Pima County’s redistricting committee will have its first of many meetings this week, launching the effort to remake the district boundaries for the Board of Supervisors and the Pima Community College governing board.
Well, perhaps remake is too strong of a word. It’s more like tweak. At best the committee will be a dog and pony show, traveling around the county seeking public comment about which voting precincts should be in which of five districts, but in the end politics and race will rule the day.
Democrats have controlled the board of supervisors for most of the past 30 years, save for one election cycle between 1992 and 1996 when Republicans had a brief, tempestuous hold on the reins of power.
Democrats regained control in 1996 when Sharon Bronson defeated Republican Vicki Cox Golder and incumbent Ed Moore (who had switched to Independent from Republican to avoid losing the primary to Golder).
After the 2000 election, the board gerrymandered the districts to create two safe Republican districts, District 1 and District 4, two safe Democratic districts in District 2 and District 5 and one mostly safe Democratic District 3.
The effect of that has been a suppression of democracy. In the last board election in 2008 four of five supervisors ran unopposed in the general election (though, ironically, three of five faced party challengers in the primary).
The way county voters are divided in the five supervisor districts serves the interests of the incumbents but it certainly doesn’t serve the interests of the county’s voters.
While all five districts have roughly the same population – the district with the highest population, District 4, is only 3.7 percent more populous than the smallest, District 5 – their voter registrations are severely out of whack.
The two Republican-controlled districts, District 1 and District 4, combined have more than 50 percent of the county’s voters while the two strongly Democratic districts, District 2 and District 5, have only 30 percent of the county’s voters.
And while Democratic voters are spread evenly among the five districts with roughly 20 percent of the county’s Democrats in each, more than two-thirds of the county’s Republicans are crammed into two districts, District 1 and District 4, along with half of the Independents. Only 8 percent of the county’s Republicans are in District 5, only 11 percent in District 2.
This type of gerrymandering would indicate that Democrats overwhelmingly outnumber Republicans in Pima County. They don’t. About 38 percent of the county’s voters are Democrats, 31 percent are Republicans and 30 percent Independents (1 percent are Greens or Libertarians).
What’s screwing everything up, besides politics, is race. Pima County had a history of discriminating against Hispanics and as a result, under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the U.S. Justice Department has to sign off on district changes that affect minority voting power. Since we’ve spent the past 20 years or so segregating ourselves, with mostly Republican whites living in the northern, eastern and southern suburbs and mostly Democratic Hispanics living in the city core, it’s nearly impossible to balance supervisor districts by political party without moving Hispanics around and reducing their voting power, currently concentrated in districts 2 and 5.
The county’s redistricting committee gives the appearance that what voters might want matters. It doesn’t.
The supervisors could save everyone a lot of time by holding a study session to fight amongst themselves about who gets what precincts, then vote on a map that makes Hispanics and the Justice Department happy and be done with it.