Almost a decade ago, I did a post on Before redistricting, consider increasing the number of districts. (The graphics in this post have since been lost after we converted to a new blog software). I argued:
Before you get upset and spit out your coffee over the mere thought of the idea of adding more elected representatives to the Arizona Legislature, hear me out.
I have always believed that there should be a per capita formula for the number of residents served by state legislators. As the population increases (or decreases) the number of legislative districts would be adjusted accordingly every ten years with the decennial federal census.
Arizona has used a federal court panel imposed 30 districts, with 30 senators and 60 house members, since 1966 — when Arizona’s population was slightly more than one million. (Prior to , Arizona had 28 senators, two for each of the then 14 counties, and 80 representatives). There is nothing magical about this 30 district formula, it just requires proportional representation to maintain the “one man, one vote” rule of Reynolds v. Sims.
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As you can see, Arizona ranks among the states with the least representation based upon per capita representation by district. Expanding to 40 districts would put us back into the mid-range by comparison to other states. [In 2010.]
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The job of the [Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission] would be much easier to meet its criteria to create not just competitive districts, but more representative districts, if the number of districts depended upon a per capita formula of representation by district.
It would improve the quality of constituent services, if not the quality of governance at the Arizona Legislature.
Ten years later, I see in the Arizona Daily Star that Tim Steller is now making a similar argument. Tim Steller’s opinion: Arizona House should grow to give constituents better access:
When Arizona’s Legislature grew to 30 members of the Senate and 60 members of the House, the state had about 1.7 million residents.
That first session with the new numbers was in 1967. A court ruling requiring districts of equal population had led a judge to change how Arizona apportions the Legislature.
Since then, the state population has grown to about 7.4 million.
But you know what hasn’t grown? The Legislature.
In 1967, each member of the House and Senate represented around 57,000 people. Now, there are about 247,000 people per legislative district.
That doesn’t make any sense — in a couple of ways. And a new referendum proposed by Chandler Republican state Sen. J.D. Mesnard attempts to fix the problems, over time.
Mesnard, himself a former speaker of the state House, has introduced a proposal, SCR 1005, that would leave the Senate the same size, at 30, but expand the state House to 90 members.
Each Senate district would be divided into three geographically separate [sub]districts for House members.
Sorry, but no. This is just selecting a random number, it’s not based on a per capita apportionment. This sounds too much like a return to what Arizona used to do before the current number of legislative districts:
The make-up of both houses was changed drastically by the implementation of districts, rather than the old system of county representation. The fourteen counties were broken up into 8 districts. Four of the districts (1, 2, 3, and 5) consisted of multiple counties, while the other four (4, 6, 7, and 8) represented single counties. In addition, Districts Seven and Eight, representing Pima and Maricopa Counties respectively, were further broken down into sub-districts. District 7 had eight sub-districts, 7-A through 7-F, while District 8 had fifteen sub-districts, 8-A through 8-O. The number of senators increased to 30, with the balance of power shifting drastically. Where Democrats had held a 26–2 majority in the prior legislature, Republicans now held a slim 16-14 majority. While the number of senators increased [to 30], the number of representatives decreased from 80 to 60. Again, the balance of power shifted to the Republicans, who now held 33-27 majority in the lower house. It was the first time Arizona history where the Republicans won control of both houses of the legislature.
Mesnard told me he thinks Arizona’s population growth justifies the move, and he doesn’t expect the change to give any particular interest group an advantage.
Tim, do you really think Mesnard would be proposing this method if he did not have statistical data showing that it would once again benefit Republicans? He would not be proposing this otherwise. Don’t be so naive.
“I think it would add stability to the membership,” he said. “It would in many ways more accurately reflect the partisan makeup of the population, I suppose. But mostly I just want to be sure that legislators can represent a reasonable number of people.”
In my view, the only problem with the proposal, which would be decided on by the voters, is the timeline. It would not take effect until the 2032 election for the 2033 Legislature, which is a long time from now.
But Mesnard is worried in part about expanding the House building to accommodate the 30 additional members. And Mesnard’s proposal still solves two big problems.
Our capitol buildings suck, in my humble opinion. Any number of states have far more attractive capitol buildings. Time to build a new capitol building that is more architecturally attractive and functional. It should also accommodate further expansion of the legislature in future years.
One is the fact that Arizona’s legislators represent way too many people. Take a look at the four states closest to Arizona’s population and the number of people in their lower chamber:
- Washington: 98 House members
- Massachusetts: 160 House members
- Tennessee: 99 House members
- Indiana: 100 House members
Or take take a look at the issue from another angle. The only states with a greater population per House member are California, Texas, Florida and New York — the four most populous states in the country.
But it’s not just that Arizona has too few representatives for so much population.
The weird quirk of Arizona’s apportionment is that each district has two House members representing the exact same area, along with a senator. Only a handful of other states have similar, redundant systems. [This was designed to retain the semblance of the previous subdistrict structure].
Why should two House members represent the same group of people, when one could represent half the number, and constituents would have a better chance at access?
Rep. Daniel Hernandez told me that the “seatmate” arrangement of having two members representing the same district can be beneficial. He said he and newly elected Rep. Andrea Dalessandro, both Democrats, are communicating a lot and tag-teaming on different issues.
But that isn’t a universal experience.
“There are districts where the seatmates haven’t spoken with each other in years,” he said.
Hernandez is reluctant to support Mesnard’s proposal, in part because it would require a big expansion of the House building, which would require money he can’t imagine being allocated.
But that’s actually an ulterior motive to support it for me. Beyond the issues of adequate representation, I also hate the state Capitol.
I’m not talking here about the historic state Capitol, which houses the Arizona Capitol Museum, and which people often mistake for the working Capitol buildings.
No, I’m talking about the House and Senate buildings, which opened in 1960 and stand in front of and to the sides of that historic structure. They are ugly, crowded and notorious for problems.
Frankly, they are embarrassing for the state, which ought to spend the money to construct a new legislative complex that the people of Arizona can be proud of.
I fully concur!
It would also be a good way to celebrate the new system and plan for new growth.
The legislature can pass a bill this year to increase the size of the Arizona Legislature on a per capita basis with enough time for the new redistricting maps to be drawn by the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission to go into effect with the 2022 election. This doesn’t require a voter-approved referendum. Do we have a representative democracy, or not?
There is enough time to do this, because the 2020 Census Data has been delayed. Data snags cause Trump to miss giving Congress census data:
The Trump administration missed a deadline for giving Congress numbers used for divvying up congressional seats among the states, and government attorneys said Monday that the figures would not be ready until early March, almost a month later than previously disclosed.
Under federal law, the president is required to hand over the numbers to Congress showing the number of people in each state within the first week of the start of Congress in the year following a once-a-decade head count of every U.S. resident. There are no penalties for missing the deadline.
“Sorry! I was too busy waging an insurrection against the United States government. It slipped my mind.”
The president’s tardiness stemmed from the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, missing a year-end target date for giving the apportionment numbers to the president, due to the pandemic and irregularities that were discovered while crunching data from the 2020 census on a shortened schedule.
“The Census Bureau is committed to fixing all anomalies and errors that it finds in order to produce complete and accurate results,” said Deborah Stempowski, an assistant director at the Census Bureau, in a court filing last week.
The earliest date the apportionment numbers will be ready is March 6, nearly a month past the Feb. 9 date disclosed last week, as the Census Bureau fixes anomalies discovered during data processing, Department of Justice attorneys said Monday during a court hearing.
Let’s do this!