Originally Published: December 10, 2011 9:59 p.m.
When Sen. Steve Pierce was selected by his fellow Arizona legislative Republicans as Senate president, I felt a glimmer of hope. As a Democrat, I, of course, would prefer a more balanced representation in our Legislature than currently exists, but I am also a believer in maintaining dialogue with Republicans, Independents, and other good people of our state.
I have known Pierce for four years - we worked on opposite sides in the 2008 and 2010 campaigns here in Yavapai County - but I got to know him as a fair campaigner and a listener. His recent voting record on immigration issues - not as extreme as Russell Pearce and others in his party - also was welcome. And as a former board member of the League of Women Voters of Central Yavapai County, I was pleased to see the senator at our league's "Meet and Greets," showing his support for the nonprofit community.
This is why I was particularly disappointed in his Nov. 27 "Talk of the Town" column. I had hoped that once the Arizona Supreme Court had ruled that Gov. Jan Brewer's removal of the Independent Redistricting Commission chairwoman was illegal and unfounded that Republican politicians would join a bipartisan coalition of leaders in stepping back and allowing the commission to resume its work to complete the tedious but important task of drawing new congressional and legislative districts across our state.
Instead, Pierce used the column to serve up the same partisan attacks on the chairwoman that we've heard from Republican politicians for months. His unfounded accusations were peppered with qualifiers like "apparently" and "reportedly" and "allegedly." But the damage is done. These pejorative, unsubstantiated statements are meant to anger the public and turn them against the commission and its work.
Pierce also served up the same partisan attacks on the draft maps themselves, alleging multiple times that the Arizona Constitution had been violated by the actions of the commission. But anytime politicians make assertions that serve their self-interest, it's worth a fact check. In this case, the non-partisan, independent Grand Canyon Institute has issued a 10-page evaluation of the draft congressional map, and the report's title says it all: "The IRC's Draft Congressional Map Passes the Constitution's Test."
The sentiment expressed by Pierce toward the end of his column was most telling. He lamented the loss of the "political powerhouse" of Yavapai County. What he really means is "Republican powerhouse." Pierce and others in his party want to categorize our entire county as one self-contained "community of interest," to ensure it is a Republican stronghold as it has moved further and further to the right over the past eight years. They are manipulating the definition of "communities of interest," which is one of the constitutional criteria the redistricting process must follow.
Pierce is incorrect - Yavapai County is diverse and contains several communities of interest. Here are the facts: On the state's current map, Yavapai County is divided into two legislative districts. On the new, proposed draft map, Yavapai County still is divided into two legislative districts. Arizona had significant population growth this past decade, and map changes must be balanced using all of the constitutional criteria statewide, not just in Yavapai County. Arizona has 30 legislative districts, so using Pierce's rationale, Arizona would be confined to only 30 communities of interest across the entire state. We all know that is not true. Our state, just like our county, is diverse and made up of many communities of interest. Arizona has 15 counties, 91 cities and townships, and more than 240 school districts. The Independent Redistricting Commission needs to ensure communities of interest are kept whole to the extent practicable.
Senator, we citizens are tired of this partisan rhetoric and obstructionism. We want politicians to get out of the way and let the citizen volunteers on this independent commission finish their work! This is what the voters who passed Proposition 106 wanted - to remove political interference from this important process. You, Sen. Pierce, have been part of that interference. For the sake of Arizona, please stop it.
Jo Kelleher is a longtime Chino Valley resident who serves on the board of the Chino Valley Unified School District, and has served on the board of the League of Women Voters of Central Yavapai County. She was previously a candidate for state Senate in Legislative District 1 and is a vice chair for the Yavapai County Democrats.