Redistricting begins again with commission choices

PHOENIX - Arizona is gearing up for the once-a-decade job of drawing new political boundaries for the state.

The Arizona version of redistricting, as the drawing of new maps of congressional and legislative districts is called, involves blowing up current districts and starting from scratch, says the Independent Redistricting Commission's former chairman.

The work has high stakes if the tug-of-war over the maps drawn in 2001 is any measure.

Local government officials lobbied the commission to draw district boundaries that split - or didn't divide - their communities. Native American tribes made conflicting requests on whether to put reservations in the same district.

And Democrats fought a years-long and ultimately unsuccessful court fight to force the commission to redraw the legislative map to draw additional districts winnable by both parties.

But first, the state has to choose the five new commissioners who will draw the new districts.

A judicial nominating commission met Tuesday to review applications from 77 Arizonans asking to be serve on the redistricting commission. The applicants included a Northern Arizona University accounting professor, a former state Transportation Board chairman, a former campaign finance regulator and a woman who sells gift baskets.

The names of 25 applicants will go to Republican and Democratic leaders of the state House and Senate, and each leader will appoint one redistricting commission member. The four appointees then will pick the fifth member from among applicants who aren't Democrats or Republicans.

It's a volunteer job, with a time commitment that seemed endless because of public hearings across the state and years of legal proceedings, said Steve Lynn, a Tucson utility executive who served as the commission's chairman during the past decade.

Arizona voters approved a 2000 constitutional amendment that created the redistricting commission and took redistricting out of the hands of the Legislature. The state is among 20 states that have commissions for primary, backup or advisory redistricting roles, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Arizona is expected to pick up a 9th U.S. House seat due to population growth, and a redistricting consulting firm reported in October that uneven population growth within the state means Maricopa and Pinal counties are poised to gain additional congressional and legislative representation at the expense of the other 13 counties.

A state's congressional districts must have equal populations and its legislative districts must be close in population. Other criteria set by Arizona's redistricting law include protecting ethnic and racial minorities' voting rights, respecting "communities of interest" and following geographic features and local government boundaries.