PHOENIX — The Independent Redistricting Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to approve new lines for congressional races through the 2030 election.
The vote came despite comments from members of both political parties on how each believes the final maps are not what they wanted. But they said that as a compromise — and with two Republicans, two Democrats and a political independent — compromise was the only real option.
Wednesday’s vote, however, may not be the last word.
Attorney Marc Elias, who has filed election-related lawsuits across the country on behalf of Democrats, sent a Twitter message shortly before the vote saying he has been watching what is happening here.
“I expect litigation if these illegal maps are enacted,” he wrote.
On paper, using voter registration figures, the maps would create four “safe” congressional seats for Republicans and three for Democrats, with two that are considered competitive.
But Democrat Commissioner Shereen Lerner said voter registration is only one indicator. She noted that an analysis of how residents of what would be Congressional District 6 voted in nine prior elections in 2018 and 2020 found that Republicans won six of those.
That district stretches from midtown Tucson through Graham, Greenlee and most of Cochise County and up into Casa Grande.
And even that, Lerner said, is misleading.
Of the three that were listed as Democrat wins in CD 6, one was the 2020 U.S. Senate race where Mark Kelly beat Republican Martha McSally, but only by a margin of 50.5%. And the other was a bare win for Joe Biden who got just a hair over 50%.
The situation is similar in CD 1, the other supposedly competitive district that encompasses parts of northeast Phoenix and Scottsdale.
“This is not the map I would like,” Lerner said. And she said it is a deviation from the current political situation where Arizonans have elected Democrats to five of the nine congressional seats.
Neuberg, however, dismissed the current breakdown of the congressional delegation as irrelevant to the commission's goals of crafting districts that represent communities of interest, geographic boundaries, federal voting rights laws and competitiveness, with the last factor allowed only to the extent it does not interfere with the others.
“Maybe we see our constitutional responsibilities differently,” she said, saying it is not the role of the commission to start with a presumption of how many Democrats and Republicans Arizona should send to the U.S. House.
While Lerner and fellow Democrat Derrick Watchman also voted for the plan as the best they thought they could get, it was panned by the Arizona Democratic Party.
But the party's harshest criticism was reserved for Erika Neuberg, who as the chair of the five-member panel, held the balance of power.
“Despite having changed her registration from Republican to independent in 2016, it is now all too clear that Chair Neuberg is a partisan in sheep's clothing,” the party statement reads. “She has been an active participant in the Republican commissioners' efforts to achieve a warped congressional map so gerrymandered it might as well have been drawn by a Republican legislature.”
“No comment,” Neuberg responded.
Some of the basis for the complaints by the Democrats has to do with how the panel crafted CD 6 — and, specifically, how they divided Tucson between that district and already heavily Democratic CD 7 which runs all the way west to Yuma and then north into Phoenix western suburbs.
Republican David Mehl led multiple efforts to move that line as far east as possible.
He said that ensures downtown Tucson is united with the University of Arizona community, which he said runs out as far as Alvernon Way. As proof, he said even UA President Robert Robbins lives east of the campus.
That didn’t impress Lerner, saying Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University, lives nowhere near the campus.
“We’re not going to make a whole district around ASU,” she said. “Where the president lives is not a community of interest.”
But Lerner saw something more sinister in moving those midtown voters — a presumably Democratic area — into CD 7 which is a district where Republicans already stand little chance of electing anyone to Congress.
"When you made those changes in Tucson it was specifically packing (Congressional) District 7 with white, liberal voters and taking them out of District 6,'' she complained.
The map approved Wednesday setting the dividing line between CD 6 and CD 7 takes some interesting twists and turns.
It starts at the Rillito River and turns south on Oracle Road, then east on Limberlost Drive, south on First Avenue, east on Fort Lowell Road, south on Country Club Road, east on Speedway, and south on Alvernon Way to Broadway. It then takes in the area between Broadway and Golf Links Road before turning back to Alvernon.
Everything to the east is in CD 6, the one that, depending on whose calculus you use, is either politically competitive or leaning Republican.
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