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AZ Week Notebook – March 2011

AZ CITIZENS SHOULD HEED REDISTRICTING PROCESS

The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission is little understood by the average citizen, most especially how to have influence, two redistricting experts say.

They said the system, approved by Arizona voters in 2000 as n amendment to the state constitution, minimizes partisanship in drawing district boundaries and can be even better at that if citizens take part in the process.

Adolfo Echeveste, a Tempe resident who was first executive director of the commission serving from 2001 to 2008, said in an interview for Arizona Week that a key strength of the system is that it "minimizes partisanship." At the same time, he said, there needs to be more transparency in the entire process, including on the committee that screens nominees for the five-member commission.

The commission is made up of two Republicans, two Democrats and an independent voter, who serves as chair. Legislative party leaders name the four partisan commissioners, and those four in turn select the independent chair.

Echeveste and Jennifer Steen, a political scientist at Arizona State University, said in separate interviews for Arizona Week's Friday program that they think the average Arizonan needs a better understanding of the process.

Participation at public hearings and in other ways will help citizens to have an influence on the way voting districts are drawn.

Conflicting criteria, including making districts competitive while at the same time maintaining "communities of interest," make the task more difficult.

Additionally, Echeveste and Steen said, the rise of independent voters in Arizona makes the competitiveness, usually described as Republicans vs. Democrats, more complicated. Independents in Arizona now outnumber Democrats and are gaining on Republicans.

Their interviews and commentary from journalists may be viewed on Arizona Week Friday at 8:30 p.m. MST on KUAT-TV Channel 6 in Tucson, and at 10:30 p.m. MST on KAET-TV Channel 8 in Phoenix. The program also will be available at www.azweek.com Friday evening.


AZ REDISTRICTING'S BIG HANGUP COULD BE INDEPENDENT VOTERS

Independent voters in Arizona now outnumber Democrats and are closing in on Republicans. In short, neither major party has anywhere near a majority of registered voters in the state.

The independent registration factor could well be a significant hangup for the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission as it begins its work. The commission will meet Thursday, for the second time since its formation, to continue administratively organizing.

The hard work -- taking on the mathematics, the geographic considerations, local political boundaries, the communities of interest and the competitiveness -- will begin soon.

Adolfo Echeveste, a Tempe resident who was the commission's first executive director starting in 2001, said in an interview for Arizona Week for Friday's program that solving the conundrum of the growing independent voter bloc will be important.

He said it isn't all in the hands of the commission, which can help allocate independent registered voters throughout the political districts. But without an open primary that allows ay voter to vote for any candidate, independent voters will continue to have political influence that is far less than their expanding numbers.

Echeveste said he likes the newly adopted California System, in which open primaries will allow the top two vote getters, regardless of party affiliation, to face one another in a runoff election.

Unless and until that occurs, the competitiveness called for in the Arizona Constitution in the drawing of district boundaries will be very difficult to achieve. That's because one or another of the two major parties will continue to hold sway through the advantage that the current primary system affords them.


AZ REDISTRICTING: WILL SEQUEL BE AS SCARY AS ORIGINAL?

What a simple, seemingly ingenious idea: Take redistricting out of the hands of those with conflict-filled vested interests -- the politicians -- and let it be done independently.

That's the notion behind Proposition 106, which Arizona voters passed in 2000, with the intention of depoliticizing the redrawing of congressional and legislative district boundaries. The state constitutional amendment creates a 5-member panel -- two Republicans, two Democrats and a voter registered with no party who serves as chair -- to draw the boundaries.

Did it work last time? And can it work this time? We'll ask those two key questions of this Friday's Arizona Week guests, including former redistricting commission executive director Adolfo Echeveste and Arizona State University political science Professor Jennifer Steen.

What are the pitfalls to success? Last time, it was a series of challenges to the boundaries by vested interests filing lawsuits. It took five years to get them all settled.

This time, expect more of the same, perhaps at an even higher volume and with more tenacity, given that the vested interests are liable to have a lot of resources at their disposals. Read that: money, lots of it.

AZ Public Media colleague Christopher Conover pointed out this story on politico.com that hints at what could become a much messier process than the originators of depoliticized redistricting intended.

This means money for lawsuits, for public campaigns, for politicians themselves to continue trying to butt in on the process.

