The media are peddling the myth that Arizona Districts are not competitive. Yesterday, I pointed out that the Legislative Districts are about as competitive as they can get. I neglected to focus on the Congressional Districts because they are so obviously competitive that I shouldn't have to address it. However I still hear folks complain that we need an Independent Redistricting Commission because the Congressional districts are Gerrymandered.
First thing you need to remember is that the current Congressional Districts were drawn by the IRC and the 1990 to 2000 Congressional Districts were drawn by the courts, so if you don't like them, don't call for some sort of "reform."
Arizona has eight Congressional Districts and three of them are clearly competitive. District one was held by Ann Kirkpatrick and is now held by Gosar. District 5 was held by Hayworth, then Mitchell and now Schweikert and District 8 was held by Kolby and then Gabby.
The Dems themselves claim that District 3 is competitive and certainly made noise that Lord had a shot over Shadegg and Hulburd had a shot over Quayle.
Grijalva would argue that his district isn't actually "safe" since Ruth McClung nearly took him out. I would argue that it's a safe Democratic seat but that Grijalva is such an embarrassment that he makes the seat vulnerable.
So half of the districts are competitive and half are "safe". Can this be improved? Nope.
It can't be improved for two reasons. First is that people don't distribute themselves randomly. Rural Arizona is different from Paradise Valley which is different from central Phoenix. The only way to make an area that is largely Democratic competitive is to mix it with an area that is largely Republican. Then these communities will fight for their Congressman and one of them will lose and feel disenfranchised.
Would that be a good thing? Should we make a district that combines central Phoenix and Tempe with Mesa and Gilbert? That would be a competitive district represented by either Russell Pearce or Kyrsten Sinema. Would that be a good policy? I think it would be better to have the East Valley get its own district and central Phoenix get its own district and have the former represented by Jeff Flake and the latter represented by Ed Pastor.
But it doesn't matter what I think. That's because the second factor trumps the first. Sure, people live in different communities and it would be awkward to put them together, but the key (and the dirty little secret of redistricting) is the second factor...Congressional districts are drawn by race.
Like I said, I think it's better to have a Phoenix district and a Mesa district...one represented by Pastor and one represented by Flake. But it doesn't matter what I think. The Pastor/Flake split is mandated by federal law.
Congressional Districts have to be drawn to maximize minority representation. The IRC and the media can talk about criteria...competitiveness, communities of interest (which conflict) and any other factors they want, but that's all a smokescreen. In reality, they will draw two safely Hispanic seats first and then build the rest of the map around that.
I didn't say two safely Democratic seats, I said safely Hispanic--and in order to make a seat safely Hispanic, it has to be VERY Democratic. Democrats have to be packed in and Republicans have to be carved out. Check out the inset on the right. That's the border between Pastor's district and Quayle's district. Why is it cut like that? To make sure that Pastor doesn't have the Biltmore. It doesn't matter who draws the lines, Pastor's district can't be competitive. Naturally, this makes Quayle's district less competitive. I would argue that Hulburt would have been a lot closer to Quayle if Pastor's district had been squared off at that corner.
In fact, the Pastor and Grijalva districts are SO democratic that the Flake and Franks districts are safe Republican seats and the Quayle district is a leans Republican seat.
So back to the broader map. We have four competitive districts and four partisan districts. The partisan districts are a direct result of federal law and can't be changed. The new IRC will start with the same premise and will come up with a similar outcome.
The IRC will be able to play around the edges a bit...District 1 will be very different, we won't know where the new district is for a while and we don't know how Quayle's district will be tweaked, but the core of the map will be the same.
Here's my prediction. The new maps will actually be LESS competitive than the old ones: for the entire next decade the Congressional delegation will have six Republicans and three Democrats. (Frankly, there's a good chance that the split will be 7-2)