Reason for optimism? The Democrats’ redistricting coup may not hold up in court
Monday morning in US District Court, a very important trial will commence that could very well alter the political landscape in Arizona for the next decade. The Democrat coalition that constituted a 3-2 majority vote for the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission are finally being forced - against their will - to defend the highly partisan legislative maps they imposed on Arizona voters. So far, it seems they have gotten off on the wrong foot.
Last week, the federal judge hearing the case ordered the Arizona Democratic Party’s interim executive director, DJ Quinlan, to be deposed by the plaintiff’s attorneys about his possible involvement in the drawing of the maps.
Why? According to the Arizona Capitol Times, Linda McNulty, a Democratic member on the AIRC, said during a deposition in Tucson on March 7th, that redistricting changes she gave the commission’s mapping consultant may have come from the party official. More specifically, when asked about her handing a thumb drive to Strategic Telemetry that made “significant changes” to Legislative Districts 8 and 11, McNulty testified I don’t recall whether I did it myself or whether I did it with DJ (Quinlan)’s help.”
This is potentially a direct contradiction of Luis Heredia’s statement, the then-Executive Director of the Arizona Democratic Party, that the party never gave any maps or instructions to any commissioners. It also raises new questions about how the 9th Congressional District came to be, now held by Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, which was reportedly drawn by McNulty. Especially considering, again as reported by the Capitol Times, McNulty spent her hour-long lunch break conferring over a laptop computer with DJ Quinlan in one meeting in late September 2011.
Direct evidence of Democratic Party involvement in the supposedly “independent” redistricting process could well leave the US District Court with little choice but to throw out the maps entirely and start over. Especially when combined with the mountain of circumstantial evidence already established.
First you have the Arizona Competitive Districts Coalition (ACDC), a 501(c)3 dedicated to, as their mission statement said, “advocate for competitive and fair districts in the 2011 Arizona redistricting process and to maximize the number of districts in which either political party, or even independent candidates could win.” Kathren Coleman, the political director of NARAL, led the effort. She would later join Building Arizona’s Future – the Democratic Party’s legislative campaign committee – in the same position.
In addition to advocating for precisely the kind of Republican voter packing that occurred, the ACDC actually created an online program that allowed the user to draw maps on one’s home computer or laptop, and handed it over to the AIRC. This clearly allowed Colleen Mathis and Linda McNulty to draw the districts in the comfort of their own home and away from the public.
Then you have the districts themselves. When they were passed, there was widespread concern the Democrats had succeeded in packing so many Republican voters into a handful of districts as to guarantee Democrat gains in the 2012 elections. With the results of the 2012 election now official, we can remove all doubt.
Just take a look at the six so-called “uncompetitive” Congressional Districts (CDs), where there was little or no doubt about the winner in November. Over 273,000 people voted in CD 8, home of Congressman Trent Franks, while less than 169,000 voted in CD 3, represented by Raul Grijalva. In CD 4 (Rep. Paul Gosar) over 244,000 voted, in CD 5 (Rep. Matt Salmon) over 273,000, and in CD 6 (Rep. David Schweikert) over 293,000 people cast ballots. CD 7 (Rep. Ed Pastor)? Just 128,379 voted – less than half of the number of voters in three Republican districts. In fact nearly as many people voted in the CD 6 race as both CD 3 and CD 7 – combined.
The state legislative districts were no different. Over 176,000 people voted in the highly “competitive” house races for LD 18. In LD 7, a ridiculously gerrymandered elephant-shaped district that stretches from Lake Mead to Kearny, and has over 10,000 fewer voters than the ideal population, saw only 69,000 show up to vote.
AIRC attempts to create two Democrat-leaning seats in the Tucson area, LDs 9 and 10, were further exposed by the 2012 election. Republican-heavy LD 11 (122,500 voters) and LD 14 (143,000 voters), bordered LD 9 and 10 to the north and east, respectively. At the same time, Democrat-heavy LD 2 and LD 3, bordering them to the south, saw only 79,000 and 67,000 come out to vote, respectively.
So once again, the two safe GOP seats had nearly double the voters of the two Democrat seats. The two districts in between (9 & 10), which the AIRC deemed to be the two most “competitive” in Arizona? Democrats cruised to victories in the Senate in both and won three out of the four House seats. Only single-shot candidate Ethan Orr managed to prevent a clean Democrat sweep.
In order to prevail in court next week, the AIRC has to be able to claim this is all just a coincidence. That Republicans were twice as excited to vote as Democrats in most uncompetitive districts. That Republicans could receive 184,669 more votes for the US House under fair districts, despite the fact that there was no Republican running in one CD while Democrats had candidates in all nine, and still see their 5-3 Republican delegation flip to a 5-4 Democrat led one. That the Arizona Democratic Party didn’t help draw the lines, despite mounting – and damaging – evidence to the contrary. Lines, according to the new Arizona Democratic Party Executive Director, that “really changed the playing field for Democrats.”