COOLIDGE — Pinal County is the third most populous county in Arizona and continues to see growth, but at least one advocacy group, Rural Arizona Engagement, is sounding the alarm about representation in the state’s redistricting process.
The initial schedule posted this week by Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission includes fewer than half the number of hearings as the 2011 cycle — down to nine from 23 — and none in Pinal County, as well as Cochise, Gila, La Paz and Santa Cruz counties.
Although the schedule is preliminary, RAZE representatives said it is indicative of a lack of transparency of the mapping process and shows a lack of commitment to either geographic or community diversity.
“We feel this is extremely unacceptable,” said Community Outreach Coordinator Andrea Varela. “We don’t understand why the commission is rushing into this. Every community matters and every voice should be heard.”
According to Varela, during the IRC’s meeting on June 8, there was no discussion about adding more hearings.
“We feel the commission has decided to do discussions with mapping consultants and just call it a day,” said RAZE Advocacy Director Aris Correa. “That is not how the process is supposed to work.”
Varela said that RAZE had reached out to mayors around the county to voice their concerns, and that it was a surprise for local officials as well.
“I was shocked that Pinal County as a whole doesn’t have an opportunity to voice an opinion,” said Eloy Mayor Micah Powell. “You would think, as the third largest populated county, they would at least spend some time with us and hear what is going on.”
While Powell speculated the commission may have assumed county residents can travel to either the Phoenix or Tucson metro areas when public hearings occur, it feeds into an outdated “big brother” dynamic between Pinal and neighboring counties, which he no longer felt applied.
“We shouldn’t have to drive far away to voice our opinions,” Powell said. “I don’t like when, not just Eloy, but the whole county is overlooked. Pinal County is up and coming and knocking down doors.”
The IRC’s public information officer, Michele Crank, responded to concerns about the schedule by labeling it “very tentative” and “far from final.”
“The schedule presented at last week’s meeting meant to start the conversation among the commission and the public on what and where they would like these public hearings to take place,” Crank said. “We are hoping to have a final schedule in the next week or so and can assure you that Pinal County is and will be included.”
Correa said that the group would be making calls and they would continue to try and raise awareness among both members of the public and county officials about the process. Correa also emphasized that RAZE’s work on getting communities engaged with the redistricting process transcends partisan politics.
“Republican or Democrat, their votes, their voices aren’t being heard in a manner that they should be,” Correa said of county residents. “That is how we view that situation. How the maps are drawn does affect how leaders are voted in.”
The IRC is composed of five members: two Democrats, two Republicans and an independent chairperson, who in this cycle is Erika Neuberg, a psychologist and life coach. Members of the public can supply comments to the IRC by going to https://irc.az.gov/contact-us.