With Arizona redistricting commissioners no longer beholden to federal preclearance requirements, GOP lawmakers have free reign to redraw district maps, disempowering Native and Latinx voters in the state and threatening a decade of uncontested Republican rule.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 previously required district maps to be pre-approved by the Department of Justice, known as preclearance, but after the conservative majority in the US Supreme Court dismantled the provision in their 2013 Shelby County v Holder decision, Arizona now does not need to comply with preclearance procedure.
The old district map for 2012-2020 encompassed an even number of Democrats and Republicans. However, the proposed 2022-2030 map seeks to exclude areas that are 26 percent Hispanic and increase Republican voters by 9 percent. Consequently, the map drafts will dilute the vote of 13 tribal nations, according to Coconino County Democrats Chair Ann Heitland.
Congressional District 1 is currently held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran, but redistricting threatens to include Yavapai County, currently held by Republican Congressman Paul Gosar. Rep. Gosar has previously defended the rioters at the January 6th insurrection, including white nationalists, and has recently been censured in the House of Representatives after tweeting an animated video of him executing fellow Representative Alexandria Orcasio-Cortez.
The Arizona constitution requires the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission to create fair and competitive legislative districts, but due to partisan gerrymandering, only six of the 30 legislative districts qualify as competitive under the commission’s metrics.
Cora Maxx-Phillips, from the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, stresses the importance of competitive districts to ensure a healthy representative democracy. “Competition means candidates must pay attention to all their constituents. When one party is sure they’ll win, they’ll ignore constituents outside of their party.”
One of the many GOP candidates for Congressional District 2 includes QAnon enthusiast Ron Watkins, who has campaigned on overturning the 2020 election, bashing critical race theory, and opposing public health mandates. None of the GOP candidates have voiced concern for issues affecting the Indigenous community, including tribal reservations that lack electricity, piped water, sewers, internet service, and high-paying jobs, as well as the immense unemployment and poverty in those communities.
Lena Fowler, a county supervisor and longtime advocate for Indigenous people in northern Arizona, states that the quality of life in these communities hinge on their congressional representation. “Tribes have treaty obligations and funding that comes directly from the federal government for education, water rights, roads – our health care is directly related to our congressional representation,” said Fowler.
“I’m very concerned. I’m very angry,” said Pima County Recorder Gabriella Cázares-Kelly, the first Indigenous person to hold an elective office in the county. “I’m disgusted by what’s happening.”