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Tucson Republican commissioner pushes more changes to congressional maps

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David Mehl, a Tucson Republican on the Independent Redistricting Commission, backs a plan that would move many Democrats out of CD 6 and into CD 7, a district proposed to run from midtown Tucson west to Yuma and north into largely Latino areas on the western edge of Phoenix.

PHOENIX — The Independent Redistricting Commission is moving to give Republicans an edge in electing members of Congress for the coming decade.

One of the ways is through changes being pushed by David Mehl, a Tucson Republican on the commission, for the area in and around Tucson.

Those changes could help a Republican candidate such as Juan Ciscomani win the seat in what would become CD 6, an area roughly comparable with the one that has been occupied for the past four years by Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who is retiring.

Mehl’s plan would move many Democrats out of CD 6 and into CD 7. The latter is the district proposed to run from midtown Tucson west to Yuma and north into the largely Latino areas on the western edge of Phoenix.

That is the area that, generally speaking, is now represented by Rep. Raúl Grijalva. There is little danger to Grijalva’s reelection as draft maps show voter registration and historical voting patterns would give Democrats a 2-1 edge in the district.

Mehl would push the boundary between the two districts all the way to Alvernon Way in Tucson.

That runs contrary to the wishes of Tucson Mayor Regina Romero, a Democrat.

Responding to her earlier concerns about dividing downtown from the University of Arizona, commissioners previously agreed to move the line to Campbell Avenue.

Mehl, however, said that is not far enough, calling Alvernon Way “midtown.’’ He also said all that area east of the campus, to Alvernon Way, should be considered part of the university community.

That alteration, however, changes the political balance, giving CD 6 more of a Republican edge than if the line is on Campbell Avenue.

So does the change that Mehl wants south of Tucson, pushing Sahuarita from CD 6 to CD 7.

Mehl said Sahuarita has a large Hispanic population, making it a better fit with CD 7. But CD 6 then would have to pick up population elsewhere, likely from Republican areas.

GOP candidate might benefit

There is a link between Mehl and Ciscomani, a former political adviser to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey.

The candidate’s wife, Laura Ciscomani, sits on the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments. That is the panel that selected Mehl as a nominee for the Independent Redistricting Commission.

Campaign finance reports for Juan Ciscomani list $5,800 in donations from Jonah Carson Mehl, David Mehl’s son, who is a vice president for Cottonwood Properties, the firm owned by his father.

(Numerous Republicans besides Ciscomani have expressed interest in running, but Ciscomani is considered the front-runner because of his political connections and fundraising, more than $600,000 as of last report).

David Mehl does not dispute the partisan nature of some of what he is proposing. But he discounted any idea that there is a link between how he is drawing the lines and his son’s support for Ciscomani’s candidacy.

“We don’t have any business interests in this,’’ Mehl told Capitol Media Services.

Asked if there is any business interest at stake if Republicans control Congress, Mehl responded: “I was appointed as a Republican appointee.”

The 2000 voter-approved law creating the Independent Redistricting Commission requires two Republicans and two Democrats, with those four choosing someone to chair the panel who is not affiliated with either party.

“Our family’s contributed to candidates for 30 years, 40 years,’’ Mehl said. “My sons are free to do whatever they want. They’re their own people.

“Folks can draw their own conclusions,’’ Nate Sigal, an aide to Romero, Tucson’s mayor, told Capitol Media Services. Sigal said “anybody could tell’’ that the moves are designed to give Republicans an advantage.

Would dilute Tucson influence, mayor says

Partisan politics aside, Sigal said the changes also would dilute Tucson’s influence.

“It is in the city’s best interest to have two congressional districts that are anchored in the city of Tucson,’’ he said. “I think by pushing it all the way to Alvernon that increases the district’s share of population elsewhere.’’

That “elsewhere’’ in the map for CD 6 runs up to the edge of Casa Grande and out to Safford in one corner and Douglas in the other.

Mehl defended his plan.

“If you’re trying to divide Tucson into two major districts, which is what we are, dividing it into the middle of the city is a pretty logical place to be dividing it,’’ he said.

Mehl called Romero’s concern about losing Tucson influence “incorrect.’’

The panel, which has a Dec. 22 deadline to adopt final maps, also is looking at other changes sought by Mehl that could have political implications.

Legislative districts also debated

One is putting Flagstaff into LD 6, the legislative district that includes the Navajo and Hopi reservations, rather than have the tribes in an area that now includes communities in the White Mountains. Mehl said the tribes have more in common with Flagstaff.

“The Native Americans, they do their shopping in Flagstaff, they attend school in Flagstaff,’’ he said.

“Flagstaff’s a more diverse community with a younger population,’’ Mehl continued. “They share tourism and resources.’’

By contrast, he said, the communities in the White Mountains “have nothing in common with Flag,’’ arguing that their positions on issues like water are in direct opposition with those of Native Americans.

The tribes, however, have made it clear they’re not interested in that configuration amid concerns that adding those Flagstaff voters would make it more difficult for them to elect a state legislator of their choice, as they have been able to do for the past few years.

Commissioner Shereen Lerner, a Democrat, said their concerns make sense even though it is not a partisan issue.

“Part of why we did not want to put Flagstaff in with the Navajo Nation is actually what we’ve heard might happen with (Democratic) primaries, which is why they need to be separate and placed into LD 7,’’ with the White Mountain communities, she said.

Questions on the ability of tribal members to have a say in the biennial legislative elections could raise legal issues, as the Voting Rights Act prohibits changes in election laws and procedures — including district boundaries — that dilute minority voting strength.

Commissioners appear sensitive to potential legal challenges like this. In fact, they got a closed-door briefing from their attorneys on a lawsuit the U.S. Justice Department just filed against Texas over the fact that the Republican-controlled legislature there, which draws the lines, found ways to make both of that state’s two new congressional districts largely Anglo and Republican even though more than 95% of the population growth of the past decade is attributable to minorities.

But any lawsuits there or here may have a hurdle.

While federal law precludes drawing lines to discriminate against minorities, courts have not been willing to extend those protections when districts are crafted for partisan advantage. That means anyone challenging changes would have to show that the real reason for any changes are racial or ethnic and not for political reasons.

Mehl acknowledged that, at least for the past decade, the reservation has been in a district that includes the White Mountains. And Flagstaff, by contrast, was in a district with Sedona, Cottonwood and Camp Verde.

The result has generally been there are two state representatives and one state senator from tribal lands.

“It’s my opinion, a pretty strong opinion, that the White Mountains are a better fit with the valley down through Payson and with the other district’’ than with the reservation, Mehl said.

But it’s far beyond Payson, with that proposed district stretching as far as Florence, San Manuel and Oracle.

This isn’t Mehl’s first foray into redrawing lines with political implications.

He is the one who insisted on crafting a legislative district that runs from Marana around the far northern suburbs of Tucson to Tanque Verde and Vail. That would create a safe district for GOP candidates, compared with earlier proposals that would have combined the Marana area with Casas Adobes in what would have been a politically competitive district.

The Independent Redistricting Commission is moving to give Republicans an edge in electing members of Congress for the coming decade. One of the ways is through changes being pushed by David Mehl, a Tucson Republican on the commission, for the area in and around Tucson.


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