Well, the ballots have finally all been counted, and the official canvass has been released. It is now unmistakeably clear who was the big winner of the 2012 Arizona elections. Who is perhaps, even temporarily, the most powerful political figure in Arizona – Colleen Mathis.
As the “Independent” chair of the non-partisan Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (AIRC), Mathis spearheaded what is perhaps the most partisan redistricting effort in the country. Her tie-breaking vote, along with the two Democrats on the Commission, allowed the AIRC to conduct nearly half their meetings behind closed doors in executive session, hire a mapping firm with long-standing ties to liberal organizations and the Obama for President campaign, and produce district lines for the next ten years that eviscerated communities of interest in the name of partisan advantage, excuse me, “competitiveness.”
We were assured at the time the maps were finalized that the Republican protests were exaggerated, that the map was abundantly fair and drawn without regard to partisanship. The results, officially now, speak for themselves.
Statewide, in races immune from the effects of redistricting, Republicans did quite well. Mitt Romney carried the state comfortably, Jeff Flake was elected to the US Senate, and all three Republican candidates for the Arizona Corporation Commission were victorious. Republicans will now hold every single statewide office in Arizona come January – the first time in over 100 years of statehood.
Down-ballot, however, the results were a different story.
Despite receiving 52% of the votes for the US House statewide, compared to only 44% for Democrats, Republicans saw their 5-3 Republican delegation majority flip to a 5-4 Democrat majority. In all, Republicans received over 215,000 more votes than Democrats for Congress, and that is without any Republican running in CD-7 against Rep. Ed Pastor.
Republicans lost all three Congressional districts the AIRC created in the name of competitiveness. More interestingly, though, is how the incumbents in the so-called non-competitive seats fared. Congressman Trent Franks amassed almost 173,000 votes, while Rep. Ed Pastor garnered less than 105,000, again, despite not even having a Republican opponent. Matt Salmon had over 183,000 votes, with a Democrat still taking 33% of the vote overall. Rep. Raul Grijalva, however, couldn’t even get 100,000 votes.
If that sounds like Republicans were stuffed into districts to give Democrats a better shot at winning the others, it should.
The final AIRC maps for the state legislature gave Democrats a clear voter registration plurality in 13 districts (they only held 9 of those in the Senate at the time). 16 of the 17 districts with a plurality of Republican voters exceed the ideal population estimate, and 8 of those districts exceed that amount by more than 5,000 residents. By contrast 11 of 13 Democrat plurality districts are under-populated – four by more than 8,000 residents. Unmistakable evidence of packing Republican voters.
The effect of this gerrymandering did more than help Democrats gain seats in both the House and Senate. The new boundaries cut through natural communities of interest, such as cities like Mesa, Tempe and Surprise, as well as Indian reservations. The City of Glendale, for example, now is represented by seven (7!) separate legislative districts.
The tragedy of this entire redistricting coup is that it could well have been prevented in the first place. Mathis had barely disguised her left-leaning tendencies in the past, despite her voter registration form. Not long before being selected to the AIRC, Mathis donated money to Arizona List, a left wing group that bills itself as “a full-service political team with a simple mission: to elect progressive, pro-choice Democratic women.” She also contributed money to Andrei Cherny, then running against Doug Ducey for State Treasurer. Cherny later returned the favor as Chairman of the Democratic Party by defending her mightily in her successful bid to get re-instated by the Supreme Court.
Why the Republican Party didn’t see the danger in a highly partisan AIRC, and didn’t do everything they could to “organize” for it (in Ruben Gallego’s words) until it was too late is a story for another day. Perhaps the State Party Convention in January. But the damage is done.
Hopefully the AIRC will cease to exist before 2022. Hopefully those in the Republican Party will realize that the process which directly affects political power for a decade cannot be immune from politics. Until then, however, Colleen Mathis can take her place as the single most effective and powerful Democrat in Arizona, in 2012 and beyond.