Arizona is about to tackle the most polarizing political event of the new decade.
No, not the 2020 presidential election. But the addition of a 10th congressional district and the realignment that comes with it.
Redrawing political boundaries has always been a battle of wills as both parties jockey for territory that they feel gives them the best odds of getting their candidates elected.
Arizona is virtually certain to gain a congressional seat after the 2020 census. That’s because the population here, estimated to be at 7.28 million, has grown 13.6% since the last census, well above the national average.
There are 435 congressional seats in the U.S. and Arizona will add a seat at the expense of another state whose population hasn’t kept pace, such as California. It makes sense that California would lose a seat while Arizona gains one since much of Arizona’s population gain has been fueled by residents fleeing that state for ours.
But while the districts are population based, their boundaries are mostly political. There are a number of guidelines for drawing district lines, but gerrymandering still comes into play.
There are two principal tactics used in gerrymandering. One is “cracking,” which is the process of diluting the voting power of the opposing party’s supporters across many districts. The other is “packing,” which is concentrating the opposing party’s voting power in one district to reduce its voting power in other districts.
In the last realignment, the big loser was Pinal County. Even though we are the third largest county in the state, we hold little political influence. Being stuck between the two population centers in Tucson and Phoenix doesn’t help. That’s why the county is split between two districts and is represented by congressmen from Sedona and Prescott.
San Tan Valley, Apache Junction and Florence are included in Congressional District 4, which is represented by Republican Paul Gosar, while the rest of the county is in Congressional District 1, which stretches from the Navajo Nation to Tucson and is represented by Democrat Tom O’Halleran.
Neither has common ties to Pinal, thus our interests sometimes take a back seat, especially when it comes to water and transportation issues.
There is already talk by some to try and create a 10th congressional district among the Colorado River counties of Yuma, La Paz and Mohave. If that happens, then Pinal could be cut up again, this time maybe between three or four districts.
Pinal politicians need to start presenting a united front and coming up with their own proposals that can keep the county intact so we don’t fall victim again to gerrymandering. A good front is to support a logical division along natural county lines instead of political partisanship.
According to our population estimate, after boundaries are drawn for 10 districts, each will need to have a population of about 728,000. Pinal’s estimated population will be about 450,000 for the 2020 Census. That means we have got to find about 278,000 others to include with us.
We could look west and link up with Yuma and La Paz counties, while also including a portion of Maricopa County that has the Gila River Indian Community and Gila Bend. This district would share many common interests like farming and water. It would probably slightly favor Democrats.
Or we could try to carve our own district in central Arizona, using the same theme of following the Gila River corridor to include Gila, Graham and Greenlee counties, along with the White Mountains and the San Carlos and Fort Apache reservations. This district would slightly favor Republicans.
The Independent Redistricting Commission will have to redraw all the lines in creating the 10 districts with equal population. When voters created the commission in 2000, they also required the bipartisan panel to consider using county boundaries when possible.
The commission also is required to create as many politically competitive districts as possible. Both these proposed districts meet that criteria.
People don’t live within political boundaries, they live in geographical ones. And those are the boundaries that make sense.
You can contact Andy Howell at firstname.lastname@example.org.