Does more or less political competition make a better government? Lawmakers are ringing the cards

Arizona Independent Constituency Commission October 28, 2021. Left to right: Shereen Lerner, Derrick Watchman, Erika Neuberg, David Mehl, Douglas York.

More political competition between Republicans and Democrats running for the Arizona legislature means more choice for voters.

Or maybe the result is a deadlock on Capitol Hill and an imbalanced party advantage allows for better governance.

These were the competing arguments of the Republican and Democratic leaders in the Legislative Assembly who presented their visions of the state’s new political maps on Thursday.

Both sides hope to gain strength over the next 10 years. But both are also hampered by mathematical and legal realities in the delicate balancing act of creating new districts that give weight to a variety of considerations required by the Arizona Constitution.

Voters approved the Independent Constituency Commission system in 2000 with the goal of removing the ten-year reshuffle policy from legislative and congressional maps. But Arizona law allows the state House and Senate to make recommendations on the process, which “will” be considered by the five commissioners, whom they heard from Thursday.

The commission begins its final decision meeting phase on December 6 and aims to deliver the completed cards to the state by December 22.

Appearing at a virtual business meeting with commissioners and staff, Senator Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix and Representative Reginald Bolding, D-Phoenix, the minority leaders in their chambers, represented the Democrats.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers R-Mesa spoke on behalf of the Republican caucuses in the Legislature. Senate Speaker Karen Fann, R-Prescott, did not attend the virtual meeting.

What Democrats Want From Cards

Rios and Bolding said they wanted to see more competition between Arizona’s 30 legislative districts and nine congressional districts, which would require equalizing partisan voters in each district so that candidates from one or more the other party could possibly win. The commission defines the concept of competitiveness as a measure of Republican and Democratic votes in major statewide races over the past three election cycles, plus the number of party wins for those races.

The current legislative map project, which faces changes in the final map process, includes six of the 30 districts in the competitive range. Of the remaining districts, 13 skinny Republicans and 11 skinny Democrats.

The congressional map projects contain four of the nine competitive districts; the others are divided 3-2 with a Republican advantage.

Both cards contain the same level of competitiveness they have had over the past 10 years

Competitiveness is important, Bolding said, because if a constituency is Republican or Democrat-leaning, “it doesn’t offer a choice” to voters.

“We want to create a state where voters really feel their voice has been heard,” he said. “We know this is something that is possible.”

Neither Bolding nor Rios gave specific details on how they would like the commission to achieve higher competitiveness.

“How exactly is that determined, again, the devil is in the details,” Rios said.

The Arizona Constitution gives lower priority to competitiveness than the other five criteria in the mapping process: compactness; as a result of the United States Constitution and the Voting Rights Act; keep district populations roughly equal; follow geographic boundaries, including county and city boundaries; and maintain “communities of interest” together.

The Constitution stipulates that competitiveness “as far as possible, competitive districts should be favored where this would not cause any significant prejudice to other objectives”.

Mathematically speaking, Erika Neuberg, the committee’s independent chairperson, told Democrats that the problem is often one of “either or”. In other words, increasing competitiveness means sacrificing other criteria.

“It’s not always clear and there are a lot of very difficult compromises to make,” she said.

For example, a proposal by the Democratic Latino Coalition for Fair Redistricting to increase the number of Latin American constituencies from seven to eight reduces the number of competitive constituencies overall.

The 2011 process was marked by infighting between its two Republican commissioners and two Democratic commissioners, with Independent President Colleen Mathis often siding with the Democrats.

David Mehl, one of the current Republican commissioners, noted that Democrats in the 2011 process were “open” with their goal of increasing competitiveness compared to what it had been in the 2000s. So, a- he asked Bolding and Rios, were the cards from 2011 good?

Rios said she would not view the 2011 cards as the “model” of perfect cards, but said that “it could be argued that some of these districts have finally become competitive to the point where we are almost at parity. Legislative Assembly”. This hasn’t happened since the 1960s, she added.

Ahead of the business meeting, Rios and Bolding sent a letter to the committee criticizing Neuberg for voting “repeatedly” with Republican commissioners on key issues, such as a submitted map for southern Arizona which includes a new district with a Republican tendency.

And echoing a press release from the Arizona Democratic Party, lawmakers said state representative Vince Leach, R-Saddlebrooke, had concealed his role in creating this map to ensure that ‘he would have a safe district for his re-election.

Leach did not respond to social media messages seeking comment.

What Republicans Want From Cards

Bowers, for his part, urged the committee to ignore calls for more competitiveness, saying that in his 30 years “in or around” the legislature, he has come to believe that governing works best when he balance of Republicans and Democrats is more out of balance.

A lack of competitiveness does not create conditions that result in more extreme candidates on either side, as Democrats argue, he said. Instead, more competitive districts actually make governance more difficult because “bipartisan coalitions cannot be formed because the partisan stakes are so high, with so little headroom,” Bowers said.

A Democrat who wants to help a Republican bill would be threatened by his party, he said, adding that “wider margins” alleviate this problem.

Yet in recent years, when Republicans have maintained a slim majority, they have rarely reached the other side of the aisle. In today’s divisive politics, many Republican bills are too politically toxic for Democrats to support.

Democratic Commissioner Shereen Lerner rebutted Bowers’ theory.

When the legislative composition is closer to 50-50, “it seems like there is more compromise,” she said.

Bowers and Fann also sent a letter to the commission outlining some specific requests for the final legislative maps, including a request to keep Yavapai County intact and to take more care in recognizing communities of interest in Maricopa County on the desire for competitiveness.

One example given was McCormick Ranch in Scottsdale, which is a “clear community of interest” that is split between two districts on the draft map.

They also suggested reviewing some provisional districts whose population has been reduced for “increased competitiveness”.

“I want the best and the brightest ideas”

Neuberg told The Arizona Republic after the meeting that she believed the input from lawmakers was “useful” and that she hoped to keep “lines of dialogue” open with them throughout the final map process this month. .

When asked if she thinks Leach did something wrong by helping to create a map, Neuberg said no.

“I guess the overwhelming majority of (submitted cards) are from a partisan person,” she said. “I want the best and the brightest ideas. I remain fully convinced that the five commissioners act in good faith and digest any information that comes in for the good of our state.”

The last public hearings on the draft maps are scheduled for December 3 at noon and December 4 at 10 a.m. For the schedule of committee meetings in December, go to https://irc.az.gov/public-meetings.

Contact the reporter at [email protected] or 480-276-3237. Follow him on twitter @raystern.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona Constituency Council Hears Republican and Democratic Leaders


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