Attack of the Killer Gerrymander

New county redistricting has created a monster.

Out of Pima County's darkest, smokiest back room it came. Twisting and whirling, ripping and tearing. Spitting huge chunks of the county one way. Tossing whole blocks of houses the other way.

In the end, it cut a wide angle through Tucson and threw the homes in the quiet neighborhoods by Craycroft from Broadway past Fifth Street all the way to Grant Road into a county political district with Ajo.

Dorothy is definitely not in Kansas. She flew out a window along with the concept of "communities of interest," in a county redistricting effort that was ramrodded through a supposed citizens committee last week to produce the worst gerrymandering in the nearly 30 years Pima County has had five supervisorial districts.

It is a gerrymander neither seen nor suffered since 1992, when the Legislature gave Tucson its peculiar District 14, changed from a simple eastside district to a sprawling monster that transcended communities of interest.

If you're reading this while eating a pastrami on rye at Feig's, here's your alert: You are now in Sharon Bronson's district. Go a few blocks west and say hello to your perhaps temporary (if he makes good on his threat to run for Congress) supervisor, Raúl Grijalva. In fact, you can salute Grijalva--or his replacement--as your county representative while sipping tea in El Encanto.

You may need to salute several supes to the side as you make your way through District 3: Broadway and Craycroft, Fifth and Rosemont, together with Ajo, the unincorporated outpost more than three hours away on a drive through the Tohono O'odham Indian Nation.

If it holds, the map to balance Pima County's population of 843,746, required after the 2000 census will provide a huge gift to Bronson, who barely survived a challenge from Republican Barney Brenner last year. Brenner had little backing. The money boys and kings of the Growth Lobby went with Bronson, who with the help of mysterious tabulations from Tohono O'odham land, sneaked a 1,404-vote victory--51 percent to 49 percent--out of 53,894 total votes.

Brenner, an affable and self-made small-business success, clobbered Bronson all along the northwest side, in parts of Marana, Tortolita and unincorporated Pima County.

But Bronson, with the help of her political advisers and a deal with Grijalva, has shed that problem area.

In fact, the new map hacks away 16 northwest precincts, including the 15 that wanted Brenner and not her. Bronson also scraped off the Catalina precincts, where loyalists she now snubs fought nasty battles defending her in the face of overall opposition to her in the unincorporated hamlet near the Pima-Pinal county line.

They all are precincts that are hypersensitive to development issues despite the booming growth there. And they are also precincts full of commuters so tired of being stuck on narrow, congested roads that four years ago they overwhelmingly supported a $350 million bond package for road improvements in a plan that is two years behind schedule.

From Interstate 10, the political realignment allows Bronson to move along Fort Lowell Road and Glenn Street east first to Swan Road, then, with a jog to Grant at Craycroft and then south to Broadway.

Bronson will pick up, under this plan, 28 urban precincts.

She told the we-believe-anything-a-supervisor-tells-us Tucson Citizen that the changes reflect the move to blend urban and rural in all districts.

"She wants those city districts so she and her staff don't have to deal with any of the problems," says one longtime county official who didn't want her name used for fear of retaliation. "This way she can say, 'That's the city. Call the City Council.' It's a great swap from all those high-maintenance, high-aggravation precincts on the northwest side, especially the ones in unincorporated Pima County."

So much so that Bronson also agreed to shed 12 southwest-side precincts that she carried in her race for a second term. Those will be annexed by Grijalva's District 5, which may await a beauty contest appointment between Chicano activist Salomon Baldenegro and Gayle Hartmann, a longtime Grijalva ally who failed November 6 to oust Republican Fred Ronstadt from his midtown Ward 6 City Council office.

Beyond dumping the "whiny" constituents, the benefits of the rural-urban swap are not all that clear for Bronson, though her chief aide, former Legal Aid lawyer Leslie Anna Nixon, and her delegate to the redistricting committee, political animal Linda Hale Barter, pressed for them.

Nixon, a leader in the Arizona Women's Political Caucus, and her lawyer husband Barry Kirschner live just one precinct away from the eastern boundary of Bronson's hoped-for district.

The 28 urban districts are taken from Grijalva's District 5 west of Tucson Boulevard and, to the east of Tucson Boulevard, from District 1, the moderate central and foothills territory that produced Democrat Ron Asta and then a succession of Republicans: Katie Dusenberry, the late Iris Dewhirst, Greg Lunn, Mike Boyd and now Ann Day.

Republican Mayor Bob Walkup carried more than half of those 28 precincts en route to his 14 percentage-point victory over Democrat Molly McKasson, a Bronson ally, in 1999.

And in the City Council races completed November 6, the results were a flat mix. Ronstadt and northside Ward 3 running mate Kathleen Dunbar won in 13 of the precincts Bronson now covets. Hartmann and Ward 3 Democrat Paul Aboud won 13. Two were split; one at Broadway and Rosemont had Dunbar and Hartmann winning, and the other, at Jacobs Park, favored Aboud and Ronstadt.

