislature somewhat on its toes.

I'm not sure how safely Republican this particular district will be in a few years. It's basically an R+9 district, which means Republicans can win by nine points. But it includes the Catalina Foothills and the East Side, which are rapidly blue-i-fying and trending against Trumpism. 

It contains a lot of educated voters who are increasingly breaking Left and a whole bunch of late-in-life Republicans who frankly may not be around in 2030.

The communist menace

If I thought LD 17 posed a genuine threat to democracy in Arizona, I would say so. The stakes surrounding gerrymandering and redistricting are incredibly high. Voters must choose their elected leaders in a manner that fairly reflects the will of the people.

Democrats wield the term “non-competitiveness” because they are Democrats.

The party's communication problem in part results from their never-ending quest for the most benign and academic-sounding latinate term to describe an abject evil. State-sponsored murder becomes "extra-judicial killings." Lies are now just "disinformation." A violent attack on the U.S. Capitol is "insurrection." And finally communist-style sham elections become "non-competitive redistricting."

“Communist” didn’t describe an economic system and or a new form of government. It was a party. The entire nation state existed to serve the Communist Party because it was the only party allowed to lead. They had elections but the people were only free to choose the Communists. So the party ruled. Anyone who stood in the way, was an enemy of the people. Facts were what the party said were facts.

Sound familiar? Turn on Fox News. It’s why a significant number of Republican leaders are running away from the party with their hair on fire saying “My old friends have gone insane!”

Is it red-baiting? Yeah but in this case one party is trying to eliminate the idea of the consent of the governed. A fire needs to be lit under a nation that increasingly develops its world view from emotional reactions to tweets.

The path to one-party domination of American life requires legislative gerrymandering. No shots need be fired in this revolution.

Republicans are seeking permanent national control with only minority support. To believe in that, a partisan would have to believe there is no legitimate majority opposition and elections are only valid if the celebrate the Republican Party.

The key to saving democracy resides in the state legislatures. Give me a choice between four more years of Trump (hell, even eight years of Trump) and control of the legislatures in key states, I would choose the legislatures.

With the legislatures protecting democracy — regardless of party — it can’t die. With the legislatures attacking it, it can’t live.

Neuberg may be voting with Republicans but she's not letting them create that reality here. She's run an OK process that has been oddly quiet.

A decade ago, Republicans blew their seals over a plan to create a competitive Maricopa County congressional district. Republicans tried to impeach then chairwoman Colleen Mathis until courts stopped them.

Republicans – for all their current moral failings – have always been invigorated by government’s process and conquering at the state level.

That’s why they are winning.

Maybe Democrats are catching on in democracy’s 11th hour. In the mean time, don't sweat their complaints too much. 

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years, and as a 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

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74 comments
Dec 15, 2021, 5:51 pm
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Wasn’t Blake a state Democratic Party honcho?

Now you can understand why the state Democratic Party is impotent.

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Screen shot of Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission map

A proposed legislative district sprawling across Pima County is proving the brightest flashpoint in the redistricting process.

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