Staff for the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission was ready to go with the online streaming video almost a half hour before the scheduled 6pm start time for its hearing in Flagstaff. But at 6:10, executive director Ray Bladine announced an expected 10 more minutes delay because no members of the Commission had shown up.
Finally, the meeting started at about 6:30 with Vice-chair Jose Herrera appearing via Skype. Bladine and Herrera both apologized for the mix up and both accepted responsibility.
After Strategic Telemetry's presentation, about 40 people took turns putting their redistricting preferences on the record, including Hopi Tribal Chairman LeRoy N. Shingoitewa, Navajo Human Rights Commission executive director Leonard Gorman, Flagstaff city councilman Art Babbott, a few members of the Flagstaff 40, several current or retired professors at Northern Arizona University and Coconino Community College, as well as an assortment of citizens and business people from in and around Flagstaff.
The most common theme: competitive districts. More than two dozen people cited it as an important criteria from their perspective. Several of them compelling arguments that it should be of the highest importance. Stephanie McKinney, vice-chair of Flagstaff 40, spoke at length about her belief that since the first AIRC made Congressional District 1 a competitive district, it has brought more federal dollars to Northern Arizona, been responsible to bring Presidents Bush and Obama to visit and caused national attention to be focused during each Congressional campaign on greater northern and eastern Arizona.
NAU Professor Lawrence Mohrweis, who made the short list of qualified applicants to be a Commissioner, remarked that during the screening process candidates were warned about how much time would be required of them. However, he noted, nobody warned them about the tremendous political pressure commissioners would have to endure.
Mohrweis saying the final district maps would certainly be subject to litigation, predicted that the only way they would withstand court challenge is if every decision made on where to draw lines is done in public session, not in the shadows. Given that Mohrweis's specialty is Accounting, his insight is worth taking seriously.
Attorney Eve Ross, speaking on behalf of W.L.Gore and Associates, echoed the many who emphasized the need for competitiveness, expounding on how such districts promote higher voter participation. She, of course, is correct on that point. My experience with John Dougherty's 2010 campaign for the U.S. Senate made that very clear. Central Phoenix and Tucson districts with dramatic Democratic voter majorities had low participation in political organizing events.
To get elected to the state legislature from LD2 (most of the people at the Flagstaff hearing were LD2 voters) illustrates the problem. The winner of the (four person) Democratic primary for state senate, Jack Jackson Jr. (who ran unopposed in the general election), collected 6,672 votes in the primary election. LD2 had a total of 98,757 voters registered for the 2010 general election.
6,672 primary election voters decided the general election winner for 98,757 registered voters in the district. A total of 6.75 percent of the electorate in LD2 decided the election. That's a whole lot of disenfranchised voters.
None of the citizens testifying this evening criticized state Sen. Jack Jackson Jr., who represents them. None even mentioned his name. But they made a compelling point about competitive districts. Make no mistake, this happens on both sides of the political spectrum.
Former Coconino College instructor Steve Walker cited competitiveness as most important because it will keep politicians honest and accountable to their constituents. Competitiveness is also key, he said, to overcoming the "tyranny of small groups."
The other common theme tonight was that people wanted Flagstaff considered a community of interest with the Verde Valley and Sedona to the south, as well as north to the Grand Canyon along with greater northern and eastern Arizona. Many said communities of interest are complimentary to, not at direct odds with, competitiveness as important criteria for mapping decisions.
In contrast, representing the Navajo County Board of Supervisors, Hunter Moore talked about the need to keep current LD5 -- home of the infamous Sylvia (the earth is only 6,000 years old) Allen -- intact. To bring that area up to the required population level, Moore advocated adding towns in the Verde Valley, east of Interstate 17 (Camp Verde, Rimrock and the Lake Montezuma area). He said Flagstaff could have the parts of Verde Valley west of I-17. How gracious of him.
Making a return trip to an AIRC hearing (having spoken in Pinetop), Pamela Burrel and Shirley Dye from Gila County and Payson respectively, wanted the same things Hunter Moore cited. Not needing to be politic, Burrel and Dye both noted they did NOT consider Flagstaff to be "rural."
That line of thinking was brought out (by more than those two) at the Pinetop hearing on Saturday. Their motive is rather transparent, however, since Flagstaff's voter registration leans heavily Democratic. None of the three of them (Moore, Burrel and Dye) mentioned competitiveness as being important.
Last and, in some ways, also least, UNfair Trust mouthpiece David Cantelme showed up again. This time he did NOT say that he represented that CLANDESTINE group. But he made the same points. And he apparently slipped and said, "we support..." a time or two. Of course, he's not the Queen of England. So, when he says "we," his track record with the AIRC makes it undeniably clear that he is speaking on behalf of UNfair Trust.
Cantelme's motives are becoming very clear even though he continues trying to hide them. Every time he speaks, he emphasizes strict enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. And every time, he says something to make it clear he wants to perpetuate the non-competitive nature of the Arizona legislature.
I will explore the dynamics of UNfair's efforts to (ironically) DIVIDE Arizona's Latino leaders by pitting some of them against others. But I will do so in another post one day soon.
Much like the examples in his letter, Cantelme this time said, "contrary to what we've heard," Arizona's voter registration is NOT a third Republican , a third Democrat, a third Other. He said that according to the Secretary of State, Arizona now has 31.1 percent registered as Democrats, 35.46 percent Republicans and 32.5 percent Other.
Cantelme "explained" how the difference between the three numbers cannot be used to justify balanced, or competitive, districts. The overall difference between Republicans and Democrats is 4.36 percent. In 2001, the AIRC considered districts within 5 to 7 percentage points in registration to be competitive.
Again, I have to keep asking, how can the testimony of David Cantelme be given ANY credibility when he refuses to disclose who is paying him to say what he says?
However, the voice of the people in Flagstaff seemed to be pretty clear.
It's important to note that this update is not an afterthought. It was, however, VERY late last night when I finished up the blog post.
Hopi chairman Shingoitewa did speak early in the hearing. One of the main points he made is that the Hopi are not ready to submit a map yet. But he also did not contradict what Gorman had said in prior hearings about the two tribes no longer being at odds.
Leonard Gorman made the point that Voting Rights Act consideration for the Navajo and other Native Americans in greater northern Arizona is "non-negotiable." He had previously mentioned that the benchmark for VRA retrogression consideration is 63.9 percent Navajo. So, any districts drawn must meet that benchmark in addition to other Prop 106 criteria used for the new districts.