Wed, July 17

Political winds change with redistricting<br>Commission adopts final maps

The Verde Valley would be in District C of the new legislative district map adopted by the state's Independent Redistricting Commission. The district also includes Prescott but not Flagstaff.

The Verde Valley finds itself in a congressional district that has a Democrat majority and a legislative district with a Republican majority. The total minority population of the new congressional district rises to 41.6 percent. The legislative district will have a minority population of 15 percent.

"We just live with whatever we're dealt," said Yavapai County District 3 Supervisor Chip Davis, a Republican. "I wish they went at this as a common sense approach rather than diluting it with politics as it has been."

Davis said the process was influenced by office holders maneuvering to keep their elected positions.

The Verde Valley stays intact on both maps. Until the very last draft, the tri-city area of Prescott, Prescott Valley and Chino Valley was divided, but the final legislative map keeps those communities together, as well.

In making that decision, the commission removed Flagstaff from the legislative district. In public forums, many people in the Verde Valley had asked to be aligned with Flagstaff rather than Prescott. They did not get their way.

The Justice Department has 60 days to accept, reject or question the districts. Legal challenges have been threatened throughout the process and, if realized, could delay the 2002 implementation of the maps.

"I've been watching it [the redistricting] with great interest on the Internet," said Cottonwood attorney Diane Prescott, who is forming a campaign to run for U.S. Congress on the Democratic ticket. "I'm delighted that there is a district for those who appreciate rural Arizona and the lifestyle we live here."

Davis said he knows those residents that are contemplating a run for elected office have been waiting to see the final political layout of the districts. "They'll probably know which direction to solidify their stands on the issues," he said.

The final congressional district map was adopted Friday night. The legislative district map was adopted Sunday. There is still some minor tweaking to be done, and letter designations for districts are being changed to numerals.

On the congressional map (for U.S. representatives), the new District 1 has the largest landmass, but its boundaries have shifted from earlier proposed maps. To meet the Hopi nation's demands to be separate from the Navajos, the map continues to have the so-called "gerrydragon" linking the small reservation with District 2.

That district fills the northwest corner of the state, with a southern jog over to tap into the Phoenix metropolitan area.

The Verde Valley, the Prescott tri-cities area and Flagstaff are all in District 1, along with Holbrook, Safford and Page. The increased population indicated by the 2000 Census made the redistricting necessary. Arizona picked up two new districts.

Wherever Congressman Bob Stump's legal residence is determined to be, Phoenix or Tolleson, neither of his homes is in District 1.

"They've tried to keep it mostly rural Arizona, which was our main point," Davis said. "There is a Democratic advantage to it."

The district becomes one of three congressional districts in which Democrats outnumber Republicans. The margin is less than 10 percent. The other two Democratic districts, District 4 and District 7, have more than 20 percentage points separating the parties.

While the sheer size of District 1 has been off-putting to politicians since it was first proposed, Prescott said the distant communities still have the common theme of preserving the rural environment. Her approach is not set on merely taking advantage of a party majority.

"I'm more interested in running on the issues," she said. "I'm hoping there will be a number of people that will be voting on the issues and I can appeal to both parties. I want to earn every vote on the issues that are important to people."

The legislative map (for state legislators) gives this district (temporarily District C) the highest population of all districts in the state at more than 174,000. The others average 171,000 each.

Based on the AIRC's data, there would be a Republican majority at 48 percent. Of the other registered voters, 27 percent are Democrats and 5 percent are Independents. Almost 20 percent indicate no registered party.

And with Flagstaff being shifted into the neighboring district, Prescott becomes the largest city in the district.

"Not having Flagstaff does make a difference to me," Davis said. "My worry was that any potential candidates from a small town or unincorporated area would be swallowed up by Flagstaff candidates. I then felt Flagstaff issues would be legislative priority and the small towns or unincorporated areas would be secondary.

"With this new district it appears that it is made up entirely of small to moderate-sized towns that all have similar issues. I can live with it and think the Verde Valley communities will do well."