Arizona's Independent Redistricting Commission approved draft maps for the state's congressional and legislative districts Thursday, accepting a Republican-backed proposal for creating a right-of-center legislative seat in Pima County.
Republicans on the commission have pushed to join Marana to Vail with a legislative district wrapping around the northeast of Pima County, arguing the area should include at least one GOP-leaning district.
Democrats argued the idea was impractical, creating an unwieldy district for purely partisan purposes while contending it would ignore some of the wishes of residents in the impacted neighborhoods.
Instead, Democrats on the commission supported creating a district that would include the foothills, Marana and Oro Valley — a district they said would be more compact and politically competitive. And they supported putting Vail in a district with Cochise County.
The commission's independent chair, Erika Neuberg, sided with Republican commissioners who argued Pima County should include at least one GOP-leaning district
"I believe it is also important to ensure that right-of-center communities in the broader Tucson area are able to elect a leader to represent them in the Tucson area," she said.
In something of a compromise, the commission accepted last-minute changes to legislative districts around Scottsdale and Paradise Valley that had been backed by Democrats and opposed by Republicans.
Neither side was happy with the unanimous vote approving the draft maps.
"I don't know how to say strongly enough that we don't like this," said Republican commissioner David Mehl. "But we will vote for it."
Democratic commissioner Shereen Lerner responded: "I'm right there with you. I also feel strongly this is not my ideal."
Thursday's vote begins a public comment period.
The commission will also hold a round of public hearings and make changes to the draft maps approved Thursday.
Commissioners came to a much smoother agreement on draft maps for Arizona's nine congressional seats.
But they are likely to revisit the boundaries for Tucson's congressional districts.
The maps would split the city between east and west.
But the maps would put the University of Arizona and neighborhoods north of Broadway into a district that would stretch up to Marana and Coolidge and out to Cochise, Greenlee and Graham counties.
Tucson Mayor Regina Romero raised concerns about the proposal in a letter to commissioners earlier this month. She argued for moving the district's boundary further east to keep the university with downtown.
Neuberg said she would like to revisit the issue, calling Romero's arguments "compelling."
The rest of the city would fall into a congressional district somewhat resembling the 3rd Congressional District currently held by U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva. It would span from around Stone Avenue to Yuma and Nogales.
The congressional map would create five districts won by President Joe Biden in 2020 – the same number he won under the current configuration. But the district in the southeast corner of the state that takes in parts of Tucson would be highly competitive.