RESEMBLING A HUGE beer-bellied bubba who has pulled his belt way too tight, Legislative District 14 oozes across Tucson. Encompassing two large amoeba-like shapes near Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and Sabino Canyon, the district boundaries narrow as they cut through the city until emerging in a big blob west of I-10.
District 14 has been solidly Democratic for the last decade, and it was designed to be that way in 1991 when the state legislature last drew boundaries for districts.
John Kromko, a longtime advocate of redistricting reform who was in the legislature at that time, remembers, "The process began by placing a pin in a map to represent where every legislator lived. Then the number one priority was to preserve the districts for the incumbents."
An effort to change this legal gerrymandering and increase the amount of political competition, Proposition 106 seeks to remove the legislature almost entirely from the redistricting process. Instead, a five-member committee would be appointed to come up with new legislative and congressional district boundaries based on the 2000 census and other information.
In an attempt to be somewhat non-political, people nominated to the committee could not have held or run for office or been a lobbyist in the last three years. They would also have to forsake seeking an office or being a lobbyist for three years after their terms on the redistricting commission expire.
The state's Commission on Appellate Court Appointments would screen nominations for the job. This 16-member group, whose primary job is to give the governor a list of lawyers that can serve on the Arizona Supreme Court or Court of Appeals, would recommend 25 candidates: 10 Republicans, 10 Democrats and five "others."
The four top Democratic and Republican officers of the state legislature would then each pick a member of the redistricting commission, with those four selections picking a fifth person. No more than two members of the group could be from any one political party, and the members must come from at least two different Arizona counties.
Once selected, the members of the commission would redistrict the state, starting by dividing it up into a grid of sectors of equal population. This grid would then be refined based on several criteria, including the goals of having compact districts, having boundaries that respect "communities of interest," conforming to existing geographic and political boundaries wherever possible, and favoring competitive political races. Upon completion of the process, the proposed redistricting map would be subject to public review and comment for 30 days before it is finalized.
The redistricting commission will have $6 million with which to work, an amount estimated to be considerably less than the state legislature used the last time it drew the boundaries. These monies could be used to hire staff, employ demographic and other consultants, and retain lawyers for the expected legal challenges to the new boundaries.
Drafted by members of Arizona Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, Prop 106 has the backing of an interesting array of present and past politicians from both major parties. These include Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan, Arizona Attorney General Janet Napolitano and former Attorney General Grant Woods. All five Arizona Republican members of Congress, however, oppose the proposition, calling it "seriously flawed."
The effort to take redistricting powers away from the legislature is being spearheaded, and primarily financed, by Phoenix developer Jim Pederson. He says he was invited to get involved and took the opportunity because "This has been a pet issue of mine for a long time. I didn't like the direction the legislature has taken with a lot of issues and I thought redistricting had a lot to do with that. Passage of this proposition will go a long way to correct the structural faults in the system, and it is a way I can repay the state for what it has given me. After the proposition is approved, I think we will see a world of difference in the discussions in the legislature."
Kathy Petsas is manager for Fair Districts, Fair Elections, the campaign group pushing the measure. She says, "Elected officials have proven to be out of touch, and this proposition wouldn't be happening if things were hunky-dory." Petsas expects her group will spend about $300,000 to support the proposition.
Samantha Fearn, vice-president of public affairs for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, agrees the current redistricting system isn't perfect. But, she stresses, Prop 106 is not the solution. Pointing out that the present approach requires 31 votes in the state House and 16 in the Senate to pass, Fearn says of the proposition, "Five people will determine the district lines for the entire state and they are only required to be from two counties. Past experience with situations like this shows that most of the time people are selected from Maricopa and Pima counties. So the rural counties will be left out of the process."
In addition to this representational issue, Fearn thinks the proposition has others problems. One is the reliance on a grid pattern to draw the boundaries. "Arizona doesn't fit a grid," she says, "with the high percentage of land being publicly owned and with our meandering centers of population. A grid system just isn't possible."
As for encouraging more political competition, Fearn disputes that it doesn't already exist. "Look at the coin-toss over which party will control the state senate. That shows there is political competition. The existing process may need changes, but this proposition isn't the answer."
John Kromko also thinks the proposition has some flaws because, he says, it was written by people who are too idealistic. He adds, however, "It's probably better than the current situation. The attitude of the commission members is important. If they act like jurors, it will work. If they're political hacks, it won't. But it's worth taking a chance. I want it to pass."