Sun, Sept. 22

Dem head says new legislative lines not competitive enough

PHOENIX -- The head of the Arizona Democratic Party thinks it is getting a raw deal in the way proposed legislative lines are being drawn.

Luis Heredia said he doesn't expect Democrats to have an edge in the majority of the 30 districts crafted by the Independent Redistricting Commission. And he conceded that while Democrats are "not a dying breed,' there are more people registered as politically independent.

Heredia said, though, that the commission could -- and should -- have created more districts that are politically competitive, where Democrats stand at least a fighting chance of getting elected.

But the problem becomes that there is no clear definition of what makes a competitive district, both in terms of pure numbers and which numbers are significant. Even the commissioners themselves are unclear how many competitive districts they created.

Pure party registration numbers show Republicans in good position in 16 districts and 10 where Democrats have a clear edge. The balance are competitive, where the numbers are within 7 percent of each other.

But a separate analysis which also factors in how Arizonans, including independents, actually voted in the 2008 and 2010 legislative races show that eight of the districts being created would be competitive. That is based on a 5 percent difference between who won and who lost.

And looking at how people voted in the race for state mine inspector, a low-level race where there are few issues and people would be expected to simply support the party nominee, yields a different set of numbers.

Any way you look at it, though, Heredia said he believes that commissioners could actually create up to five more competitive districts if they just tweak the lines.

The problem with such "tweaks' is that competitiveness is just one of the factors the commission needs to consider.

All the districts must be virtually equal in population. And federal law forbids the state from diluting minority voting strength, meaning there have to be at least nine districts, as there are now, where Latinos or Native Americans could elect their choice -- assuming they vote as a block.

More problematic are requirements to respect everything from geographic boundaries to "communities of interest.' And the latter term is not defined in law, which has left commissioners debating how often they can draw the lines between nearby cities

Heredia, however, said meeting those goals does not mean less political competition.

"You can still preserve all the other constitutional criteria and give voters a choice,' he said.

On the other side of the political spectrum, if instant reaction is any indication, Republicans appear to be happier with how they will fare in elections for the next decade if these are the final lines.

Party spokesman Shane Whitfors said it makes sense that the majority of districts are predominantly Republican, given the voter registration edge. And he reads the numbers to show five competitive districts, two leaning Republican and three the other way.

But what is giving the state GOP heartburn is what Whitfors sees as splitting communities of interest.

"You've got mining communities with agricultural communities, you've got urban metropolitan communities now with rural communities,' he said. And Whitfors said he is "bewildered' by things like splitting the city of Yuma into two districts, with half of it linked to southwest Tucson and the other half in the same district as Litchfield Park in Maricopa County.

Whitfors acknowledged there is an inherent tension created in meeting all the goals, ranging from protecting minority voting strength to political competitiveness and keeping similar communities together. "But we think they could have drawn these lines much better,' he said.

Gov. Jan Brewer, the top elected Republican in the state, has no particular thoughts yet on the map. Press aide Matthew Benson said she is still consulting with GOP legislators who would be affected.

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