Drawing Board

Pima County's process for sketching political boundaries is underway.

One of Pima County's arcane numbers games, to redraw political boundaries and redistribute thousands of the county's 381,495 voters, has begun with the county begging for relief from accelerated deadlines imposed by a new state law.

Pima County lawyers and lobbyists are asking the state Legislature and the U.S. Department of Justice to extend a June 1 deadline to complete the maps for the five districts of the Board of Supervisors. The political boundaries are also used for the Pima Community College Board of Governors.

The five people named by supervisors to devise the map found the time crunch worsened by the delay of about two weeks in the release of the data from the U.S. Census bureau. The data is now expected to be released March 26.

"A lot of people feel the timelines are too short," said Tom Bowen, the retired United States Air Force colonel who is chairman of the county redistricting committee. "That's debatable."

Indeed. Although Bowen was instrumental in passing the state law that moved up the redistricting deadlines, he joined his committee's unanimous vote to ask supervisors to seek an extension. Redistricting, after decennial and mid-decade population counts, was previously completed by the first week of April in the year of the county election. The county revised political boundaries in 1992 and 1988.

The law Bowen and others pushed through the Legislature moved the work to follow more closely the release of census data.

"The real idea behind it was to do this while the census numbers were fresh and to get fair representation fast," said Bowen, who was appointed by Republican Supervisor Ray Carroll.

Bowen also noted that the accelerated new maps can benefit incumbents by giving them more time to work for their new constituents.

Bowen received a little ribbing during the committee's initial meeting from Wanda Shattuck, doyenne of Foothills politics, for his work to change the state law. Nonetheless, Shattuck, appointed by Republican Supervisor Ann Day, made the motion to have Bowen head the committee.

Pima County is not alone, Shattuck said, in believing "there is not going to be enough time." Although the Arizona Association of Counties didn't object to the change last year, five counties are now asking for more time. The State County Supervisors Association also has joined that call. The Justice Department must review the political maps to make sure they conform, as all Arizona political districts must, with provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and do not dilute minority voting power.

There also is concern that county redistricting, far in advance of the state committee's work to redraw state legislative lines and congressional districts, will create multiple micro-precincts that have one or two voters.

Shattuck also sat on the last redistricting committee, one that shifted some 30,000 voters among three districts in 1992. It is unlikely that Dan Eckstrom and Raul Grijalva, Hispanic Democrats who represent the most heavily minority districts, will be able to repeat their "hands off" declarations of nine years ago. Eckstrom, then with 133,983 residents but only 59,577 voters in his southside District 2, was first to order the committee to not change his district. Grijalva followed. His District 5, which includes a portion of the southside as well as affluent Sam Hughes, the westside and Tucson Mountains, then had 131,995 people and 71,612 voters. The 1992 map left Eckstrom with a district that was 38.4 percent Hispanic while Grijalva's district was 42.4 percent Hispanic.

Districts are carved up by population, not voter registration. The number of voters has dropped slightly from 384,072 in 1992 to 381,495 this week, a .06-percent decline.

Registration in Eckstrom's district has dropped 16.6 percent to 49,665, the lowest of any of the supervisorial districts. The drop also was severe in Grijalva's district: more than 15 percent, to 60,715.

Voter registration rose the greatest in District 3, a c-shaped area that takes in booming northwest neighborhoods, the southwest side and rural territory stretching to Ajo. Registration rose nearly 19 percent to 80,610.

Carroll, who represents eastside and Green Valley District 4, saw registration jump 6 percent to 100,162. Day's District 1, which includes central Tucson neighborhoods as well as the foothills, had a .03-percent decrease to 90,343.

There are a number of political undercurrents even though the redistricting work is to be done well ahead of the 2004 Board of Supervisors elections. Grijalva announced on election night last November that this, his fourth term, would be his last. But he would like as much of his district to match with a congressional district to which he wants to ascend. And he want's to preserve a safe district for a successor, be it his daughter, his protégé, City Councilman José Ibarra, or Lorraine Lee of Chicanos por la Causa. Eckstrom, the longest serving among supervisors, also wants to ensure a safe handoff to his daughter Jennifer, a South Tucson City Councilwoman; or one of his allies, state Rep. Vic Soltero or state Sen. Ramon Valadez.

While most of the housing and population growth has been on the northwest and southeast sides, Bowen and Shattuck both cautioned that new residents don't necessarily mean new voters. Age and other demographics from the census data will provide those answers.

"If you just look at the voter registration numbers, this could be a hell of a job," Bowen said.

But the ratio of registered voters to residents could vary widely by district. It is, for example, a safe assumption to think of new voters with new residents in Green Valley.

"Everyone there is of voter age and they register," Bowen said. The reverse may be true for population growth in other districts that have neighborhoods attracting families with young children.

Joining Bowen and Shattuck on the redistricting committee are Salomon R. Baldenegro, who, like Grijalva, is an old warrior for Chicano rights; Linda Hale Barter, a political activist and adviser to Democratic Supervisor Sharon Bronson; and Elena West, a county employee appointed by Eckstrom.

The committee approach signals, at least in appearance, that the county has moved away from the backroom dealing and drawing. It was a process that didn't guarantee any clearer understanding by supervisors. Twenty-five years ago, Democrat E.S. "Bud" Walker growled at three of his operatives, Emil Franzi, Ron Caviglia and Dick Jaskiewicz, and was deeply suspicious of a precinct they included in his proposed district. He demanded to know why. Sang the chorus: "Because that is where your home is. That's where you live."

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