I've heard so many myths spouted by the local media lately that I'm going to run a series to set things straight. Here's a great example from this morning's Star.
To bring Arizona to the brink of reasoned policy-making, one change may help more than any other: a greater number of competitive state legislative districts, so that voters actually make choices when they go to the voting booth.
The "competitive district" myth has a lot of variations, but it usually runs something like this: "The legilsature is so extreme because current districts have been drawn so that they are not competitive." This "fact" is then used to justify having the Independent Redistricting Commission.
Let's dispense with the last part first. Remember that the current districts were drawn by the Independent Commission, so if you don't like the current districts, you shouldn't like the IRC. Don't claim that the IRC will solve the problem and then forget to disclose that the IRC created the current problem.
The fundamental flaw in the competitive districts myth is the most basic claim "the districts aren't competitive." The Star, for its part, concedes that there are about 10 competitive districts. That's about right. In the last decade, Districts, 5, 10, 11, 20, 23, 25 and 26 have been represented at some point by members of each party. Democrats have a good shot in districts 9 and 12 and Republicans have a shot in 17. Of course, in 2008, Arizona Democrats claimed they were going to take over the House and Senate and claimed there were additional competitive districts.
I know that 10 to 15 competitive districts out of 30 seems light, but think about it for a second. How many Democratic districts can you get out of Scottsdale and Mesa? How many Republican districts can you get out of Flagstaff, the Navajo Reservation and Central Tucson? People tend to live near people who think like they do. The only way to make those districts competitive is to Gerrymander them.
But let's go back to the fundamental question...will competitive districts lead to a centrist legislature? Of course not. Each party picks its nominee and then the winner takes all. So district 26 was represented by Democrat Charlene Pesqueira and then by Republican Al Melvin. Neither of them are moderate. If Melvin had lost the last election, it would have been to liberal Democrat Cheryl Cage.
So the fundamental premise is wrong. The Districts are currently competitve, the IRC drew them and competitive districts don't yield a centrist Legislature.
Other than that, the Star got it right.