Arizonans dodged a bullet in failed redistricting plot SanTan Sun News

Arizonans dodged a bullet in failed redistricting plot

May 12th, 2018 | by SanTan Sun News
Arizonans dodged a bullet in failed redistricting plot
Opinion
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by Jim Pederson, Guest Writer

In 2000, a group of citizens came together and organized an initiative drive to amend the Arizona Constitution to permit the drawing of legislative and congressional districts by an independent citizens commission instead of the Legislature.

Proposition 106, or the Fair District Fair Elections campaign, was approved overwhelmingly by the voters. The campaign theme was “Let the people draw the lines.”

Voters understood the message that creating districts by politicians is an inherent conflict of interest. The problem is that once in power, it’s human tendency to want to hold on to it.

It’s why generations of politicians have engaged in the dishonorable practice of gerrymandering – when partisan politicians draw voting district lines to favor a predetermined person or party.

Generally, the excuse is that since it’s been done before – as far back as 1789 – it’s all fine and good. But that’s nonsense, and that is the reason why voters took away the power of politicians to engage in gerrymandering.

Democracy is fragile. It depends on informed citizens exercising their right to vote and demanding fair and responsive representation from those in power.

Regardless of whether you are conservative, liberal or somewhere in between, Americans believe it’s the fundamental right of voters to choose their politicians and not the other way around.

We raise the point because there was an effort afoot in the Legislature to “tinker” with the Independent Redistricting Commission, which serves as a buffer between self-interested legislators and the impartial implementation of voting lines that level the playing field for anyone that wants to run for office.

A constitutional amendment – SCR 1034 – was introduced by Senate President Steve Yarbrough that would change how commission members get appointed, the number of members and what criteria utilized to approve new districts.

Notably, it would potentially give legislators – with their own elections at stake – more power to decide who their voters are. It’s not only unfair, it’s unwise. Had it come up for a vote, the result would have been less-competitive elections – which means legislators less responsive to you, the voter.

Proponents of the bill argued it would have made the IRC more bipartisan. But it begs the question of why bipartisan ends would be pursued through such blatantly partisan means.

More likely, it’s the case that backers in the Legislature want to undermine the commission so that come 2020, when the Constitution requires every state to redraw its lines in accordance with census results, the politicians in the back rooms will have more control of the process.

Historical context is important here. Since the commission came into existence nearly 20 years ago, it has been under constant attack by politicians.

First, they tried to weaken it by removing individual commission members. Then it went to the courts, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it was upheld in a landmark decision. Arizonans should be proud that our state set new precedent, overcoming the power of entrenched interests and pioneering a better way to determine the structure of voting maps.

But winning the battle is different than winning the war. Opponents of fair redistricting will never stop trying to chip away at the IRC. But ultimately, it’s not their choice – it’s ours.

The people of this state have demonstrated overwhelming opposition to tinkering with fair elections. Only when the politicians in Arizona realize that the political cost of gerrymandering is too high and that they risk their own reelection by attempting to jam it down the voter’s throats will we be able to rest.

-Jim Pederson is president/CEO of the commercial development firm the Pederson Group. In 2000, he was the primary driver behind Proposition 106, which created the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission.

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