REDISTRICTING WORRISOME FOR NW CANDIDATES - The Explorer: Import

REDISTRICTING WORRISOME FOR NW CANDIDATES

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Posted: Tuesday, April 16, 2002 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:46 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Although the ink is barely dry on the proposed lines of Arizona's redrawn legislative districts, the new political landscape is already playing havoc with the races for the state house in the Northwest.

Ora Mae Harn, Marana's former mayor and Repub-lican political matron who was widely expected to make a run for the Senate in what is now District 11, announced last week that the configuration of the district has led her to abandon her plans.

"It's simply too big now," Harn said of the newly designated District 25 that now stretches north into Pinal County, south to the Mexican border and west to Ajo. "I just don't feel that with a district that size I could do it justice. I'm not sure anyone who takes it on will be able to give the constituents the attention they deserve. You would just kill yourself if you are a conscientious person and wanted to visit all your areas. There's just too much ground to cover. I would have run if they hadn't changed it and I think I would have won."

For Rep. Carol Somers, a popular Republican who won her District 13 seat in 2000 and will be up for re-election in the rapidly approaching primaries, the new lines have drawn her into a kind of a weird, political Twilight Zone.

The new lines drew down not far from the home she has lived in for 22 years, forcing her to choose between a new district encompassing much of her old District 13, and the new district 26, which is drawn substantially from the current District 12 and has her running against two equally popular Republican incumbents - Rep. Steve Huffman and Rep. Pete Hershberger, from the old District 12.

Hershberger, who along with Huffman did not return requests seeking comment by the Northwest EXPLOR-ER's press time, moved out of his home in the possibly expiring District 12 to the new, heavily Republican District 26 when the new lines brought in an influx of Democrats to what would have been the district he lived in.

Somers also faced packing up for a more congenial political climate, but ultimately chose to stay in her home and fight it out.

"My husband and I just said 'why move?' I think the people in my new district will like the record I developed in District 13. There' s a lot of popular things that I've fought for, like controlling property taxes and promoting economic development, that I think will translate well in the new District 26," Somers said.

The redistricting plan, which still has to move through a host of court challenges and be approved by the U.S. Justice Department before it becomes a reality, is already raising concern that the new lines will be approved in time for this year's elections.

Democrats and Hispanic groups have sued to halt the approval of the new lines which were drawn by the voter-created Independent Redistricting Committee earlier this year.

Republicans filed motions April 9 with Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Fields to allow the maps to be used in the 2002 elections.

The lines, which were drawn with an eye toward creating more competitive races, racial balance and forming districts with shared "communities of interest," remain in limbo for the time being.

But for many in the Northwest with an interest in the elections, it's not a matter of if the lines are approved, but when.

The only other consensus seems to lie with the unpopularity of the new districts. Distaste for how the new boundaries fell in the Northwest easily crosses party lines.

"I think it's still up in the air for District 12 Democrats," said Sue Tucker, a precinct committee member and chair of the the Democrat's legislative committee in District 12, who now finds herself in the proposed District 26. "It definitely doesn't look good for us with 11,000 more Republicans than Democrats in our district. The hope was that there would be a fair, competitive district created, but I just don't think that it worked out that way. One party got it even more than they had it."

Dan Sullivan, a Republican precinct committee member in Continental Ranch and vice chair of the GOP's District 11's legislative committee, said he was considering a run for the House and like Harn, begged off when he saw the new lines of District 25.

"It's not just that it's geographically impossible to cover, there's also the fact that there's no community of interest as far as I can see. Marana, particularly Continental Ranch, is a middle class community composed of families, professionals and retirees, and I just don't think that they're interests relate to the rest of the redrawn district. There's nothing quite like this new district."

The mayors of Marana and Oro Valley each expressed a degree of dissatisfaction with the new lines running through their towns, but both said they believed their town's have grown past the stage where they're dependent on state representatives for clout in Phoenix.

"It kind of splits us with our population centers of Continental Ranch in one district and Heritage Highlands in another," Marana Mayor Bobby Sutton Jr. said. "Which we would have preferred to have seen lumped together in the redistricting process, but for the most part, it's not too much of a concern for us. Clout is something that comes from just being good partners with the state and we in Marana have that. We're in a position of shaping our own destiny. We have influence and we don't have to rely as much on our local legislators as we used to."

Oro Valley Mayor Paul Loomis said the expected race for the proposed District 26 House seat between Hershberger, Huffman, and Somers, as well as whoever may rise to run against Republican Sen. Toni Hellon, could leave voters in a quandary.

"We have three great legislators in place, and we have a fourth great legislator, Carol Somers, who has been affected by this. She's decided she wants to stay in District 12, so we're going to have four good legislators running and that will be a challenge to sort out," Loomis said.

Loomis, who like Sutton, heads a nonpartisan town council, agreed that the incorporated areas of the Northwest have less riding on who is sitting in their district's legislative seat than they used to.

"I would say that overall, it should not have a huge effect on the Northwest communities," Loomis said. "The legislators we have had have been very supportive of the regional towns and I think it does have some influence on clout up in Phoenix. But my feeling is that Oro Valley has become in its own right more influential on the Legislature over the years, we're much more involved then we were in the past. We have to continue to consider our neighbors as we try and influence the Legislature, and I think we've done that very well when working as a region and hopefully we'll continue to do so."

Harn disagreed on the effect the new lines will have in Marana, which is evenly split near Interstate 10 between the new Districts 25 and 26.

"I think it has huge implications for the town of Marana. Half our representation is in 25, which stretches out far away from the town. There doesn't seem to be anyone around to run in the new district and I'm afraid that someone from Wilcox or some other area will end up winning the seat and that's not the best representation at the state level for us," Harn said.

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