Every decade legislative and congressional districts across the country are tweaked, adjusted and sometimes changed dramatically following the release of the most recent U.S. Census numbers. On Friday the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission came to Safford to ask Graham and Greenlee county residents how they’d like Arizona’s first congressional district and Arizona’s 14th legislative district to look.
Created by voters after Proposition 106 passed in 2000, which was meant to limit the influence of state legislatures in redrawing congressional and legislative districts, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission is comprised of two Democrats, two Republicans and one Independent. Three of the five commission members reside in Maricopa County, one is from Apache County and one lives in Pima County.
Since July, the commission has conducted 15 “listening tours” of communities around the state, asking residents to tell them how they’d like their districts to look based on their own “communities of interest.” Friday’s visit was one of the last visits to be made.
The commission described communities of interests as areas where people have “common social or economic interests, shared characteristics or experiences, similar issues or impacts of government policies, or otherwise identify as a geographic area with a shared benefit from being kept undivided in a single district.”
“I request that this community stay the same as it has been, that’s in the 14th (legislative district) as it has been for years,” Kip Kempton, owner of Kempton Chevrolet Buick and chair of the Graham County Republican Party said during the public comment section of the meeting. Kempton said the rural nature of the district and their main economic interests in agriculture, ranching and mining tie the district together economically and culturally.
Paul David, Graham County District 1 supervisor, spoke about similar “rural values,” and a sense of independence that ties the district together. Although Congressional District 1 is huge and most candidates focus their time in the District 14 population center of Sierra Vista, David doesn’t want the commission to move district boundaries into Pima County.
Other speakers, like Anthony Bejarano, who lives in Thatcher, commented that the Native American and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints communities to the north and west of District 14 share more in common with the communities already in the district, than the current communities of the district have with communities in Cochise County and elsewhere.
“The Native American community is very important here,” Bejarano said.
Patty Cervantez, the treasurer for the Graham County Democratic Party, also spoke in front of the commission to ask them to maintain the rural nature of the district while also working to find a way to make the district more competitive in future elections. The way it is now, she said, means the district continues to reelect ideologically rigid and extreme incumbents without them needing to campaign much.
“That’s what’s kept our communities stagnant,” Cervantez said. “There’s a lot of other voices out there.”
Hispanic people, other people of color and people from religious minorities often only have token political representation in the local political sphere, she said.
Susan Breen, the only resident from Greenlee County to speak via livestream from Clifton, agreed. While Congressional District One is competitive, forcing both Republicans and Democrats to moderate their campaign political ideologies, because of the way District 14 is set up, candidates often don’t have to moderate their ideologies and conservative incumbents often stay in office for a long time.
Gail Griffin, the Arizona house member for District 14 was in attendance, but said she was there just to listen after having spoken in front of the commission at a previous public meeting in Bisbee.
According to a report on voter’s registered political parties compiled by the Arizona Secretary of State in January of this year, Legislative District 14 has 36,072 residents who registered as Democrats and 44,024 residents who registered as Republicans. Congressional District 1, which includes Apache, Coconino, Graham, Greenlee, Navajo and parts of Pinal, Gila, Maricopa, Mohave, Pima and Yavapai counties, the Navajo Nation, the Gila River Indian Community and the Hopi Reservation has 179,480 registered Democrats and 161,185 registered Republicans.
Brian Schmitt, the executive director of the Independent Redistricting Committee said members of the public can draft their own community of interest and district maps and submit them to the commission for review and consideration at irc.az.gov/survey. After all of the data from the 2020 census is released sometime this month, the commission will develop drafts of district maps sometime between September and October after which there will be a minimum of 30 days of further public comment. Schmitt said the commission is hoping to have the district maps finalized and adopted by December 22.