This month, the face of Arizona politics may change.
In 2000 the Arizona Constitution was changed via a ballot initiative. The intent was to create and allow for an “Independent Redistricting Commission”. The goal was to replace the way the state legislative and the congressional district lines were drawn. This change in the Arizona constitution removed the authority of election district redistricting caused by the decennial census from the state legislature. The new commission was made up of five appointed people, two republicans, two democrats, and one independent. The independent would chair the commission. These commissioners were given the authority to redraw district lines based on each decennial census in the hope that a neutral body would create neutral districts.
A problem with the execution was realized in 2012, when the election results clearly demonstrated that the districts were not even close to being neutral – the commission was biased. Even if an individual is a registered independent, they are not necessarily neutral. In this 2012 election the winning candidates in the statewide races were all republicans. Yet in the congressional races, in which the districts were drawn by the commission, the result was five democrats and four republicans elected. This disparity occurred in what is a red state, based on the sweep of statewide seats won by the republican candidates.
Prior to this 2012 election, it became apparent that the so-called “neutral” independent was actually a left leaning spouse of a democrat who had served as treasurer of democratic campaigns. In addition, while the commission was prohibited from considering where incumbents lived, it somehow miraculously jogged district lines around incumbent’s homes forcing conservative candidates into newly created, highly liberal districts, thus ensuring for the incumbent a loss.
Recognizing that the idea of neutral was good, but the implementation was and would forever be seriously flawed, the Arizona State Legislature sued the Arizona Redistricting Commission in federal court and the case has now reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The oral arguments about whether the U.S. Constitution designates the states’ legislatures to draw the district lines in Congressional races were heard some months ago and we are now waiting for release of the judicial opinion by the Court. It is expected this month.
Leadership in the Arizona House of Representatives is hopeful and believes that the Court will decide in favor of the state legislature. However; history has proven that while oral arguments appear to go one way, hopeful people often find their hopes dashed.
Should the legislature win, the win could change the redistricting method in not only Arizona, but in a number of other states. In Arizona, according to sources in the capitol, the legislature would be called back into session in 2015 and the congressional district lines would be redrawn in time for the 2016 congressional race. State legislature district lines will likely remain unaffected for the 2016 race, since the U.S. Constitution does not to touch upon the state races.
Again according to sources in the Arizona Capitol, if the legislature wins, they may seek a referendum on the 2015 or 2016 ballot to have the Arizona constitution changed again to make the method of drawing legislative and congressional district lines uniform within the State with only the legislature drawing the boundaries.
When you consider that the state constitution’s redistricting commission formula to create a neutral process has been demonstrated to be seriously flaw, what purpose would it serve to continue having a flawed redistricting commission for legislative districts? How will we know that the next independent selected for this commission is truly not involved enough to be neutral. There is no way to establish a neutral commission using independents. The better method is to use the peoples’ representatives, state legislators, to draw all the district lines. Isn’t this why they are chosen by and represent the people. Later this month, the face of Arizona politics may change – standby.