Bring rural Arizona together.

But not — for the most part — those Indian Reservations.

That’s the pitch Payson, Show Low, Pinetop and other rural cities will hear from a group that wants to redraw state legislative district lines to bring most of five rural Arizona counties into a single district — while keeping the Navajo, Hopi, White Mountain Apache and San Carlos Apache Reservations in a separate district.

The resulting map would differ from the draft map already released by the voter-established Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission.

However, both of those proposed maps would put Rim Country and the White Mountains in the same legislative district — which itself is a big change from the current district lines.

In Arizona, voters took away from the legislature the job of drawing new district boundaries once a decade and vested it in a non-partisan redistricting commission. The move has eliminated the blatant gerrymandering now going on in legislatures across the state — but it hasn’t eliminated the thorny issues of drawing fair, non-discriminatory lines that don’t warp the outcome of elections but do keep “communities of interest” together.

Representatives of the “5+ Eastern Counties” plan are speaking to local groups, seeking endorsements of the plan from city councils and urging people to attend redistricting commission hearings and make comments on the current, draft maps.

Former Sen. Sylvia Allen will speak to the Payson Tea Party on the plan on Nov. 23 at the Ponderosa Bible Church from 6-7:45. Also, plan proponent Jesse Bryant, from Globe, has sent proposed draft resolutions of support to cities and towns.

The movement attempts to bunch rural, mostly Republican areas into a single, new Legislative District 7. This would include. Winslow, Show Low, Pinetop-Lakeside, Snowflake Eagar, Safford, Payson and Pine in a single district that runs from I-40 down to the Mexican border and includes the non-reservation portions of Gila, Navajo, Apache, Greenlee, Graham and a portion of Yavapai County, including the Verde Valley.

The district would likely represent a safe Republican seat, based on past voting patterns. It would leave the heavily Democratic reservations and Flagstaff in District 6.

The Independent Redistricting Commission’s map took a different approach, while also creating a mostly rural district that combined the non-reservation portions of Gila, Coconino, Navajo and Apache counties. But instead of including Greenlee, Graham and Cochise counties, the map includes a big chunk of Pinal County.

The Commission’s draft map would have a population of about 232,000. The racial mix would include 20% Hispanic, 6% Native Americans and 2% Black. Democratic candidates gleaned only 29% to 34% of the vote in the proposed district in the last two statewide elections.

The proposed map pushed by the 5+ Eastern Counties group doesn’t have a similar breakdown on past voting patterns included, but would likely be similar.

Both the 5+ Eastern Counties map and the commission’s draft map would create a safe Democratic legislative seat, dominated by the reservations and Flagstaff. Democrats got 71% of the vote in the 2020 Presidential election in the District 6 seat proposed by the redistricting commission.

The draft resolution Payson and other town councils will consider says, in part, “It is in the interest of the Five Eastern Rural Counties of Graham, Greenlee, Gila, Southern Navajo and Apache and adjacent communities of the copper corridor and Verde Valley, to remain united in political representation; and those interests being fundamentally different in nature, economically, culturally, historically and in policy concerns, than that of metropolitan regions and counties.”

So the main difference comes down to whether a state legislative district dominated by Rim Country and the White Mountains would include Graham and Greenlee counties, or a chunk of Pinal County on the outskirts of Phoenix.

The Independent Redistricting Commission is now absorbing a blizzard of comments on the recently released draft maps. The commission must adopt new maps to reflect the results of the 2020 Census in time for the 2020 congressional and state legislative elections.

The voter-established priorities for the commission include:

• Ensuring populations don’t vary by more than 5%.

• Making districts as compact as possible.

• Drawing boundaries that respect communities of interest.

• Create as many competitive districts as possible.

• Avoid diluting the political clout of minority groups.

• Preserving existing political communities.

Elsewhere, state legislatures are busily redrawing district lines, relying on computer analysis that allow them to create as many safe districts for incumbents and controlling parties as possible. The process this year favors Republicans, who have uncontested control over more state legislatures than Democrats. Some analysis suggest that the maps already released nationally have given Republicans a likely gain of five seats in Congress, based on past voting patterns. Legislative control of maps tends to create more safe districts — without a real contest after the primary’s settled.

The Redistricting Commission has prevented the most glaring forms of gerrymandering in Arizona, but difficulties remain.

For instance, the Voting Rights Act makes it illegal to draw district lines deliberately designed to disenfranchise minority voters. Line draws can engage in “packing” — concentrating minority voters in a handful of districts to create surrounding safe seats for the other party — usually Republicans. On the other hand, they can engage in “fracking,” which means splitting up minority communities to create as many seats for one party as possible — usually Democrats.

The Redistricting Commission must strike that same balance, as the placement of the reservations demonstrates. Reservation communities often face very different issues and have very different politics than the rural communities that often surround them. The same thing often applies in urban areas, with heavily segregated minority neighborhoods.

The Redistricting Commission’s draft map for the congressional seats confronts similar issues.

The draft map would put most of Northern Arizona — including the reservations — into Congressional District 2. Currently, the area’s split between two Congressional Districts — one represented by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Prescott) and one by Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-Oak Creek).

Currently, Gosar’s District 4 is a safe Republican seat that stretches from Northern Gila County, through Prescott and then covers most of Western Arizona.

O’Halleran’s toss-up District 1 includes Flagstaff, the reservations, the White Mountains, a portion of Pinal Couty and much of Eastern Arizona.

The new district would become the largest in Arizona in terms of square miles. It would include Prescott, Pine, Payson, the Verde Valley, all the communities of the White Mountains, as wells as most of the largest Indian Reservations in the state. It would loop around and incorporate half of Graham and Pinal counties.

It would become a highly competitive seat, with a slight Republican lean. Joe Biden in 2020 got 51% of the vote, but the Democratic candidate for governor in 2018 got just 42%. The district would be 16% Hispanic, 56% White, 22% Native American, 3% Black and 2% Asian.

The district boundaries drawn by the commission will likely face less federal scrutiny than in past years. The US Supreme Court has said it will not judge whether maps give an unfair partisan advantage. However, the court could still order a state to redraw boundaries that discriminate based on race. Even that’s less likely — since the court has also eliminated the Justice Department’s ability to require states to get “pre-clearance” before adopting their maps. Previously, states with a history of drawing discriminatory lines had to seek federal approve of their maps. That included Arizona, which had lost court cases alleging that district lines discriminated against Hispanics and Native Americans.

Peter Aleshire covers county government and other topics for the Independent. He is the former editor of the Payson Roundup. Reach him at paleshire@payson.com

(1) comment

pxllr

Fascinating how you talk about joining all the rural counties together, while at the same time making sure to exclude all reservations from your new combined district. Last I looked, the Navajo Nation and Hopi and Apache and other reservations were part of these rural counties. This sounds more like you are attempting to create a whites only district? Excluding any indigenous peoples?

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.