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Arizona a lock to get another Congressional seat

PHOENIX — It looks like Arizona will be gaining some national political clout at the expense of California.

Or maybe Illinois. Or Michigan.

An analysis of the latest Census numbers by Election Data Services shows Arizona is virtually certain to gain a congressional seat after the 2020 census. That’s because the population here — up about 871,000 since 2010 — has grown faster in the past decade than the national average. The actual figure to date is a 13.6% increase, the seventh fastest rate in the country.

That would bring us to 10 members of the U.S. House.

But here’s the thing: Congressional representation is a zero-sum game. There are only 435 seats to go around.

So the states that haven’t kept pace are going to have to shed a member of the U.S. House of Representatives to make up for the gainers.

Not surprisingly, that includes states in the Northeast and Midwest.

The new figures show the national population up 6.1% since 2010. But Ohio grew by just 1.3% in that same time.

New York was up just 0.3%. And Vermont, Connecticut, Illinois and West Virginia actually shed residents.

And California? While it added nearly 2.2 million people during the same time, it still did not keep pace with the national average.

Arizona isn’t the only state that will have more representation on Capitol Hill after the 2022 election, the first one after the formal allocation of seats takes place. In fact, other states are adding residents even faster, with EDS data suggesting Florida is in line for two more seats and Texas likely to pick up three, bringing its total to 39.

But EDS President Kimball Brace said the allocation will be only as good is the decennial count. And even though the Trump administration dropped plans to ask whether people are citizens, just the fear of giving information to government employees could depress the count in states with a higher-than-average number of immigrants, legal and otherwise.

“It’s likely to have an impact,’’ he told Capitol Media Services. “We’ve seen that elsewhere and at other times.’’

But if Arizona does, in fact, get a new congressional seat — and the numbers strongly suggest that will happen — Chuck Coughlin of the political consulting firm of HighGround said that will have political implications for the decade to come.

It’s not a simple matter of plopping down a new district in the middle of the state.

He said the Independent Redistricting Commission will have to redraw all the lines with the goal of creating 10 districts with equal population. And that means some members of Congress will find they have different constituencies they have to appeal to in 2022.

The big population gains in the past decade have largely been in Maricopa County and, to a lesser extent, the spillover into Pinal County.

Coughlin said that likely means the legislative district now occupied by Democrat Greg Stanton is likely to shrink in area. That could cut his partisan edge.

And that, in turn, could push some of his Democrat constituents into neighboring districts which are now represented by Republicans Andy Biggs in the Southeast Valley sections of the county and David Schweikert who represents the Scottsdale area.

Coughlin said such a move is legally mandated.

When voters created the Independent Redistricting Commission in 2000 they required the bipartisan panel to considers a variety of factors, like respecting communities of interest, using county boundaries when possible and having districts of roughly equal population.

And the commission also is required to create as many politically competitive districts as possible. So there is a mandate of sorts to take what have proven to be “safe’’ districts — like those occupied by Biggs and Schweikert — and find ways to even them up by voter party registration.

Coughlin also said a 10th district could lead to pressure to create a “river district,’’ possibly tying the northwest Arizona district represented by Republican Paul Gosar into the Yuma area, and with it, putting more Democrats into the mix.

That, in turn, could have a ripple effect, with Gosar potentially losing areas of Yavapai, Gila, Pinal and Maricopa counties he now represents, and Democrat Raul Grijalva losing some his Yuma constituency.

Then there’s the question of how to redraw the huge largely rural district now represented by Democrat Tom O’Halleran. It currently stretches all the way from the state’s northern and eastern borders down as far as Tucson’s northern suburbs and then back into Maricopa, Casa Grande and Globe.

Brace also noted that the final allocation of congressional seats is not simply taking the national population and dividing it by 435 to decide which states get what.

Each state is entitled to one representative, no matter how small. So Wyoming gets one of the 435 seats even though the latest census data put its population at about 580,000, less than one 435th of the national figure.

Ditto states like Vermont, Alaska and North Dakota.

Only after each state is allocated one representative, Brace said, are the other 335 divided up.

And then there’s the question of how accurate will be the decennial count — and whether the fear of migrants to answer questions will affect the numbers.

“That is one of the remaining issues that we don’t know,’’ he said, noting that studies have found a depressed response even on surveys without a specific citizenship question.

“Even though we’re not going to have the question on the form, it’s the fear that was raised in the last year that is still there,’’ Brace said.

