PHOENIX – The GOP-controlled Arizona Senate turned back an effort by a Queen Creek Republican to divide Maricopa County into four parts.
Sen. Jake Hoffman’s proposal fell 18-12, a setback for lawmakers like Hoffman who contend that Maricopa County, which makes up 65% of the state's population, is too large.
The proposal would have carved out Hohokam, Mogollon and O'odham counties, leaving a smaller Maricopa County of about 1.7 million people versus the current 4 million.
But most lawmakers decided that the last thing Arizona needs is three more governments, each complete with its own set of elected officials and employees.
"I will not vote for something that's going to increase government fourfold,'' said Sen. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix.
And Kaiser said there are alternatives to more government.
Central to the question is how big is too big for a county government controlled by five supervisors and one each of other elected officials including the sheriff, assessor, treasurer, recorder and clerk of superior court.
"We are larger than 26 states presently,'' Hoffman told colleagues of Maricopa County.
“We must be able to have counties that accurately reflect the areas that they represent, that can advocate for solutions when it comes to water policy, that are closer and more representative of the people they represent, and can better represent the unique strategic needs, challenges and priorities of their regions,'' he said.
Kaiser, however, said that breaking up the county into four separate parts isn't the only way to do that.
One, he said, would be to add to the number of supervisors. Kaiser said that would create small districts, both geographically and from a population perspective.
And smaller districts, he said, would decrease the number of signatures needed on petitions if residents want to recall a supervisor for not being responsive.
"It doesn't create any new government,'' Kaiser said.
The other, he said, would be to have the surrounding counties - Pinal, Pima, Yuma, La Paz, Yavapai and Gila - "eat into Maricopa County to shrink it.''
Kaiser said both ideas were proposed as amendments to SB 1137.
"And both of those ideas were rejected,'' he said.
Hoffman, however, remained unconvinced either was a better alternative to a four-way split of Maricopa County. And he told colleagues that there's a political reason that existing county officials contend there is no problem even though he said they won't admit the county is too large for them to effectively do their jobs in many cases.
"When you've got a couple of elected officials who are just looking to save their hide and save their little kingdom, they'll never say that,'' he said.
"But when they get put on the spot in a press conference, they say it repeatedly,'' Hoffman said, though he offered no examples. "They laugh when they're asked about their ability to contact all the people of Maricopa County in a quick and timely manner.''
The idea of splitting counties is not new.
Arizona, then a territory, formed its first counties in 1864 with just four: Mohave, Pima, Yavapai and Yuma. That had increased to 14 when the state was created in 1912, with La Paz becoming No. 15 after it split off from Yuma County in 1983.
There have been multiple efforts to split Maricopa, going back at least three decades, with a big push to create what would have been Red Mountain County out of Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert and Queen Creek along with surrounding areas. None of those, however, have taken hold.
We’d like to invite our readers to submit their civil comments, pro or con, on this issue. Email AZOpinions@iniusa.org.