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Buckeye Council upset about state redistricting

Lack of involvement concerns members

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Some of the Buckeye City Council’s energy at Tuesday’s meeting was directed at how it could have a say in how congressional and state legislature district boundaries are redrawn.

However, the majority of its energy seemed directed at itself and its own staff in anger for having not been more involved in the Independent Redistricting Commission’s overall 2021 remapping efforts, using U.S. Census data.

The IRC has met 77 times this year, with only nine meetings remaining, including one Thursday. The city’s intergovernmental affairs director, George Diaz, made a presentation about where the IRC is in its process, with at least two council members voicing surprise the process was so far along and regret the council hasn’t been more involved.

After Diaz presented two of the latest congressional and legislature boundary maps proposed by the IRC that affect Buckeye, Councilor Michelle Hess was first to voice her anger.

“I feel like we should be raising all kinds of hell right now, if that’s what’s being proposed,” Hess said after seeing maps Diaz said likely will be amended further. “We will get lost in the Phoenix, Kingman, Lake Havasu conversations. I don’t know why us seven (council members) haven’t rallied, no matter what any other West Valley cities are doing. I care about Buckeye’s best interest, and these maps are not it.”

Diaz said he proposed a resolution that would allow him to represent the city with the IRC. Mayor Eric Orsborn did not address Diaz’s statement, but did say the Council could set up a workshop within the next week to go over priorities.

“I think we should also communicate with the IRC individually,” Orsborn said.
Orsborn said he sent a letter, but did not say to whom. He reminded the council most moving of district boundaries will likely be opposed by residents and officials from other impacted districts.

Buckeye spokesperson Annie DeChance told Independent Newsmedia that any manager or director can submit Council item agendas, though she did not say if anyone specifically rebuffed Diaz’s attempts to bring redistricting before the Council at an earlier date.

“This agenda item was requested by Mayor Orsborn to be added to Tuesday night’s agenda,” DeChance said. “Buckeye did formally submit comment to the Redistricting Commission stating the city’s future depends on having legislators who understand our challenges (growth, agriculture and water), who are vested in solutions, and are willing to make them priorities at the legislature. In addition, having districts that are more reflective of communities of interest will best serve cities and the entire state to face challenges we all must overcome.”

Diaz did not embrace Hess’s suggestion that the Council get together and submit its own maps, as the city of Yuma had done.

“I would discourage you from attempting to draw lines,” Diaz told Hess. “When it comes to the vernacular of the IRC, they have their six criteria. I would encourage individual communication with the IRC.”
Hess said it sounds ambiguous to discuss “areas of interest.”

“This is about whether we get any dollars at the state level over the next 10 years,” Hess said.

Councilor Jeanine Guy said she is “embarrassed” with herself by how she hasn’t followed state politics and didn’t see the deadline coming. Diaz said the IRC likely will wrap up its redistricting process this month.

Diaz said he’s only aware of one other West Valley municipality to communicate collectively with the IRC about boundaries during the process. That municipality is Glendale, and he said that city communicated verbally, rather than in writing.

“Maybe that’s more effective,” Diaz said, referring to verbally voicing concerns and opinions to the IRC.

Councilor Clay Goodman echoed the concern about Buckeye getting involved so late in the redistricting process. So did Councilor Patrick HagEstad, who suggested the council reach out to its current legislative and congressional leadership.

Vice Mayor Tony Youngker wasn’t at Tuesday’s meeting.

Since 2011, when the state was redistricted using 2010 U.S. Census data, Buckeye has mostly been in Congressional District 9, represented by Greg Stanton, and a small portion is in District 7, represented by Ruben Gallego. Both are Democrats.

At the state level, Buckeye is currently split between districts 4 and 13. District 4 is represented by Sen. Lisa Otondo and Rep. Brian Fernandez — both Democrats.

The other Democratic Representative, Charlene Fernandez, resigned Nov. 15 to work for a federal agency.

District 13 is represented by Sen. Sine Kerr and Reps. Tim Dunn and Joanne Osborne. All three are Republicans.

Crag Heustis, who has served as a council member since 2010, said he’s incensed much of the hard work of the past 10-plus years could be for naught. The eastern boundary of one proposed district has a narrow “arm” that stretches into Phoenix as far as 51st Avenue, along Interstate 10.

“Do you think the folks at 51st Avenue give a good damn about the farming?” Heustis said. “No, they don’t. But they will outnumber us. We’re getting the shaft. I don’t know who’s to blame, if anyone. This is bull. We worked for years to get decent representation. Who are we gonna go to? A couple of people who live in Phoenix? They don’t give a rat’s rear end about Buckeye. They don’t even know where the hell Watson Road is.”

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