Just Thinking

Town Hall Calls for Competitiveness

by Richard Gilman

The topic as we approach Arizona’s centennial was how to best structure the state’s government for the next 100 years.

The suggestions flowing out of the 97th Arizona Town Hall were numerous.  That’s not surprising when the participants were 130 or so public officials, civic participants, and attorneys who are both well-informed and passionate.

The recommendations ranged from elections and how government operates to the state’s responsibilities in important areas such as education and economic development.  Those issues were on people’s minds approaching statehood in 1912 and, though the specifics may have changed, are again as we approach 2012.

The state has utilized progressive devices, such as initiatives and referendums, from the very beginning.  Others such as clean elections and citizen-directed redistricting have come along more recently.  All came in for their share of criticism and suggestions among the Town Hall’s many and wide-ranging recommendations.  See the full report.

When it came to the topic of redistricting, this particular Town Hall included a rather remarkable group of participants.  Among its ranks were one of the five members of the outgoing Independent Redistricting Commission, one of the commission’s lawyers, several of the lawyers who sued the commission over the result, and a number of the candidates for the commission that is about to be named.  (In the interest of full disclosure, I was another of the participants.)

Town Hall works on a consensus basis, which inevitably results in not every participant agreeing with every recommendation, but the sentiment was a strong one on redistricting.  In three separate passages (on pages 6, 10 and 11) of the report, participants called for the creation of more districts that are competitive.  Page 10 contains the most pointed language:

“Although voter registration is roughly evenly divided between Democrats, independents, and Republicans, most legislative districts, as they currently stand, fail to yield truly competitive races. Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission has failed to create competitive districts.  Moving forward, the Independent Redistricting Commission should find a way to meet the requirements of the Voting Rights Act while also ensuring the creation of fewer districts which are non-competitive.”

Town Hall can only advocate.  It will be up to the new commission to do.

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