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The importance of redistricting

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Editor’s note: This op-ed is an updated version replacing the one originally posted on November 5, 2011.

By José M. Herrera

I am one of five members of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. A new redistricting commission convenes every 10 years to redraw Arizona’s congressional and legislative districts. The commission consists of five volunteers – two Republicans, two Democrats and an independent chairperson.

In early October, when we adopted draft congressional and legislative district maps, my colleagues and I received a burst of attention. While the press attention is flattering, redistricting is a mundane task and doesn’t typically sell newspapers.

However, what the topic lacks in sexiness, it makes up for in significance. The final maps we adopt will have a profound effect on how Arizonans are represented both at the state level and in Washington, D.C., for the next 10 years. And let’s face it, as a Latino and a Democrat, I can say the non-Hispanic representation that we’ve had over the last decade has done nothing to help our community. In fact, just the opposite has occurred, and that’s why redistricting is so important.

Latinos make up more than 30 percent of the state’s population. Yet, as a community, Hispanic involvement in the political process is underwhelming. That is one of the main reasons I volunteered for this position. If the commission can create more districts in which a Latino can be elected, then more Hispanics will become politically involved. The same is also true if we create more competitive districts. Competition creates choice and voter enthusiasm.

Help Others; Help Ourselves

One of the ways to do that is to get involved. Run for office yourself or volunteer for a political campaign. I’ve volunteered for both Democrats and Republicans and have really enjoyed it. We can all give back by volunteering. You also learn things whenever you volunteer. Serving on boards for the Northern Arizona University Alumni Association and other non-profits taught me organizational management. Traveling around the state for redistricting hearings, I get a geography and history lesson almost every place we visit.

I grew up in a Spanish-speaking household in San Luis, Ariz., a rural, overwhelmingly Latino community south of Yuma. Most of my peers were, like me, first-generation Americans. I went to college at NAU in Flagstaff, a very different environment. I would recommend that any student, if he or she has the means, go away to college to experience living away from home.

From my personal experience, I can relate very well to people all over Arizona. That carries over to my redistricting work. I can represent a variety of people and perspectives on the commission because I know Arizona. I’m a native of Arizona, and I love it here.

We’re All Arizonans

Arizonans have much in common. We all want the state to progress. I think we need to focus on that.

I was surprised that the rancor about redistricting started so early, before we drew a single line on a single map. I didn’t expect that level of partisanship, at least so early on. People can disagree and still be respectful. That has been the case with my fellow commissioners, despite some disagreements. We may not always agree with one another, but all are good people who believe that we are doing what is best for Arizona. 

Unfortunately, some incumbent office holders have been over the top with their criticism. I don’t believe there is a way to please them short of giving them everything they want. That’s not compromise, and it’s not good for our state. I also am extremely surprised by the hostile tone of the public criticism, and how organized it appears to be.

But organization works both ways. As an example, the Navajo Nation and the City of Flagstaff have spent countless hours crafting their redistricting proposals, and I think that’s been reflected in the commission’s work so far. But regardless of how the final maps look, both sides of the political aisle may be a bit unhappy. That’s called compromise.

More unnecessary political wrangling

Halloween is over, but that didn’t stop our governor, Jan Brewer, from scaring state Republican “leaders” into abusing their power.  On November 1, the governor and Senate Republicans ignored the will of the people – who approved Proposition 106 in overwhelming numbers in 2000 – when they removed the commission’s chairwoman for purely political motivations in a rushed special session.

Even if you have not closely followed the redistricting process, Arizona voters recognize this as a travesty and an injustice done to a commission that is independent of the governor and Legislature. The law states that two-thirds of the State Senate can remove a commissioner for “gross misconduct.” The gross misconduct provision allows a commissioner to be removed for serious offenses, not simply because one political party does not like the maps that have been created. It is true that there are allegations of an open-meetings law violation. But those are unsubstantiated allegations, and the investigation is ongoing. The investigation should run its course. However, in the eyes of the Republicans, the commission is guilty until proven innocent. 

Yet, even if the allegations levied at the commission are true, they are not serious enough to warrant removal of any commissioners. The governor accused all five commissioners of wrongdoing, but only chose to have the independent chairwoman removed. The governor continues to threaten removal of the two Democratic commissioners if we do not create Republican-friendly maps. She and others are simply trying to bully the commission into drawing maps that ensure Republican victories. That is not what the voters want. They want fair and competitive districts that give them choices at the polls.

Even the right-leaning editorial board at The Arizona Republic disagrees with the deplorable actions taken by the governor. In a recent editorial, they wrote: “Republicans haven’t made the case for taking such a drastic step. And their own rush to judgment and execution is a sorry example of the kind of behavior they find so objectionable.”

Let the will of the people stand by allowing the Independent Redistricting Commission to do its job of creating fair and competitive maps. That is what voters want, and that is what voters should demand.

José M. Herrera received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Northern Arizona University. He is the senior manager of member services for the Arizona Society of CPAs. José and his wife Dena, a math instructor at Rio Salado Community College, live in the Arcadia area in Phoenix and are raising two children, Caél and Sofia.

Under the Arizona Constitution, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission must begin drawing legislative and congressional districts from scratch and the districts must be drawn according to six criteria. For more information, visit azredistricting.org.

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