On January 17th, Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) officially approved the state’s new Congressional districts. The vote was a major milestone in this year’s particularly tumultuous redistricting process. The Commission split along party lines, with the two Democratic members supporting the redistricting plan and the two Republican members opposing it. Independent Chairwoman Colleen Mathis cast her swing vote in favor of the plan, making the final vote 3-2.
Republican Governor Jan Brewer interrupted the process in late October when she impeached Chairwoman Mathis. Governor Brewer cited “gross misconduct” and violations of the state’s Open Meeting Law as grounds for removing Mathis. On November 1, the State Senate voted 21-6 to remove Mathis. Mathis sued, however, and the Arizona Supreme Court overturned the removal order on November 17. The Court gave no official reason for reinstating Mathis, but Vice Chief Justice Andrew Hurwitz later stated that the Governor had failed to prove her allegations against Mathis.
Arizona’s population increased more quickly over the last decade than that of the rest of the U.S., so the state gained one seat in reapportionment. Accordingly, the Commission’s new plan increases the number of Congressional districts from eight to nine. Of the eight incumbent Congressmen, five are Republicans and three are Democrats.
The new plan significantly changes Arizona’s political landscape. Four of the new districts—districts 4, 5, 6, and 8—are very solidly Republican while districts 3 and 7 lean strongly to the left. It is highly unlikely that the minority party in each of these six districts could stage an upset. That leaves only three competitive districts: Districts 1, 2, and 9.
The Commission’s plan places Congressman Paul Gosar (R) in the competitive 1st District. According to data released by the Commission, the 1st District has a significant Democratic registration advantage (39.6%-30.1%). Gosar would face Ann Kirkpatrick (D), which would be a difficult race. Gosar defeated Kirkpatrick in 2010 – a very good year for Republicans in Arizona – by a six point margin, but, given the Commission’s changes to his district, the 2012 election would be even more competitive. In March of last year, Kirkpatrick announced that she will run again in 2012.
A faceoff between Gosar and Kirkpatrick will not take place, however. Gosar announced on January 7 his intention to move from his current hometown of Flagstaff to the city of Prescott, which falls in the irregularly-shaped and overwhelmingly Republican 4th District. By moving, Gosar avoids a rematch with Kirkpatrick while simultaneously tapping into a more Republican constituency. At the same time though, Gosar’s decision to move significantly bolsters Kirkpatrick’s chances of winning in the 1st District. Kirkpatrick, while not technically an incumbent, is no newcomer to Arizona politics—she served in the State House of Representatives from 2004 to 2007 and then as a Congresswoman from 2009 to 2010. It is unclear who Kirkpatrick’s ultimate opponent will be, but it is safe to say that the Democrats have a very good chance of picking up the 1st District in November.
Representative Gabrielle Giffords’s district is also competitive. Formerly numbered as District 8, the new 2nd District in southeastern Arizona is 33.5% Republican and 31.3% Democrat. Giffords, who is in her third term in the House of Representatives, announced on January 22nd that she is stepping down from Congress in order to focus on recovering from injuries she sustained in a shooting last year. The state will hold a special election to replace Congresswoman Giffords, with a primary in April followed by a general election in June. The special election will be held in the boundaries of old Congressional District 8. The winner of that election will have to run again in November in the boundaries of new Congressional District 2.
The third and final competitive matchup will be in the newly created 9th District. This backward C-shaped district lies east of Phoenix and includes parts of Tempe, Mesa, and Chandler. Incumbent Republican Ben Quayle lives in this district, but has indicated that he is preparing to run in the primary against fellow Republican David Schweikert in the neighboring, and safely Republican, Congressional District 6. Democratic Arizona State Senator Kyrsten Sinema announced in early January that she will run for the seat, as will Democratic State Senator David Shapira. Republican Travis Grantham, a businessman and National Guardsman, has also announced his candidacy, and it is likely that a number of additional candidates will enter this race.
The Commission’s approval of the plan was a major milestone, but Arizona’s redistricting process is not over yet. The plan now goes to the U.S. Justice Department for preclearance. The Department will review the plan’s compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which protects minorities’ voting rights. Court and/or referendum challenges also remain a possibility.