Oscar Perez/PinalCentral  

Luminarias are on display in the Olive Avenue and Markley Drive area Tuesday December 31, 2019. The community effort was delayed from Christmas Eve because of rain.

Drone on the range: Farmers take to the skies to save water and money

MARICOPA – Farmers for decades have used huge machines to plant, grow and harvest their crops, but more and more Arizona farmers today are using tiny, remote-controlled aircraft to boost yields and save water and money.

Kelly Thorp, an agricultural engineer for the Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Arid Land Agricultural Research Center in Maricopa, uses drones to monitor the center’s test fields, taking detailed images of the cotton plants to gauge the condition of the soil and how much water the crop needs.

“They’re a very powerful technology to be able to go out and regularly map fields, giving you regular information from which you can make decisions from,” Thorp said. “If we can make those decisions more accurate, then we know that we are being more efficient in our water use.”

Although irrigated agriculture has been a part of the Sonoran Desert landscape for more than 1,000 years, farming is heavily influenced by seasonal weather patterns. Arizona remains in a two-decade long drought, and climatologists predict the Southwest will continue to get warmer and drier.

The 2019 monsoon was a no-show for most of the state. Late summer storms produced some heavy rainfall, but according to the Arizona Department of Water Resources, “dry conditions in July and August continued in September, reversing the long-term drought improvements last quarter after the extremely wet winter and relatively wet spring.”

As a result, long-term drought conditions worsened, officials said, “particularly in the northern two-thirds of the state.”

That presents a constant challenge for farmers. With drones monitoring the amount of water used on their crops, farmers and agriculture engineers positively contribute to the environment and help conserve water – the most valuable resource on the planet.

“It’s an alternative to conventional farming in the sense of using information to guide decisions on input use,” said Pedro Andrade, assistant professor of agriculture at the University of Arizona. After a drone surveys the plants, the data must be analyzed and put into a machine that calculates how much water each plot needs.

Drones, either multirotor or fixed-wing, are used to assess crop conditions and fertilizer needs, predict yield potential, monitor water quality, and detect leaks and pest and disease infestations. They can be equipped with video and still-image cameras, thermal sensors to detect surface temperatures and LIDAR to create field maps in 3-D.

“So what I end up with at the end of all that,” Thorp said after a demonstration, “is essentially a map of my field that is sectioned into smaller areas that can receive different amounts of water.

“I think that drones offer a very promising future for coming up with ways to make our agricultural decision-making more resource efficient.”

Farming is a risky and expensive business, and many farmers don’t yet trust the new technology, said

Paul Brierley, executive director of the Yuma Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture.

“They need to be convinced that by paying someone another $20 an acre to get this data from a drone,” he said, “it’s actually going to help them produce something that’s better or bigger or safer or whatever the issue is.”

Dozens of companies offer drone farming services, Brierley said, and the technology is evolving quickly.

“I think where we’re at now is they’re kind of trying to prove themselves, so different companies are coming with services, and in many cases they are having to trial it,” he said.

For the past year, Thorp and his team have been testing this technology on his cotton plants, and they’re now looking to expand their research to other crops.

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Lawyers want state to cover costs of monitoring inmate care

PHOENIX — Attorneys challenging the quality of health care in Arizona’s prisons want to force the state to cover all costs in monitoring whether the state is fulfilling its promises in a legal settlement to improve inmate care.

The lawyers who represent inmates are asking a judge to remove the settlement’s $250,000 cap on the state’s annual monitoring costs, saying they have had to pick up $1.9 million in unreimbursed monitoring costs and expenses since 2015 due to stubborn noncompliance by the state.

“If faced with the actual cost of monitoring their continued refusal to comply with the stipulation (the settlement), defendants may actually comply with it,” the attorneys said in a Dec. 24 court filing.

The state has been dogged for several years by complaints that it has been dragging its feet for years in complying with the settlement.

The noncompliance led to a 2018 civil contempt-of-court finding against then-Corrections Director Charles Ryan and a $1.4 million fine against the state.

A second round of contempt fines has been threatened by another judge, who had raised the possibility of throwing out the settlement. Attorneys for the state and prisoners are trying to craft a new settlement.

The Department of Corrections declined to comment Monday on the request to lift the cap on monitoring costs.

Attorneys for the inmates say the state’s noncompliance has required them to do more intensive monitoring efforts, such as writing letters to the state that document failures to provide care to inmates. They say they have done more than 30 tours in Arizona prisons since mid-2015.

In asking for the settlement to be modified, attorneys for the inmates say they could not have anticipated the state’s bad faith in complying with the agreement.

