Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Redistricting -- Teleconferencing and False Dichotomies

Telecommunications technology has come a very long way since my days as a Tech Controller in the US Air Force. Alas, there is still a long way to go before what the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission attempted yesterday can be done effectively, or perhaps smoothly.

Scheduled to begin at 1:30pm, with two commissioners in attendance, staff and (about 30 members of the) public at the Capitol and three commissioners online in three separate locations in Tucson, echos and feedback delayed the start for about twenty minutes.

In the mid-1970s, high-frequency radio connected Lajes Field, Azores (the mid-Atlantic outpost where I was stationed) to Andrews AFB, MD as well as to bases in England and Germany. What we now take for granted when chatting on facebook, then could only be accomplished by use of lumbering, dedicated teletype machines operating at the amazingly high speed of 110 bytes per second. Computers barely could communicate at 300 bytes per second.

Consider that in the mid-1990s, dial up internet service peaked at 56k.  Of course, now it's tremendously faster.  But we still haven't mastered low-cost internet teleconferencing.  I suspect yesterday's somewhat clumsy effort can be attributed to the five commissioners growing weary of commuting from Phoenix to Tucson or vice versa.

The background on telecommunications might help put some context and perspective on today's meeting. One familiar tea partier offering public testimony has been to several AIRC hearings and business meetings. If all I could tell you about her this time was that she attempted to offer biting criticism, that would be as tired and worn as her efforts.

Ann Heinz usually likes to sit front row center. This time was no different.  But when she and the gentleman sitting with her repeatedly disrupted the court reporter, the meeting had to be stopped. Ray Bladine asked the two to either stop talking or move to the back of the room.  After a pause, they decided to move back a few rows.

With today's technology, it's exceptionally easy to take for granted instant communication and instant gratification of so many other aspects of life.  But one might expect some of us who came of age in a more backward time, technologically speaking, to have some appreciation for modern conveniences.  But not Ann Heinz.

Skip to the end of the meeting and the Call to the Public.  Ms. Heinz took to the microphone and, like at the hearing in Glendale, seemed to criticize every aspect of the commission she could recall.

At the Mesa hearing, Heinz handed out tea party talking points and propaganda with the AIRC banner printed at the top.  When Wednesday's meeting adjourned, she cornered an AIRC staffer with printouts about Roman Ulman and LD17 Democratic activist Lauren Kuby.  Heinz called the two Democrats thugs. I laughed. I told her Kuby and Ulman are no more thugs than she is. And I do not think she is a thug.

Heinz is misguided, of course, but being critical of the AIRC hardly qualifies one as being a thug. She proudly told me, by the way, that she has read (and instructed others on) Alinsky's writings.

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The first item of actual business the commission addressed was to authorize an amendment to Strategic Telemetry's contract. After aborted efforts at previous meetings to clarify the outside contact logging requirement, they voted today to exclude vendors, government officials (for the purpose of facilitating contract compliance) and personal contacts unrelated to the contract.

Strategic Telemetry president Ken Strasma then gave presentations on compactness and competitiveness. The links are to Power Point presentations.  For people who may not have Microsoft PowerPoint, Open Office software is available to download for free. (I use it and like it).

Though competitiveness has been discussed at length, compactness is a bit more mysterious. The various measures are more useful in comparing the difference in compactness between a set of proposed districts as opposed to just looking at one district and asking, "is this compact enough."

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On the issue of competitiveness, AP reporter Paul Davenport noted,

Competitiveness is particularly difficult because it can be at odds with protecting of minorities' voting rights. That's because putting enough Democratic-leaning minorities in a relatively small number of districts to ensure that minorities have the ability to influence election outcomes means there are fewer Democratic voters to put in other districts to make them competitive.
"Those two things don't go hand in hand, with the voting performance of some of those congressional and legislative districts," said state Rep. Richard Miranda, a Tolleson Democrat who is among Hispanic politicians presenting the commission with redistricting ideas for minority-dominated districts.

Comments to this blog recently have also suggested that competitiveness just does not go together with the Voting Rights Act.  Pinal County Supervisor Bryan Martyn said,
What are your thoughts on the various organizational maps? Looks to me like some organizations may have focused too closely on minority majority districts. Protecting CD7 and CD4 are both critical to the Dems, but who is left to make the other seven districts competitive?
I understand the Voter Rights Act makes things difficult. Just looking for your thoughts.
Martyn is not the only one posing such questions.  Brian Murray, the GOP spinmeister, was more direct on Sunday Square Off, saying that efforts to make districts favorable to Democrats would be impossible if districts are drawn to comply with the Voting Rights Act.

This dichotomy is simply not true.  Months ago, Arizona redistricting expert Tony Sissons explained how a dramatic increase in the number of competitive districts can be accomplished without jeopardizing VRA compliance.

No doubt, we will continue to hear variations on the GOP talking points (ad nauseum) until the process is finished and the new maps put to use by county elections officials.  But hey, what fun would it be if they stopped complaining?


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