Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Redistricting -- "Communities of Interest" and "Competitiveness"

During the mapping consultant interviews held during public meetings of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, Tony Sissons, principal of Research Advisory Services, said that he had come to understand many people in Arizona use the expression "communities of interest" -- which is one of the required redistricting criteria -- as "code" for safe districts.

How did Sissons come to that understanding?  By working with the Minority Coalition for Fair Redistricting as an expert witness, Sissons spent a great deal of time examining documentation used as basis for the maps drawn by the 2001 AIRC.  That research gave him, I believe, tremendous insight on how Steve Lynn engineered the gerrymandering that has given us a state legislature which now brazenly disregards the concerns of the majority of everyday Arizonans.

A few weeks ago, at a forum on Clean Elections, I asked Dennis Burke to write a guest blog post on the original intent of the drafters of Prop 106 regarding the meaning of Communities of Interest.

Earlier this evening, Dennis sent me the following note and link to where the Arizona Republic has published an op-ed column he wrote along with Prop 106 co-chairs Bart Turner and Ann Eschinger.

Dear Steve,

The Arizona Republic is tomorrow running an op-ed from myself, Bart Turner and Ann Eschinger regarding the meaning of "communities of interest" and "competitive districts" in the redistricting process, at least as we intended those terms to mean when writing the citizen initiative that became part of the Arizona Constitution.

We have you to thank for this essay, as it happened at your suggestion. 


Dennis Michael Burke

The following is that essay/op-ed/guest blog post:

Eleven years ago, Arizona became the first state to use a citizen-led ballot initiative to tackle the chronic scandal of political gerrymandering -- the drawing of political lines to ensure the re-election of incumbents and the protection of political parties.

This reform, which passed easily, established in our state Constitution the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission to redraw legislative and congressional districts after every 10-year census, following fair and logical mapping requirements.

We have experienced one remapping under the new rules and now, 10 years later, with a newly appointed redistricting commission seated, are embarking upon another.

As the co-chairs of the initiative's drafting committee back in 2000, the three of us knew that some of our language would always have to be interpreted afresh to keep pace with a changing Arizona. But we would like to briefly describe our original intent -- and we believe the voters' intent -- in two important areas:
Our Arizona Constitution now calls for political lines to respect "communities of interest." We were thinking this: A river or a highway might make a very handy political boundary, but if a jog this way or that would keep a historic district, a retirement community, a town or a Native American nation intact, the line should move if possible.

This certainly does not mean an incumbent's most reliable voters, in and of themselves, qualify as a community of interest. In fact, the new process takes pains to exclude data that might serve to protect incumbents.

Another issue that generates discussion is competitiveness. We worried that if we said every district must be competitive, the state could become reverse-gerrymandered, with more-of-the-same, amoeba-shaped districts reaching into urban areas and out to the ranches.

Certainly, a retirement community, for example, deserves representation without such manipulations.

Our expectation was that, if the self-interested pressure of parties, candidates and incumbents can be lessened in the mapping process, the districts will be more competitive. Our faith in that result depends on our faith in the commissioners to do the right thing for Arizona and to resist the inevitable pressures. Make no mistake, the whole reason for writing and passing the reform was to allow a process that will result both in fair representation for communities and more naturally competitive races.

Over time, communities of interest may evolve, reflecting changes in our lives and in our politics. Competitiveness may change, too, as the role of parties, independents and forces yet unseen arrive, fade away and are replaced by yet other forces of political purpose. We believe our Arizona Constitution will adapt to these changes.

But healthy competition will surely always be a strong Arizona value, as will a healthy respect for the many kinds of communities that define our changing lives.

As the commissioners travel the state on their listening tour, they will have an opportunity to see how people live and how their political needs are changing. The commissioners have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to wisely serve all of Arizona's people.

Arizona's historic redistricting reform opens what was once a backroom process to daylight and to public scrutiny. Through the Internet and in person, citizens have an opportunity to participate in this effort and make a real improvement in Arizona politics.

At the time of the redistricting reform, Ann Eschinger was president of the League of Women Voters of Arizona, Bart Turner was executive director of the Valley Citizens League and Dennis Michael Burke was executive director of Common Cause of Arizona.

Among the inevitable pressures is that brought by those currently working to undermine the time and effort put into the process thus far. Regular readers of the Arizona Eagletarian know that Tea Partiers, "inspired" by Sonoran Alliance and The Cholla Jumps are attempting to confuse people.  They have attacked the integrity of AIRC Chair Colleen Mathis and selection of Strategic Telemetry to be mapping consultant. 

It would not take much of a prognosticator to realize that if the AIRC had selected Tony Sissons' firm, there would have been just as much of a fuss from those same people.  They just do not like that the system has allowed the will of more than just their small, parochial, interest group to have a say in the process.  And while some believe that TerraSystems Southwest would have provided a suitable, less partisan alternative, notes made by both Scott Freeman and Rick Stertz show they believe the Tucson based firm lacks critically important experience.

I just happened to stumble on a very intriguing YouTube clip featuring Tony Sissons, unrelated to redistricting.  I wanted to share it with you because it can further illuminate our understanding of a man I respect and admire. 

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