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New redistricting maps less fractious for Pinal, but concerns remain
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CASA GRANDE — The latest maps drafted by the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission include major changes for Pinal County and represent a shift from earlier maps to try and avoid splitting up municipalities.

The latest maps, released Tuesday by the IRC, are not final and will be continually adjusted, but they represent the latest templates for the redistricting process.

The congressional district map would have Pinal County mostly contiguous but extending east to New Mexico, combining portions of Graham and Greenlee counties. Earlier drafts showed a district almost entirely comprised of Pinal County by itself.

The state legislative district draft fixes previous issues with dividing cities like Casa Grande. In the latest draft, Casa Grande and Eloy are now whole and united within a proposed district while Maricopa is in another. Florence and Coolidge are now part of a proposed district with unincorporated San Tan Valley.

Currently, Pinal is part of Congressional District 1, the 11th largest district by size in the country, which extends all the way up to the Four Corners region of the state.

According to Andrea Varela, community outreach coordinator for Rural Arizona Engagement, the commission has not yet sufficiently addressed concerns about representing minority communities.

This is despite recent comments from Chairwoman Erika Neuberg defending the commission’s public hearings process.

Varela said much of Monday’s meeting discussion was about how to keep tribal nations contiguous and how many majority-minority districts to create. Then, on Tuesday, the commission got more into the minute details of the maps themselves.

Varela said one concern is that the commission members were over-reliant on the mapping consultants for guidance.

“The commission is the body there to make the ultimate decisions,” Varela said. “They are the ones who need to determine which communities should not be divided. The mapping consultants shouldn’t be inserting themselves.”

Despite noting the meeting discussions were “interesting,” Varela said that the process was still inaccessible for the general public.

“It’s important for the public to see the evolution of these lines being drawn,” Varela said. “But the public hearings still aren’t being held in communities of color, or rural communities, and or in times and places accessible to those who work during the day. But it’s still early.”

Varela did say RAZE was pleased with how many members were engaged or following the process.

So far, 37 members of the public have submitted their own proposed maps for the commission to consider as part of the drafting process. Further adjustment of the draft maps is expected to be presented at the IRC’s regular meeting next Tuesday.

The IRC will hold its next public hearing at 4 p.m. Thursday in Surprise.

Area beer expert looking forward to sharing love and knowledge of brew
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CASA GRANDE -- To Scott Plachecki, beer isn’t simply a beverage. It’s a treat meant to excite the tastebuds. And it’s best when enjoyed properly.

Plachecki has been studying beer since he was a teenager, learning the nuances of flavor, temperature, serving styles and ingredients that create the best brew drinking experience.

A certified Advanced Cicerone, Plachecki is now the bar manager and beer expert at the Liquor Factory, and he said he’s excited to share his knowledge with others so that they too can enjoy the experience of the perfect beer.

He’s one of only two Advanced Cicerones in Arizona and one of 144 worldwide.

“A cicerone is the beer equivalent of a sommelier in the wine world,” he said. “It means I’m dedicated to giving customers the best beer experience with the freshest, best tasting beer.”

Becoming a cicerone takes years of studying. The certification requires an appreciation for beer as well as a knowledge of the brewing process, styles, proper serving, flavor, evaluation and pairing with food.

“Certain beers should be served in specific glasses and some beers should be served colder than others for the best flavor,” Plachecki said.

Plachecki’s knowledge of beer is one of the new elements at the Liquor Factory on Florence Boulevard.

The Liquor Factory was opened in 2013 by Casa Grande resident Neal Patel, whose family has long run a deli in New Jersey.

He set about to remodel much of the store, creating a bar and deli and striving to make the Liquor Factory the place to go for a great-tasting, quality sandwich in Casa Grande.

“We use only Boar’s Head quality meats,” Patel said. “I’ve wanted to add a brewmaster or beer expert to the staff for a long time. It just took finding the right person. We have the largest selection of craft beers in Casa Grande, and Scott brings his knowledge and experience to help customers get the best experience from their beer.”

Among Plachecki’s duties will be creating specific pairings of sandwiches and beer. The right pairing, he said, brings out the flavors and aromas of both the food and beverage, creating a heightened tasting experience.

But pairing the right sandwich with the right beer requires knowledge and respect for the food and the drink.

“There really are no bad beer and sandwich pairings, but when the flavors are paired perfectly, all the flavors are enhanced,” Plachecki said.

Among his favorite combinations at the Liquor Factory is the Florence Boulevard Sandwich — made with spicy Boar’s Head Salsalito turkey, bacon, pepper jack cheese, roasted red peppers and peppercorn mayo — with a Tower Station IPA made by Flagstaff-based Mother Road Brewery.

