Mohave County, state Republicans rip redistricting commission plan

Arizona Sen. Ron Gould

Arizona Sen. Ron Gould

KINGMAN - Arizona Republicans and Democrats are exchanging heated words about draft map of the new U.S. House of Representative voting districts approved by the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission on Monday.

The commission is charged with redrawing the legislative and congressional districts in Arizona for the 2012 election. New districts are drawn every 10 years after the U.S. Census is released.

The commission approved a draft congressional map by a 3 -1 vote, with the two Democrats and the Independent chairwoman, Colleen Mathis, voting for the map, one Republican voting against and one Republican abstaining. It is unknown why the other Republican member abstained.

State Republicans are saying the map has been unfairly drawn to favor Democrats.

According to the Associated Press, the draft shows the state split into nine voting districts, four solidly Republican, two strongly Democratic and three potentially competitive districts.

The Mohave County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution on the issue in late September. It called for the IRC to "abide by the constitutionally mandated criteria for legislative and congressional districts and reject the 'Congressional River District' map and all

other proposed maps that are similar in nature, and place Mohave County in a compact, contiguous district with similar communities of interest and respect city, town, and county boundaries."

Supervisor Gary Watson said he was disappointed with the map. Mohave County should be included with other Colorado River communities in one district. The current map makes no rhyme or reason, he said.

The map shows Mohave County in a district with La Paz County and half of Yuma County to the south. The district then stretches east into parts of Yavapai, Gila, Maricopa and Pinal counties.

Arizona Rep. Doris Goodale said she had a lot of concerns about the map and the process to draw it.

"I'm not real thrilled with the commission. I think they're trying to reshape the districts and not allowing for freedom of choice," she said. "I think they still have a lot of work to do."

Staying rural

Arizona Rep. Nancy McLain said she was happy to see that all of Mohave County was in one district but raised concerns about the district stretching all the way to Pinal County and including parts of Maricopa County.

"I think we need to be a rural district," she said.

Arizona Sen. Ron Gould was more concerned about the compactness of the district. He pointed out that a breakdown of the district available on the commission's website showed that the 28.15 percent of the voters came from Mohave and only 4.5 percent from Maricopa.

The idea behind the creation of the commission by voter initiative in 2000 was to take some of the politics out of the redistricting process, Gould said. However, it's had the opposite effect because the commissioners are not elected and cannot be held accountable by the voters. It's a one-time job, he said.

There is a move by some in the Legislature to put an issue on the ballot that would return control of the redistricting process back to the Legislature, but Gould doesn't think it will pass.

U.S. Rep. Trent Franks said in statement released Wednesday that the commission had divided up Arizona, "not based on what is best for the constituents and communities, but in a way that clearly and unjustly benefits Democrats statewide."

"The commission should refer back to its legal and ethical charge and start over. This obviously biased map is unacceptable and must not stand," he said.

Brewer sounds off

Gov. Jan Brewer also blasted the map in a statement released Wednesday, saying "The IRC proposal is simply gerrymandering at its worst. This unaccountable, unelected commission has misused its authority to draw a congressional map that is every Democrat's dream."

"Based on this proposal and the IRC's prior behavior, it seems clear the commission is bent on awarding to the Democratic Party control of congressional districts that it could not win on Election Day. This is nothing less than neglect of duty and gross misconduct," Brewer said.

Brewer is referring to an investigation by Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne into claims that Mathis lobbied the other members of the commission to hire Washington, D.C. - based Strategic Telemetry as its consultant. The company has done work for a number of Democratic candidates.

Arizona Speaker of the House Andy Tobin also criticized the map and the process the commission used.

"The spirit of the voters' intent in developing fair and independent maps has been hijacked," he said in a statement released Wednesday. "The draft map proposed by three commissioners of the IRC fails to meet the standards set forth in the Arizona Constitution."

Federal approval

Arizona is one of group of states that's voting district maps must be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice because of the large number of minorities, such as Hispanics and Native Americans that live in the state. Districts must be drawn to protect minority voting rights.

The districts must also be nearly equal in population, avoid splitting communities of interest and local government boundaries and take into account geographic features.

Tobin warned that the Arizona House of Representatives would "defend our citizens against efforts to gerrymander votes by hijacking the process."

Ariz. Rep. Jeff Flake, who is running for Sen. Jon Kyl's seat in the U.S. Senate, also released a statement Wednesday.

"Simply put, the IRC's proposed congressional map is not in the best interest of the state. Drawing a map that everyone can agree on is an unenviable task in a state with concerns as unique as Arizona's, but the IRC seems to have sacrificed communities of interest for competitiveness."

Kyl and Sen. John McCain, as well as Arizona Treasurer Doug Ducey, also criticized the maps Wednesday.

Democrats are also commenting on the maps and the Republican's reactions.

Arizona Democratic Party Chairman Andrei Cherny also released a statement Wednesday accusing Brewer and the AZ GOP of launching a coordinated attack on the commission.

"The citizen commission members are now being attacked by Gov. Brewer in an over-the-top statement with overheated and ugly accusations," he said.

Cherny accused Brewer and the Republicans of being afraid of competition. He called for more competitive districts and pointed out that while Democrats have a chance to win the three contested districts in the next election the Republicans are assured of victory in at least four districts.

"Gov. Brewer should spend less time on bullying and more on job creation, and substitute real leadership for these partisan attacks," Cherny said.

The commission started work on the state legislative districts Wednesday.