Does it portend another protracted fight over redistricting, with the many and varying interests suing and counter-suing and jabbing and counter-punching their ways to dizziness?

If that's the case, we can't be certain that the outcome would be a "win" for anyone. And all who want a democratic process would be the losers.

And the commissioners, who meet Thursday in Phoenix for the second time, haven't even gotten down to the nuts and bolts of it yet.


AZ REDISTRICTING: WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?

Arizona Week on Friday will take an in-depth look at the process for redistricting in the state, which will drive all legislative and congressional politics for the next decade.

A five-member commission will make the decisions on redrawing the state's 30 legislative districts and nine congressional districts for use in the elections beginning next year. Arizona had eight congressional districts last decade, adding one because of increased population as measured in the 2010 Census.

That census is the basis for the redistricting, with each district intended to have roughly the same population as the next. In the case of the congressional districts, that will be about 710,000 people in each. In the case of the legislative districts, it will be about 213,700.

But it isn't a matter of simple math in the districts. Each must be drawn to conform to a series of constitutionally prescribed parameters, including compliance with the U.S. Voting Rights Act, geographical compactness and "communities of Interest".

All of the criteria are challenges, but "communities of interest" poses the biggest pitfalls.

The commission, chaired by politically independent Tucsonan Colleen Mathis, will meet Thursday morning in Phoenix to continue setting rules of procedure and reviewing the needs for staffing.

On Friday's program, we will aim to interview a political scientist, a current or former member of the commission and one of the originators of the proposition that created the process.


IMMIGRATION FIGHT IS 'WAR AGAINST DEMOGRAPHICS'

Latinos will have a plurality of Arizona's population by 2025 and a majority in another 10 to 15 years, a policy analyst at the Morrison Institute for Public Policy says.

Senior policy analyst Bill Hart, who studies and researches immigration and related trends for the institute at Arizona State University, said in an interview for Friday's Arizona Week that the 2010 Census numbers show the inevitability of the Latino population growth.

"It seems sometimes that the more extreme ... are waging war against demographics and against economics," Hart said referring to anti-immigrant measures that have passed and are being considered. "You just can't do that and win."

Arizona's Latino population grew by 46.3 percent, or just under 600,000 people, in the last decade. Combined with Arizona's Latino population growth in the previous decade, Latinos have nearly tripled in number since 1990.

Hart said the growth in the 1990s was driven by immigration, including a significant amount of illegal immigration. But now, because there is a large and youthful Latino population, growth will be driven forward naturally, or by birthrate, he said.

That means economic, social and political changes for the state, and it is not fully prepared to deal with them, Hart said. In education, for example, Latinos generally are lower achievers because of economics and language, yet they soon will become the driving force in the new labor pool for the state.

That's in conflict with Gov. Jan Brewer's stated goal of building an economy based on a high-wage workforce, and a high-wage workforce is one that is educated, Hart said. He said cuts to education at all levels now being debated in the Legislature, while probably necessary to an extent because of fiscal issues, will be harmful to workforce and economic development.

Hart's interview will air on Arizona Week Friday at 8:30 p.m. MST on KUAT-TV Channel 6 in Tucson and at 10:30 p.m. MST on KAET-TV Channel 8 in Phoenix. It also will be available at azweek.com starting Friday night.


QUESTIONS FOR GUESTS, JOURNALISTS ON FRIDAY'S PROGRAM

Arizona Week guests discussing the growing Latino population on Friday's program will be:

  • Bill Hart, senior policy analyst for the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University.

  • Anna Ochoa O'Leary, assistant professor of Mexican American and Raza Studies at the University of Arizona.

We will ask them to describe Arizona's future with, eventually, a Latino majority population.

What will that mean for the state's economy and business climate, especially because Latinos currently lag non-Latinos in Arizona in educational attainment.

What will it mean for state institutions, most especially public schools, the community colleges and the universities?

What will be the social changes that will occur, in terms of language, the arts, community social structure and other factors?

In politics, will Latinos gain a greater voice in proportion to their swelling population numbers?

What will be the changes in Arizona politics as a result of Latino population growth?

Which will be more influential in Arizona, the fact that the Latino population is growing rapidly or that the Latino population is so youthful?

About AZ Week Notebook

News and commentary from Arizona Week producer/host Michael Chihak and interns Melanie Huonker and Lucy Valencia.