Several speakers from exurban communities like Oro Valley and Marana spoke passionately about wanting to be in districts with “like-minded” voters at the Independent Redistricting Commission meeting Saturday, August 7, 2021. Their common theme was, “We don’t want to be in the same district as Tucson because we have absolutely nothing in common.” Their focus was not on what unites us. Instead, they seemed to want to build silos, not bridges.
Addressing their communities of interest, they described what they valued about their geographical areas — good schools, safe neighborhoods, access to quality health care, air and water, recreational venues, and more. Tucsonans value these things too, although the Oro Valley and Marana speakers overlooked the similarities. See
Republicans Crowd Redistricting Hearing, Complaining About Tucson.
Tucson is more diverse
So let’s state the obvious here. Tucson is more diverse, racially, ethnically, culturally, and economically. These attributes are why many people choose to live in Tucson, but they are also why many others choose to live elsewhere. However, living in different towns does not mean we have nothing in common. We are all Americans, living in a nation founded on a commitment to unite people from many places as one nation, E Pluribus Unum. And as Americans, we are bound by the same Constitution, which requires us to promote not only liberty, but justice, peace, prosperity, and the general welfare as well.
Promoting the general welfare is expensive. We all must share the cost, but it cannot be shared equally because Americans do not have equal economic resources. The gap between the rich and the poor has been growing steadily for more than 50 years, and it is most pronounced in cities.
Tucson is no different. It has its share of wealthy people, but it has a far larger percentage of poor folks, many of whom cannot provide for their basic needs. Such poverty leads to many social problems –substandard housing, food insecurity, poor schools, inadequate social services and infrastructure, crime, depression and other psychological issues, and substance abuse.
I believe the majority of Arizonans understand these interconnections. I also believe citizens of goodwill from different socioeconomic backgrounds can discuss the problems that poor folks face in urban, rural, and tribal areas and find solutions that benefit everyone
Criminal Justice Reform: All Arizonans are concerned about safety. All Arizonans would be safer if more of the state corrections budget ($1.3 billion last year) were spent in local communities on education, diversion, drug treatment programs, and hiring more probation officers. These actions will reduce caseloads and provide more support for clients to avoid violations that send them back to prison.
Research indicates that such innovations could be funded without budget increases (and possibly budget savings) by reducing the prison population using strategies such as shortening mandatory minimum sentences and allowing deserving inmates to apply for probation before serving 85% of their terms.
Education: All Arizona residents want good schools, but schools in poorer areas are not as well funded as those in affluent areas. Poorer communities lack the means to supplement state school funding with local tax dollars. As a result, children with the greatest needs have the fewest resources.
In most states, lawmakers acknowledge this and allocate additional funding for low-income students. Arizona does not. Arizona also has trouble attracting and retaining good teachers because our teacher salaries are not competitive. The governor often talks about the progress we have made in this area, but the fact is that recent hikes in teacher salaries have barely moved the needle. Studies document that Arizona now ranks 48th rather than 49th place among the 50 states.
The most troubling thing about Arizona education funding is that the disparities are planned and enacted on a party-line vote by our Arizona Legislature. The most encouraging thing about these inequities in education is that most Arizona voters do not endorse them. The majority know good schools benefit all of us by producing employable graduates who pay taxes, raise families, and stay out of trouble. The majority know good schools and a reliable workforce grow the economy by attracting new businesses to Arizona.
The most hopeful thing to say regarding educational inequities in Arizona is that the majority of voters were so fed up with the Legislature’s failure to draft and pass educational reform that they took matters into their own hands. Voters drafted their own bill, Prop 208, that addressed the problems and passed the measure on a bipartisan basis in 2020.
This is reminiscent, of course, of Prop 106, the citizen’s ballot initiative that created the Independent Redistricting Commission in 2000. The success of both initiatives demonstrates the majority of Arizonans want fairness and can and will work together to pass legislation that benefits all of us.
The success of these citizen initiatives begs the question: Why was the Arizona Legislature not responsive to this voting majority? Why, in fact, did they attempt to ignore the will of the majority by going to court to overturn parts of Prop 106 and by enacting legislation to offset parts of Prop 208?
The answer is that our legislators do not hear the voices of the majority of Arizonans when they visit their districts. The task before us is to be sure they hear all our voices going forward, so we don’t have to do their work for them.
Our experiences with Propositions 106 and 208 demonstrate that the collaboration necessary to pass legislation that benefits all Arizonans does not occur in silos inhabited only by “like-minded” folks. Instead, it happens when people with different ideas and perspectives meet, when their paths cross, and when they must explain and justify their positions to each other.
One way to make paths cross is to create voting districts that have somewhat equal representation. An added benefit of drawing more competitive (i.e., inclusive voting districts) is that potential candidates will be more aware of where constituents of every political persuasion can agree and find consensus. (Arizonans who want to see this kind of collaboration at work need only watch public meetings of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission.)
In closing, let me address the concern partisans from both political parties may raise, i.e., competitive districts will cause party control to flip more often. This could happen, but when it does, it is likely to be because voters considered many ideas and many candidates, and the best prevailed.
That’s a good thing because no political party has a monopoly on good ideas. Arizona is relatively evenly divided among Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. It is time we unite to support the best ideas.