The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.
Rendering redistricting yet more difficult is the intent of SCR 1018, a proposed constitutional amendment introduced by Sen. J.D. Mesnard.
My wife and I have been home owners and residents here in Arizona since mid-November 1995. In that quarter century we have lived in three different state legislative districts while in the same home in Tucson’s Tanque Verde Valley. When we came here we were in Legislative District 13 and represented by three Democrats if memory serves me correctly. The initial Independent Redistricting Commission in 2001 put us in LD 30, in which we were represented exclusively by Republicans throughout the decade.
The 2011 commission’s labors resulted in our new LD 10 being one whose competitiveness has resulted in reasonably close elections won mostly by Democrats. Our congressional district has changed little, remains competitive and we’ve been represented by two Republicans and three Democrats.
In 2011, I followed the work of the commission pretty closely and I can assure you that its members and staff worked diligently within constraints both legal and extra-legal.
As to the legal constraints, let me focus on just one, the one I insisted on in testimony given in person at several of the commission’s meetings. The commission was enacted in 2000 primarily in order to remove the power of a legislative majority to create safe districts for as many as possible of its members and to enable the establishment of competitive districts to the extent feasible. A legal constraint over which the commission and the state generally have had no control is the Voting Rights Act requirement that the ability of minority populations to elect representatives of their choice not be diluted.
This requirement has resulted in two congressional districts remaining safe for minority candidates. The 2011 redistricting has given Republicans four safe seats, with three districts being competitive. During the decade, both parties have won in those competitive districts. The same constraints applied to the drawing of state legislative districts have resulted in more safe seats for Republicans than Democrats, with far fewer competitive districts than I would like to see.
Redistricting is a very difficult business. SCR 1018 would only make it more so. It would amend the state constitution “so that the population of the largest legislative district by population shall not exceed the population of the smallest legislative district by population by more than five thousand persons.” Putting it on our November ballot would be a waste of time and an insult to the members of the two Independent Redistricting Commissions that have to date given the state districts that have been judged compliant with all constitutional and statutory requirements.
In a 2015 decision, the Supreme Court found that establishment of the Independent Redistricting Commission in order to make drawing district lines less partisan is constitutionally permissible. Then in 2016, in Harris vs. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, the court unanimously upheld the legislative map drawn by the commission in 2011-2012. With that map in place voters have continued to elect Republican majorities to both chambers .
But some folks are never satisfied and Mesnard apparently thinks those majorities could disappear without the monkey wrench he proposes to add to the challenging work of the Independent Redistricting Commission. Let’s just say no.
Frank Bergen is a retired civil servant.