Residents of Santa Cruz County who spoke at a virtual town hall last Friday had a unified message for the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission: they don’t like the commission’s draft maps that divide the county between two state legislative districts.
“We are a cohesive unit. We need to work together,” Howard Ronald Pulliam of Patagonia said of the county.
“Dividing Santa Cruz would be like dividing a household, because everyone knows each other, if not in person, at least by name,” said Francis Glad of Nogales.
The commission last month approved draft versions s of the maps that will ultimately define the boundaries of Arizona’s congressional and legislative districts for the next decade. And while Santa Cruz County was kept whole in the draft version of Congressional District 7, which looks much like the current CD 3, it was split between two state legislative districts, one heavily Democratic (LD 21) and one heavily Republican (LD 19).
Nogales and Rio Rico would be part of a new LD 21, along with a swath of Pima County stretching from the border, up through Sahuarita (but around Green Valley) and into southeast and eastern Tucson.
Meanwhile, the communities of Patagonia, Sonoita, Elgin, Tumacacori, Tubac and Amado would all become part of a new LD 19, along with all of Cochise and Greenlee counties, the southern half of Graham County and the southeastern corner of Pima County.
The commission says it will accept public comment on the drafts through Dec. 4. It plans to have final maps approved by Dec. 22.
While the local speakers who participated in last Friday’s virtual event shared a dislike for the division of Santa Cruz County in the legislative map, some offered differing opinions about which other areas of Southern Arizona the county fits best with.
Speaking of the LD 21 map, Fred Milner of Nogales said it “creates poorly a drawn district which seems to diminish the vote of our county and people, and also breaks up the unity of our county.”
He suggested combining Santa Cruz and Cochise counties in one district, saying that “Southern Arizona border communities have a unique makeup, culture and history. Here’s you have ranchers, cowboys, wineries – communities tied together with culture, religion and family values.”
Glad, who serves as chair of the Santa Cruz County Democratic Party, said of the local community: “We truly understand the importance of a symbiotic relationship that exists between Mexico and Santa Cruz – a relationship that continues through the I-19 corridor, through Green Valley and to Tucson.”
Nature and heritage
Connie Williams of Rio Rico referenced the recently created Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area, which stretches from the watershed of the Santa Cruz River around Nogales and Patagonia, north to Tucson and Marana. The area’s heritage status allows its leaders to apply for matching federal funds for projects that help preserve its agricultural, cultural and historical identities.
“Slicing out Tubac and Tumacacori removed two significant historical and cultural points – the Tubac Presidio and the mission in Tumacacori – from cohesive legislation in the heritage area,” Williams said, adding that the Patagonia Mountains and Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve are also part of the heritage area.
Several of those who opposed the division of Santa Cruz County spoke of common interests around natural resources.
“All of Santa Cruz County is a community of interest with visible geographic features,” said Carolyn Shafer of Patagonia. “The headwaters of the Santa Cruz River are in the San Rafael Valley, and the Sonoita Creek watershed is a major tributary to the Santa Cruz River. A significant part of Santa Cruz County is identified as a global biodiversity hotspot recognized by many scientists as one of the top regions in the world most in need of protection for species survival.”
Pulliam referenced explorer and geologist John Wesley Powell, who proposed in 1890 that political subdivisions should be created around watersheds. “That’s certainly true for our community,” he said, describing it as “a community that shares a water resource that needs to be protected. We need to work together and its a logical way to organize our government.”
Briana Ortega, an attorney from Tubac, added her voice to the call to keep Santa Cruz County whole.
“At the very least, the commission needs to ensure that Tubac is kept within the same legislative district as Nogales and Rio Rico,” Ortega said, noting that she grew up in the Clifton/Morenci area of Greenlee County, which would be part of LD 19 with Tubac under the approved draft map.
Ortega said the legal and policy issues faced by people in Santa Cruz and Greenlee counties “are entirely different.”
“More importantly, the communities themselves are different,” she said, drawing a distinction between the blue-collar mining towns of Clifton and Morenci, and the white-collar and retiree community of Tubac.
Steve McEwen of Rio Rico, the chair of the Santa Cruz County Republican Party, told the commission that “by overwhelming consensus, I’ve been asked to speak for the conservative citizens of Santa Cruz County.”
Addressing the LD 21 proposal, he said: “This map is a total failure.”
“Although numbers may imply we are Democrat in numbers, we are first a border community in a very rural (area) … along with the city of Nogales,” he said, contrasting local values with those of urban society and arguing that Santa Cruz County as a whole should be drawn into LD 19, to the east.
McEwen also described a purportedly shared experience of dysfunction and fear in the borderlands that likely bears little resemblance to the reality experienced by most local residents.
“As with our culture on the border, the issues here are ours to manage and suffer with,” he told the commissioners. “It is our fences that are being torn down, our mines that are being sequestered by special interest groups, our families that are being forced into drug trafficking, our women and children that are being stolen and sold in human trafficking, and our schools and hospitals that are being overburdened with non-taxpaying people when they come here illegally.”
All of Santa Cruz County is currently part of Legislative District 2 as a result of the last round of redistricting that followed the 2010 Census. Prior to that, the county was divided into two legislative districts, both of which included parts of Cochise County.
You can watch a recording of last Friday’s two-hour meeting here. Learn more about the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission at irc.az.gov.
The closest in-person public hearing on the commission’s draft maps is set for 10 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 4, at the Four Points by Sheraton Tucson Airport Hotel, 7060 S. Tucson Blvd.