Some upset with redistricting panel's new legislative lines - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Some upset with redistricting panel's new legislative lines

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Posted: Thursday, December 22, 2011 4:45 pm | Updated: 10:21 am, Fri Dec 30, 2011.

The political lines that will govern legislative elections for the coming decade will make some people happy but more than a few thinking they got the shaft.

In fact, that's precisely the term state Rep. Olivia Cajero Bedford, D-Tucson, used to describe what happened to some of her constituents who now find themselves in a district likely to be dominated by Pinal County Republicans.

Cajero Bedford is not the only one upset with the final legislative lines adopted late Tuesday by the Independent Redistricting Commission.

Paradise Valley Mayor Scott LeMarr complained because the map separates his incorporated town from the nearby Biltmore and Arcadia areas of Phoenix.

He said more than just geography is involved, saying that his town has an agreement to share the cost of fire services with that area of Phoenix, with Phoenix firefighters actually staffing town fire equipment. And half of town residents get city of Phoenix water.

And officials from Litchfield Park on the western edge of the Phoenix area are less than pleased that their residents are in the same district as - and possibly will be outvoted by - people living in Yuma.

But all of them appear to have been victims of the legal requirement for the commission to protect minority voting strength.

That's part of what happened to the district where Cajero Bedford now lives.

Commission members were attempting to create a "majority minority" district out of large portions of Pinal and Gila counties. That meant drawing the lines in a way to include as many Hispanics as possible and exclude as many who are not.

By extension, that meant putting Democrats into that minority district and shifting Republican areas into the adjacent one.

But the law also requires that all districts be close to equal in population. So that required finding areas to add to that non-minority district.

And that, in turn, pulled the line not only into northern Pima County, including Oro Valley and Marana, but all the way around the west side of the Tucson Mountains, down all the way to Gates Pass Road - and three blocks beyond where Cajero Bedford lives.

In testimony before the commission, she pointed out that the lines were drawn to keep some communities of common interest together at the expense of those in her area who are now being politically separated from Tucson.

"The feeling of the residents of the Tucson Mountains is that Oro Valley and Saddlebrook are getting their way," she said. "And so the people on the west side, the Tucson Mountains, are getting the shaft."

But the five-term state legislator said she won't be among them, stuck in a district heavily dominated by Republicans.

"I'm going to move," she told Capitol Media Services on Wednesday, saying she already has a house in what's left of her old southwest Tucson district.

While Cajero Bedford has decided what the new lines mean to her, it remains to be seen how they will affect not only other incumbents but also the political makeup of the Legislature.

Last year was a low point for Democrats, with Republicans taking 21 of 30 Senate seats and 40 of 60 House seats.

On paper, the new maps would seem to ensure that the GOP will maintain its hold on both chambers.

Using one political yardstick, there are 16 safe Republican districts and up to 11 where a Democratic candidate would have an edge. That leaves just three districts where the voting patterns and party registration figures are close enough that it could go either way.

But a different measurement based on weighting various prior elections all the way back to 2004 finds seven districts which might be considered competitive.

The vote by the redistricting commission on both the legislative and congressional maps is not necessarily the last word. Now the U.S. Department of Justice gets to review both plans to ensure compliance with that provision of the Voting Rights Act that nothing in the plan dilutes minority voting strength.

That determination is not as simple as it sounds.

The commission has created districts where minorities make up a majority of the population. But the Department of Justice may be interested in some other figures.

One is the number of voting-age Hispanics in the district, given the relatively higher percentage of children among Hispanics compared with some other groups.

But there also is the fact that the Census Bureau, whose population figures form the basis for the division, counts people whether they are in this country legally or not. So the commission has also tried to figure out how many Hispanics who are of voting age are citizens.

Those changes can make a difference.

In the new version of the district on Tucson's southwest side, for example, Hispanics make up 57.7 percent of the population. But by the time citizenship and voting age are factored in, their share drops to 44.4 percent.

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