Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Border Crossers: New Legislative Lines Scramble the Southern Arizona Delegation

Posted By on Wed, Dec 21, 2011 at 6:46 PM

After months of argument, a lot of name-calling and several lawsuits, Arizona’s political boundaries are set—or at least darn close to set. And for many politicians, that means it’s time to move.

The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission on Tuesday finalized—pending a legal and technical analysis by consultants, a final vote, and United States Department of Justice approval—the political maps that will define Arizona’s political landscape for the next decade.

For politicians, the process is a prolonged nightmare, and at any second, any legislator could end up like state Senator Olivia Cajero-Bedford.

“I’m screwed,” Cajero-Bedford said outside the commission meeting in Tempe Tuesday. “Say goodbye to Olivia.”

With the click of the mouse, Cajero-Bedford’s neighborhood in the Tucson Mountains got drawn into a district linked up with Oro Valley, Marana and Maricopa. It’s a Republican district where, as a Democrat, she doesn’t stand a chance of getting elected.

Every 10 years, the commission creates a new set of congressional and legislative maps adjusted for population growth and following certain constitutional and federal criteria.

Cajero-Bedford and her Democratic seatmate, Representative Macario Saldate, made a last-ditch appeal to the commission Tuesday, asking that their district lines be redrawn to protect certain “communities of interest”—aka their communities.

In the end, Saldate got his wish and the commission redrew the line, but Cajero-Bedford ended up stuck in a Republican district. She said she plans to move.

The dance they entertained illustrates the political sensitivity of the matter. The commissioners aren’t allowed to consider where politicians live when drawing the maps. That said, these people are hardcore politicos—they are friends with politicians and have attended dinners and fund-raising events at their homes.

As Commissioner Richard Stertz put it: “I'm not supposed to know where (politicians) live, so just like you as a reporter, I have to check my biases at the door.”

And although it’s easy to accuse these politicians of trying to save their own hides, both had valid arguments to make to the commission.

In Saldate’s case, the line dividing line between the new legislative districts 2 and 3 ran along South 12th Avenue for miles, only veering for a six-block square around his house. And though he wasn’t allowed to tell the commission where he lives, Saldate said it didn’t make sense for the line to veer off the major road that has traditionally been the divider.

The commissioners had already discussed trying to keep the lines along major roads as much as possible, so it was Republican commissioner Stertz who first spoke up in support of re-drawing the boundary straight down South 12th Avenue.

Cajero-Bedford’s case was more difficult. She argued the Tucson Mountains neighborhood is a community of interest (it’s a progressive hub of west Tucson) and the residents have more in common with Downtown Tucson than Oro Valley, which the commission is supposed to take into consideration when drawing the maps.

But the neighborhood was too large an area and population to move district-to-district at the last minute, and the boundaries had already been argued exhaustively the day before. In the end, the lines remained.

“It’s sad to think you won’t be representing the same people you’ve been representing for the last eight or nine years,” Cajero-Bedford said. “We’ve built bonds, I’ve earned their respect. I’ve worked hard to earn their respect and I don’t want to leave them.”

She’s going to move down the road, she said, where she at least has a fighting chance of keeping her job.

Across Arizona right now, politicians are trying to figure out what district they live in, who they might have to run against to keep their seats, and how favorable the district demographics look.

We’ll bring you more here and in future print editions, but get ready for a big boost to the real-estate market as Arizona’s politicians look for safe digs in like-minded neighborhoods.

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