The 2014 settlement arose out of a lawsuit that alleged that the state’s prisons didn’t meet the basic requirements for providing adequate medical and mental health care.

It said some prisoners complained that their cancer went undetected or that they were told to pray to be cured after begging for treatment.

The state denied allegations that it was providing inadequate care, and the lawsuit was settled without the state acknowledging any wrongdoing.

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CG Roller Derby plans to give new life to old city building
 mstaude  / 

CASA GRANDE — Casa Grande Roller Derby plans to give new life to an old Casa Grande building.

The brick structure at 798 N. Picacho Ave. was built decades ago as the gymnasium for Casa Grande Union High School, when the school was located at what is now Casa Grande City Hall. Later, the building served as the administrative offices and main branch of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Casa Grande Valley.

In its new incarnation, the building will be used to share roller skating culture with the next generation and it will become a place where kids and adults don a pair of skates and learn to roll.

“If we don’t share the art of skating culture with the next generation, then who will?” said Kelli Brown, competitive skater and founder of Casa Grande Roller Derby.

The nonprofit organization will use the facility as a home base for practices and meetings for its competitive roller derby team, Big House Bombers, as well as a place for lessons for those who want to learn non-contact roller skating.

Brown hopes the move will help grow the club’s membership.

“Membership will include skating lessons and sessions, as well as roller fit classes. Sharing the art of roller skating culture with our town and future generations is a huge goal for us and it’s an amazing thing for our town and our local youths,” she said.

The building is owned by the city of Casa Grande. The Casa Grande City Council on Oct. 21 approved a lease between the city and CGRD. Under the terms, CGRD will pay $300 a month and will be responsible for repairs and maintenance.

The roller derby team will continue holding bouts at the Pinal Fairgrounds and Event Center at Eleven Mile Corner and cannot have more than 299 people in the Picacho Avenue facility.

“There was a stipulation that we could not operate at full occupancy since it does not currently have a sprinkler system,” Brown said.

The Casa Grande Roller Derby Club is a nonprofit organization that started in 2017 with about five women. It’s grown into a club with dozens of members and a competitive roller derby team that competes in monthly bouts against teams from across the state.

It’s had a tough time finding a place to practice and play competitive bouts.

While games and practices are held at the Pinal Fairgrounds and Event Center, the facility is often rented for festivals, weddings and parties, leaving the team without a place to skate.

“We find ourselves with no where to go but local basketball courts, fighting the elements and the children who want to use the courts for their intended purpose,” Brown said.

The club approached the city about two and a half years ago looking for a place to rent but few options met CGRD’s need for a facility large enough to accommodate a roller derby track with referee and safety lanes.

When the Boys & Girls Clubs vacated the Picacho Avenue facility and moved into the city’s new Community Recreation Center on Peart Road, the former gym became available.

“We had our eye on it for the last couple years since we knew they would be moving,” Brown said. “But it was just a dream for our league.”

But after the Boys & Girls Clubs moved, the city had no plans for the facility and talks resumed between the city and CGRD.

“After a few months of numerous meetings to prove that we were serious, written business plans and proposals of our vision, the city agreed that we would bring more of an asset to the community using the space rather than if it were just locked up and discarded,” Brown said.

CGRD is currently working on interior projects and upgrading the fire system in order to get a Certificate of Occupancy for the facility.

They hope to host a grand opening in February.

When the building reopens, CGRD hopes to have a memory wall aimed at paying tribute to the building’s history.

“We find value in the history and overall story of the gymnasium,” Brown said. “So many people, including some of our skaters, have great memories in that gymnasium.”

The group is collecting nostalgic items and memorabilia for the memory wall and hopes people will donate things connected with the building, including newspaper clippings, trophies, sports jerseys and other items.

Move-in and upgrade costs for the building have depleted much of the club’s finances and CGRD is searching for sponsors to support its vision.

Those who wish to sponsor the group or donate memorabilia may reach Brown through the club’s Facebook page, found under CGRollerDerby, or by email at Kdub1502@gmail.com.

Upcoming events for the Casa Grande Roller Derby’s Big House Bombers, set to take place at the Pinal Fairgrounds are:

  • Jan. 18 against Yuma’s Bordercity Rollergirls
  • March 7, against Arizona Roller Derby’s Rumbleweeds
  • April 18, against Arizona Roller Derby’s Desert Phantoms

Presale tickets are $10 if purchased online. Admission is $12 at the door. Seniors and military members pay $8. Kids younger than age 12 are admitted free of charge.