In 2000, Arizona voters passed Proposition 106 establishing the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC). It became a beacon to the nation for establishing fair voting districts by limiting partisan gerrymandering.

This article first appeared in the Arizona Daily Star on November 4, 2021, at https://bit.ly/3BLMx4O.

The legal overview of the law states: “Under the Arizona Constitution, the sole task of the IRC is to establish congressional and legislative districts. The Constitution permits no more than two members of the IRC to be from the same political party and requires that the fifth commissioner not be registered with any party represented on the IRC at the time of appointment. Members must demonstrate a commitment to performing the IRC’s charge in an honest, independent, and impartial fashion and to upholding public confidence in the integrity of the redistricting process.”

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The genius of the law is it assigns the chairmanship to a demonstrated independent. At the Thursday, Oct. 28 meeting, we witnessed Chair Erika Neuberg fail in her role to stop partisan gerrymandering when she supported approval of a map version proposed by Republican Commissioner David Mehl that benefits Republican state Sen. Vince Leach. The key dispute over which map to approve for their public tour was between Commissioner Mehl and Commissioner Shereen Lerner over the configuration of Legislative District 17 proposed by Draft Map Versions 9.0 and 9.2

Version 9.0, supported by Lerner, covers Marana, Oro Valley, the Saddlebrook area, and Casa Adobes. The district ranks very competitive with barely a one-point spread between Democrats and Republicans. Statewide, the 30 legislative districts were divided into 12 safe districts each for Democrats and Republicans and six competitive districts
Version 9.2, supported by Mehl, removes Casa Adobes and circles around the Catalina Mountains to the east side of Tucson and down into Vail. It gives Republicans a safe district by almost 10 points and drops one competitive district.On Thursday, despite expressing support for competitive districts, Chair Neuberg supported Mehl’s elimination of one. She engineered approval of 9.2, which is now officially Approved Legislative Draft Map 10.0.

She explained her preference of 9.2 two ways. First, she was impressed by a joint letter from Marana Mayor Ed Honea and state Sen. Leach expressing a preference for Mehl’s map. Second, she repeatedly said she wanted to assure that “center-right” voters stood a chance of electing a candidate of their choice. Both statements are erroneous.
First, Prop 106 clearly instructs the commission not to consider the preferences of any given legislator. If this were the first time she considered legislator input it might be forgiven. However, the League of Women Voters of Arizona had to write a letter condemning her initial plan to meet with state legislators. Fortunately, even the partisan members of the commission knew enough to vote down her proposal.

Second, there are no center-right voters that need protecting. Arizona Republicans are nationally known as far-right for championing the Big Lie, supporting fraudulent audits, advancing voter-suppression bills, and attending violent insurrections. Their competition needs a fair chance.

Competitive districts inspire voter confidence and participation. They encourage all parties to advance their best candidates who must run on their merits, not party affiliation. And they ensure politicians are held accountable for their actions.
In a state where voter registration is almost equally divided between Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. Competitive districts assure Independents truly have a voice and a choice. Ideally, this would mean 10 districts for each group of voters. The five competitive districts as proposed in 9.2 are far too few.

We can’t condemn Commissioner Mehl, as a Republican appointee, for advancing safe Republican districts and helping his legislator. We can, however, loudly condemn Chair Neuberg for failing to do her job by supporting his blatant partisan gerrymandering. We must condemn Mehl’s 10.0 and demand maps like 9.0 that increase the number of competitive districts for the benefit of us all.

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