Residents call for one county voting district
Democrats unrepresented one woman says
BULLHEAD CITY - Give Mohave County its own congressional and legislative district was the message from the majority of the crowd that attended a public meeting of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission in Bullhead City Tuesday evening.
Around 70 people attended the meeting, but only 20 spoke, voicing their various reasons why Mohave County should be one state and federal voting district.
Mohave County resident Denise Bensusan created a stir halfway through the meeting when she said she didn't feel she received adequate representation from local elected officials because she was a Democrat.
"Democrats are in the minority. People are afraid to say they are Democrats because of the aggressiveness of some members of the Republican Party," she said. She added that keeping Mohave County as one uncompetitive district would disenfranchise a lot of voters who are not part of the Republican Party.
Commissioner Jose Herrera, one of two commissioners who attended the meeting, had to stop Bensusan and ask the crowd to refrain from speaking while someone was at the podium after her comments drew boos, jeers and a number of muttered comments from the crowd.
"This is what I'm talking about," Bensusan said. "This area is Republican dominated. I don't know how you're going to (create a competitive district)." The bullying and racism in the county is horrible, she said.
"We're not allowed to speak. Those Republicans are not representing my interests," she said.
Once Bensusan finished speaking, the crowd listened respectfully to the rest of the speakers who were more concerned about keeping the county in one district than party lines.
"We'd like to have our own congressional district where the representative comes from our area," said Arizona Sen. Ron Gould. U.S. Rep. Trent Franks has been a great representative for the county but his office is more than 200 miles away and his visits to Mohave County are few and far between, he said.
Kingman Mayor John Salem, Bullhead City Mayor Jack Hakim and Bullhead City Councilman Sam Medrano asked that the counties three major cities, Kingman, Bullhead and Lake Havasu, at least be kept in the same state and federal voting districts.
"We need to be recognized as a community of interest," Medrano said. "We need to draw the attention of our representatives. We don't want to be part of metropolitan Phoenix or Tucson. We have almost nothing in common with them."
"It's important to note that this is not about party. It's about us here in Mohave County. We have worked so hard. Don't forget us," Hakim pleaded with the commission.
"Our representatives are accessible. We don't want to be represented by people from Maricopa County," said Lajuana Gillett.
Medrano also suggested that the rural areas of the state outside of Phoenix and Tucson be split into two congressional districts and eight legislative districts, which is similar to a plan proposed by Greater Arizona Success, a group of rural elected officials, business owners and residents.
Kingman resident Don Van Brunt disagreed with Greater Arizona's suggestion to cut off part of the top half of Mohave County and include it in a Native American voting district for the Legislature. There was no reason why cities such as Beaver Dam and Colorado City should be separated from the rest of the county, he said.
Kingman resident Marvin Robertson agreed with Van Brunt and wanted to include all of the county, including its Native American Tribes in one district. The Hualapai Nation is very much a part of the county, he said. "How they would fit in with the Apaches is beyond me."
Matt Capalby, the spokesman for Greater Arizona, described the organization's plan to the commissioners. He said the group has done extensive research on the matter.
He also said that he spoke with some of the Hualapai Tribal Council members, and some of them agreed with the idea of putting the tribe in a district with the other rural Native American tribes.
Arizona Rep. Nancy McLain asked that the new district be made more compact. She said she enjoyed being the representative for her district, which includes Mohave County and Page, but it is anything but compact - one of the commission's goals. It's a five-hour drive to Page, she said.
Bullhead City resident Steven Robinson recommended that the commission move creating a competitive district in the county to the bottom of its priority list. The county strongly favors the Republican Party and to try to carve out districts that would create equal opportunities for Democrats and Republicans or other parties to run against each other would be unfair.
She also pointed out that interests and concerns of rural districts are different from the concerns of metropolitan districts around Tucson and Phoenix.
A number of residents who spoke at the meeting recalled a time between 1995 and 2000 when the county's three cities were split into different districts and they found themselves voting for representatives from Flagstaff and the Navajo Nation.
Ken Chism said he remembered trying to figure who to vote for from the Navajo Nation, which was included in Kingman's Legislative district at the time. He also remembered that the county rarely got a visit from its representatives during that time.
Some of the other reasons people gave for wanting one congressional and legislative district for the county included education and wildlife.
Beth Wiser argued that the county needed its own representatives in order to protect the education system in the state. Education in Arizona has taken a serious funding hit, she said.
Golden Shores resident Eva White also asked for one congressional district for the county. She said the wildlife refuge in her area is a treasure the community would like to protect.
Commissioner Linda McNulty said at the end of the meeting that she was happy to see such an engaged community. She said the commission had a hard job before it. Even though most of the members of the commission came from Maricopa and Pima counties, where Phoenix and Tucson are located, they really did have the welfare of the entire state at heart, she said. But in order for the commission to do its best work it needed comments like the ones submitted at Tuesday's meeting. She encouraged people to call or mail comments to the commission and said the commission was working to improve its website.
Herrera echoed many of her comments, saying he grew up in a rural area and was aware of some of the issues those areas faced.
"These comments are exactly what we need," he said.
A second round of public meetings on the redistricting process will be held once preliminary district maps are drawn, Herrera said.
The commission only deals with the redistricting of state and federal voting districts. It doesn't deal with the redistricting of county supervisor, community college, city council or other local voting districts. For more information on the state redistricting process, visit www.azredistricting.org or call (602) 542-5221.