Coppery-orange in color, the Tower Station IPA has aromas of tangerine and pineapple that complement and enhance the spicy flavors in the turkey, Plachecki said.

“The meat is sliced fresh every day, so it’s a perfect combination,” he said.

Another of his favorite pairings, he said, is the Liquor Factory sandwich The Ruins — made with pastrami, corned beef and Swiss cheese on rye — with a Barrio Rojo from Tucson-based Barrio Brewing Company.

“The Rojo has a caramel flavor that goes perfectly with savory pastrami and corned beef,” he said.

Plachecki’s appreciation of the art of beer began at a young age. At 16, his parents allowed him to begin brewing beer at home in his garage.

The more he worked at perfecting his beer-making skills, the more he wanted to learn.

“Making beer is a lot like baking. There’s a science and an art to it,” he said.

For a while, Plachecki worked for a company selling ingredients to other home-brewers, learning much about the building blocks for making a good beer. Later, he began working in the craft beer industry, starting out as a draught line cleaner, then becoming head brewer at Flix Brewhouse in Chandler and later, Tombstone Brewing in Phoenix.

At the Liquor Factory, he plans special tasting events and other activities aimed at teaching area residents about craft beers. Every Sunday, from 4 p.m. until the store’s closing, he’s available at the Liquor Factory to chat with customers and help them find the perfect craft beer.

The Liquor Factory is at 930 E. Florence Blvd. Sandwich delivery is available, and soon, beer delivery will be offered, Patel said.

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Mariachi Pasion to share its love of music at Friday's Concert in the Park
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CASA GRANDE — To Betty Duarte-Matwick, music is love. And when she’s onstage with her group, Mariachi Pasion, she hopes to put on an all-inclusive show that brings people together and makes them laugh, cry and dance.

“Music is the language of the gods,” she said. “Whether we’re performing at a private show or a larger concert, we put on a show for everyone. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, you’ll have a good time.”

Mariachi Pasion, an all female Phoenix-based mariachi group, is set to take the stage at the next Casa Grande Concert in the Park, set to begin at 6 p.m. Friday in the Neon Sign Park, 408 N. Sacaton St.

The concert is part of a Hispanic Heritage Month event that also includes local Folklorico Dancers.

It coincides with the Downtown After Dark event and area downtown merchants will be open from 5 to 8 p.m., offering specials and promotions.

A flower-making craft demonstration, sponsored by the Casa Grande Arts and Humanities Commission, Casa Grande Main Street and Latino Familia Initiative, is also part of the fun along with contests and prizes.

Mariachi Pasion began performing as a group in 2002, although the members change from time to time. Duarte-Matwick is the founder of the group and plays the guitarron.

She discovered the instrument years ago when she would drive her father to mariachi lessons. After waiting for him a few times, the instructor asked her to pick up an instrument and join the class.

“I’m tall, so he suggested the guitarron, or bass guitar, because it’s a big instrument,” Duarte-Matwick said.

She immediately fell in love with the instrument and mariachi. She later enrolled in a community class at Arizona State University that focused on mariachi and met several friends who would later become the founding members of Mariachi Pasion.

“We are a professional music group, but we all have other professions, too. I am a high school educator. Other members are in engineering, education, finance, media, health care, information technology and entrepreneurs,” Duarte-Matwick said.

While the group started with eight members, it now has 12. Many members have paid their way through college while performing with the group.

“The heart of Mariachi Pasion is the group chemistry and the common love and respect for mariachi music,” Duarte-Matwick said.

“The soul of the group is the desire to perform in an all-female mariachi group. We’re proud to share the beauty, elegance and emotion of mariachi music.”

The group plays a repertoire of popular songs in Spanish and a few in English. They also take requests.

Duarte-Matwick said she wants everyone to feel involved and have fun.

“There’s so much divisiveness in the world right now that we really want to bring people together with music and put on a show that everyone can enjoy,” she said. “People don’t have to know every single word to see the beauty of the music.”

She expects to see people dancing and having fun. Members of Mariachi Pasion have been known to jump off stage and start dancing to get people moving.

“It will be fun,” she said. “We hope people come out and have a good time.”

Those attending the Friday concert may bring their own chairs and blankets and spread out in the Neon Sign Park. There is no admission.

The Hispanic Heritage Month celebration continues from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday with an event presented in partnership with The Museum of Casa Grande, 110 W. Florence Blvd.

Saturday events include free admission to the museum, live music and two screenings of the film “Padre Kino: The legend of the black priest” and free popcorn.