Bronson's District 3 gerrymander is far from neat. From North First Avenue, it runs east along Glenn until Country Club, where it dives in to take a single precinct from Grijalva's District 5, creating a minor checkerboard.

South of Tucson, Sahuarita is chopped up among three supervisorial districts: Bronson's, Democrat Dan Eckstrom's District 2 and Republican Raymond Carroll's District 4.

Here, Bronson and Hale Barter unloaded Precinct 258--Barter's home precinct, which she failed to deliver for Bronson in last year's election--to Carroll. It created a peculiar interlocking hook for both districts 3 and 4 alongside 2.

The district Grijalva has ruled since 1989, and the territory he has used from which to rule the entire county for the last five years, loses four large, sparsely populated precincts on the northern part of the Tucson Mountains. He also spits out Tucson Estates, the heavily Republican retirement haven in the southern Tucson Mountains near Bronson's home in a wildcat subdivision west of Kinney Road and north of the Ajo Highway.

District 5 is left to resemble an odd dog, showing only two legs, and looking west. While picking up precincts from Bronson on the southwest side, Grijalva gives three along the heavily Mexican-American South 12th Avenue to Eckstrom.

In District 2, Hispanic population climbs to 50.3 percent, the first time Pima County has had a minority-majority district. District 5 Hispanic population is 47.3 percent. In District 3, Hispanic population is 25 percent; it is 11.7 percent and 12.4 percent in districts 1 and 4, respectively.

It wasn't supposed to happen this way.

TOM BOWEN, A SMART and pleasant retired Air Force colonel who dabbles in Republican politics, grew weary of long waits for county redistricting. He won approval to change the law to hasten the process after the completion of the census. Carroll selected Bowen as supervisors created a citizens committee that would redraw the district lines.

The task was clear. District 3 and 4 were bursting while District 5 and 2 lacked people. Northwest growth drove District 3 population to 200,906, more than 32,000 over the balanced figure of 168,749. District 4 had 9,875 over the ideal population. District 5 needed 22,763 while District 2 lacked 12,190. District 1 was the most stable, with 7,079 people needed.

Redistricting is done by population, not voters. But voter registration--381,495 for the county--also was out of whack. Eckstrom's District 2 had only 49,655 voters when the work began this spring, and Grijalva's District 5 had only 60,175. Voter registration declined from 1992 to this year in both districts. In eastside and Green Valley District 4, however, voter registration increased 6 percent to 100,162.

Grijalva named to the committee Baldenegro, ubiquitous on political causes since the University of Arizona, where he is a researcher, started giving him a hard time three years ago. Barter was Bronson's choice; Day appointed foothills political strategist Wanda Shattuck, who also sat on the 1992 redistricting committee; and Eckstrom chose Elena West, a county employee.

Grijalva made his usual pitch to the dailies about a clean process, one of openness and integrity. But Bowen's labor at the Legislature was quickly scrapped by the committee and supervisors, who complained that they would not be able to get the work done by June 5. Supervisors voted on March 20 to seek more time. Grijalva even conned the Citizen into reporting that the 1992 committee, which began work in earnest in late January and produced an adopted map by April 6, had more time than the current committee.

Work this year was stopped, pending the state committee's work on the legislative and congressional district maps. Only after county Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez, a Democrat, told supervisors on November 1 that they had better get moving, was the committee allowed to restart. Members gathered on November 9. Shattuck and Bowen, the chairman, were stunned to see Bowen's map, prepared as a starting point for discussions, pushed aside for one Barter had beaming on a screen.

"The chairman was blindsided," Shattuck said. "It was rude. It's politics. But it was rude."

Shattuck is no stranger to politics, having devised the defeat of the Rillito Parkway (Keep it Kinky) in 1984 and the winning District 1 campaigns of Lunn and Day.

"It was a done deal, no negotiating because I asked if we could negotiate after I got over my little tizzy and they said 'no.' "

If this was a brokered deal, Shattuck said, the brokering was done among Democratic supervisors, their staffs and their appointees.

"There was no give and take," Shattuck said.

Still, Day did not complain.

The process and product are in direct contradiction to the state process, approved by voters last year after the costly sponsorship of state Democratic Party boss Jim Pederson. There, the independent committee was directed not to look at incumbent protection--not even where they live--and worked so that the districts should be compact geographically and contiguous, had equal population, respected communities of interest, used geographic features and municipal boundaries, and fostered competitiveness.

In contrast, incumbent protection is an obvious goal of the county process.

The map, which must meet with approval from the U.S. Justice Department for its effect on minority voting under the Voting Rights Act, will go to the Board of Supervisors on Decembber 4.

Supervisors, with the exception of Carroll, who has issued muted complaints about being stripped of eight northeast-side precincts, are suppressing public review and comment. Four hearings were set, all on weekdays and none in the evening. A final public review is set for the east side, November 26 at 1 p.m. at the James Lee Kirk Library, 8959 E. Tanque Verde Road.