Community of Interest Hypocrisy at Independent Redistricting Commission

by Ann Heitland

As I observe the final deliberations of the Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC), I revisited the Communities of Interest Report on the IRC website. The “overlap count” puts any connection between Eastern Arizona towns (like Snowflake and Eagar) and Coconino County (Williams, Parks, Kachina Village, Bellemont) at the lowest of five ratings. There is zero community of interest justification for Legislative District 7 in the data. View the Approved Draft Map.

Nor can anyone legitimately find a Community of Interest for District 7 in the public testimony and comments. The so-called “rural voice” of Arizona that has been put forward to justify the apparent gerrymander in the Draft Map is very divided. Folks in the unincorporated areas around Flagstaff are not in a community of interest with Eagar, Show Low, or Pinetop/Lakeside. Their community of interest is Flagstaff. The IRC divides them from their school district, their workplaces, their commercial activities, and their health center. Williams is even further afield.

People in Snowflake claim they have had no voice in the legislature because they have been in a district with Flagstaff. They should meet their representatives who are their near neighbors. For the last 10 years they have elected Republicans of their choice in every cycle, including current Rep. Walt Blackman who lives in Snowflake and former Senator Sylvia Allen, also of Snowflake. Their other current Representative, Brenda Barton, has been elected in several cycles and is also from a small rural Navajo County town. The facts are that the “voice of rural Arizona,” as they call themselves, has defeated every candidate supported by Flagstaff voters in the last 10 years. Their plaintive cry is false.

The current Republican Senator Wendy Rogers may claim residence in Flagstaff, but she was elected by the “conservative” White Mountain residents represented in the public comments submitted to you by Steven Slaton (owner of the Trump Store in Show Low) and in testimony by those who read talking points referring to a “non-Native District” without knowing what it meant. These voices advocating for putting Flagstaff into the “non-Native district” to protect Roger’s seat are from rural Arizona, too. They are even rural eastern Arizona voices. Putting Flagstaff into a district with these eastern Arizona towns is exactly what they have told you they want. It seems the “voice of rural Arizona” contradicts itself.

Refusing to put some of those eastern Arizona towns into a district with the Navajo Nation, as required to population balance, sacrifices compactness and competitiveness for a fictional community of interest that labels itself the “voice of rural Arizona” but can only define itself by what it doesn’t want – it doesn’t want to be with Native Americans, and it doesn’t want to be with Democrats. 

These negative sentiments are not constitutional communities of interest and should not be given legitimacy by the IRC. A community of interest must be defined by who people are (protected minorities) or by things they do together, not by prejudice or partisanship. The Draft Map ignores economic, educational, social, and cooperative communities of interest in all these counties (Apache, Navajo, Yavapai, Coconino). Among other things, District 7 ignores the fact that Native Americans live in eastern Arizona border towns as well as on tribal lands. It slices up areas of shared commercial interests and family ties that are in both border towns and their neighboring tribal lands. It divides the tourism corridor of Flagstaff, Sedona, Verde Valley into three districts. Those places also share conservation projects and public safety arrangements. It divides the educational and workforce community of Greater Flagstaff into two districts.

Failure to redraw the northern Arizona Legislative Draft Map would give voice to racism and partisanship for the next 10 years while violating the constitutional criteria for compactness, communities of interest, and competitiveness. Packing northern Arizona Democrats into a district with 13 tribal nations dilutes the voice of the tribal nations without any reasonable basis justified by any constitutional criteria.

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