Redistricting panel hears 71 speakers as overflow crowd here gets its say

2011-08-07T00:00:00Z Redistricting panel hears 71 speakers as overflow crowd here gets its sayRhonda Bodfield Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 07, 2011 12:00 am  • 

State Sen. Al Melvin was the first to speak Saturday before a panel that will draw new boundaries for the Legislature and Congress. His message: He'd like his own District 26 kept as intact as possible.

The last speaker, single mother Jessica Pacheco, said she wants to see more competitive races so elections aren't foregone conclusions.

In between them were 69 speakers in a meeting that went on for nearly four hours. So many people chose to spend their Saturday afternoon at the 15th and final meeting of the Independent Redistricting Commission's first round of public input that organizers had to open an overflow room for the crowd of about 200.

And there isn't even a map yet.

Since all politics is local, a great deal of testimony focused on which communities should go in which districts. A heavy contingent of northwest-side voters agreed with Melvin that Saddlebrooke, which is in Pinal County and has an active Republican base, should remain in a voting bloc that includes Marana and Oro Valley.

Several speakers called for more congressional districts on the border to give more weight to those interests.

The extent to which commissioners should strive for competitive districts was up for debate.

Democrats, frustrated by the overwhelming GOP majority in both the House and Senate, want more competitive districts. State Sen. Paula Aboud, in a safe Democratic district, asked the commission to make her district more balanced. "In my district," she said, "a Republican vote does not matter, and that's wrong."

Green Valley resident Marilee Malmberg said her district trends so Republican that there aren't choices in elections. "I think we can do better."

Several speakers, however, said Democrats are losing elections based on their policies or economic conditions, not because of partisan districts.

Vince Leach of Saddlebrooke noted until recently, the state was represented by five Democrats in Congress and three Republicans. Those numbers switched last election cycle. "For all those saying, 'competition, competition, competition,' I would argue we're there," he said.

Whether the process has been flawed remained an ongoing theme.

Conservatives have flooded meetings, expressing a number of concerns, including whether Chairwoman Colleen Mathis is really a political independent, since she didn't disclose her husband's past ties to Democratic candidates. There also has been criticism about its mapping consultant's Democratic ties and the amount of work done outside of public view. After Attorney General Tom Horne launched a probe into whether there was a violation of open meeting or contract laws, tempers flared when one commissioner said he wouldn't cooperate in a political witchhunt.

Dee Pfeiffer, a Vail resident, urged commissioners to resolve the cloud hanging over the commission's work. "Get it done quickly. Give Arizona a transparent process and a fair redistricting result."

There were calls for Mathis' resignation and for the firing of the mapping firm, but there were also expressions of support.

Former state Rep. Pete Hershberger, a moderate Republican, said partisan attacks must stop. "These politics of intimidation should be rejected by the citizens of Arizona."

After the meeting, Mathis said the commission will cooperate with the investigation.

The commission aims to have a final map by November. Another round of public hearings on a draft map is expected in September.

Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at rbodfield@azstarnet.com or 573-4243.

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