Arizona redistricting commission OKs congressional map

TEMPE, Ariz. - The state's independent redistricting commission on Tuesday adopted a new tentative congressional district map, pending analyses by the panel's legal counsel and voting-rights consultants.

The five commissioners were working late Tuesday on a new legislative district map before a self-imposed Christmas deadline.

According to counsel Mary O'Grady, the panel will have to vote on the map again after receiving the legal and technical analyses. The commission's lawyers and staff then must prepare the state's submission to the Department of Justice for its approval as mandated under the federal Voting Rights Act.

Major tweaks to the congressional map included reuniting Fountain Hills with Scottsdale in the proposed 6th District; making Cochise County whole in the proposed 2nd District, along with the eastern portion of metropolitan Tucson; and moving western Maricopa County to the rural 4th District, leaving the proposed 8th District more compact and suburban.

The congressional district map was approved by a 3-2 vote, commission spokesman Stuart Robinson said.

Commission Chair Colleen Mathis said the panel "spent four weeks improving the draft maps, incorporating many of the suggestions we received during our second round of public hearings, as well as comments submitted to us in writing.

"We worked very hard to reach consensus on the map where possible, and it was also our consensus that it was time to move the process along," Mathis added.

The Arizona Supreme Court on Nov. 17 overturned Gov. Jan Brewer's Nov. 1 removal of Mathis as the commission's chair. Brewer's removal order had cited open meeting law violations and violations of state constitutional mapping criteria and processes used in preparation of draft maps, but the Supreme Court said the governor lacked a constitutional basis for her action.

Arizona voters created the five-member commission in 2000 to take the once-a-decade mapping process out of the hands of the Legislature and the governor. Supporters said the change would eliminate lawmakers' self-interest as motivations for where lines are drawn and also spur creation of competitive districts.

Redistricting is important -- and often controversial -- because how districts are drawn influences whether a party and its candidates have realistic shots at winning races in particular districts.