‘Redistrict’ politics out of the game

by E. J. Montini, columnist – Oct. 13, 2011 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

We were better people in the year 2000.

We were idealistic. We were optimistic. We were visionary.

We were suckers.

We actually believed that it was possible in Arizona to take the politics out of . . . politics.

By a statewide vote, we approved Proposition 106, which tossed out the old way of creating voting districts, a process that was left to elected politicians, and replaced it with an independent redistricting commission that was supposed to make the state’s congressional and legislative districts more fair, more competitive and in accordance with the highest principles of the founding fathers – more independent.

It didn’t work. Shortly after the proposition passed in 2000, the fighting started.

The maps are redrawn every 10 years after a census. The law requires the commission to be made up of five members: two Republicans, two Democrats and a fifth member who can’t belong to either party and is selected by the other appointees.

Of course, if the commission actually was independent there would be no Democrats or Republicans on it. But that would have been a tough sell since the major parties would have spent their entire treasuries fighting it. So we’ve got the current system, which hasn’t improved things.

After the first commission met a decade ago and came up with a map, a coalition of Hispanic politicians and activists asked a judge to throw it out because they said the legislative races would not be competitive. And it was true.

They weren’t. And 10 years later, they still aren’t.

We have a state government that is in complete control of one party, a party that brought us SB 1070, cut off funding for transplant patients, refused to extend benefits to the unemployed and failed to create jobs. A party that now is complaining about the redistricting process because it’s afraid the commission might produce a map that would allow someone from another party, or even an independent, to get elected.

Gov. Jan Brewer, the whiner-in-chief, complained that the commission’s current proposal is “completely rewriting Arizona’s congressional lines in a move that splits counties and communities and tosses large numbers of voters and sitting members of Congress into new districts.”

What the governor didn’t know (which would be sad) or chose to ignore (which also would be sad) is that the state is not supposed to consider where incumbents live when redrawing maps.

Earlier this week, an article in The Arizona Republic reported that if the commission’s current draft map is approved Arizona would have “up to eight districts out of 30 in which either a Republican or a Democrat would have an equal chance of winning.”

Eight out of 30? That’s improvement?

A better idea would be for each of us to become his own redistricting commission.

With any luck (and some helpful donations) the folks backing the so-called Open Government Act will get their measure on the 2012 ballot. This particular proposition would eliminate Arizona’s partisan primary elections and replace them with a “top-two” open-primary system.

Essentially, it means that all candidates for an office, no matter their party affiliation, must compete in the same primary. And all voters get to cast ballots. The two candidates with the most votes then run against one another in the general election. Four states already do this. And it’s how we elect the mayor of Phoenix.

Former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson, one of those behind the effort (the group’s website is azopengov.org) told me, “Essentially, our proposal IS redistricting. It’s the best chance we have to open up the process, eliminate some of the partisanship and elect more moderates.”

There’s no guarantee that such a plan will work. But as game-changing proposals go, it’s idealistic. It’s optimistic. It’s visionary.

And I’m a sucker for that.

Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/news/articles/2011/10/13/20111013Montini1013-redistrict-politics-out-game.html#ixzz1jvIKTMWq

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