TEMPE -- The Independent Redistricting Commission voted Monday to set up the state's nine congressional districts in a way that creates two far-flung rural districts, and divides the Tucson metro area into three pieces.
As given preliminary approval, Tucson would be divided roughly along Campbell Avenue. Everything to the west, including Tucson International Airport, Picture Rocks and the Avra Valley, would run all the way to Yuma.
It also would take in all of Santa Cruz County. Statistics on voting patterns, party registration and minority population suggest it should be a district safe for a Hispanic candidate, and a Democrat in particular. The area is currently represented by Raul Grijalva.
The district to the east goes through most of Cochise County, taking in all the major communities and about 93 percent of the population. This district, most of which fits within the area represented by Democrat Gabrielle Giffords, would remain be very competitive, with the number of Republicans and Democrats within 4 percent of each other.
But the northern edge of Pima County, including Tortolita, Marana and Oro Valley, would be pushed into a sprawling district that would include the balance of Cochise County, thorough much of Pinal County and run through Flagstaff all the way to the Utah line.
This district, too, has voter registration numbers that should make it a toss up. That means first-term Republican Rep. Paul Gosar, who took the seat from Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick, could find himself again in a competitive general election contest. Kirkpatrick already has announced she wants to try to regain her seat.
Overall, three of the nine districts would be considered competitive, with two heavily weighted toward Democrats -- the one occupied by Grijalva and the other in south and west Phoenix -- and four where, from voting pattern and registration figures, the Republicans should have an edge.
The vote for this map, which now goes out for public comment, was 3-1. Colleen Mathis, a registered independent who chairs the panel, voted with the two Democrats.
Republican Richard Stertz refused to go along, saying he thinks the process was rushed.
"We saw the map for the first time this morning,' he said.
Stertz said the law requires commissioners to consider various issues when drawing lines, ranging from protecting minority voting strength to trying to make as many politically competitive districts as possible. About the only data he had to work with Monday, he said, was that each of the nine districts is roughly equal in population as required.
Republican Scott Freeman abstained, saying he needs more information.
But Democrat Linda McNulty pointed out these are only drafts. She said further changes are possible after public hearings.
Until 2000 state lawmakers drew boundaries for both legislative and congressional districts. That often resulted in lawmakers drawing lines that helped preserve safe districts for themselves and their political allies.
That year voters approved a measure giving that responsibility to the Independent Redistricting Commission.
Two members are named on each side by top legislative leaders from each party; those four choose a fifth independent to chair the panel.
By law, commissioners cannot consider where current federal and state lawmakers live. But as it turns out, none of the eight existing members of Congress find themselves in a district with another incumbent.
A new ninth district awarded to the state because of its population growth was carved out of parts of Scottsdale and northeast Phoenix. That district leans Republican.
One significant change politically could affect Ben Quayle, another first-term Republican who got elected to a seat vacating by retiring Rep. John Shadegg, another Republican.
The current district where Quayle lives is heavily Republican. But his home is now in a district that could be considered competitive, meaning Democrats might have an equal chance of winning.
Two years ago the state's congressional delegation was split 4-4 between the parties. But Republicans picked up two seats in 2010 in an election year that was bad for Democrats nationwide.
The two "majority-minority' districts have to be preserved because the federal Voting Rights Act precludes states from enacting any changes in election laws that dilute minority voting strength.
Commissioners are still crafting new lines for the state's 30 legislative districts which also need to be redrawn because the 2010 census showed that not all areas of the state grew at the same rate.
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