By: Paul Bentz
Like most political practitioners in Arizona, I remain shocked a week later at the announcement that Arizona would miss out on adding a 10th Congressional District. Arizona was in the top five in the nation in both employment and wage growth. It is also home to one of the “fastest growing cities in the country,” voter registration is up over 35% over the past 10 years, and employment is up 600k according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The word I used at the time was “unfathomable” and indeed, it is still difficult to comprehend even several days after the announcement.
Now that the announcement has been made, there are several important subplots to keep track of as it sends shockwaves through the state impacting the 2022 election and beyond. Here are just a few threads to keep an eye on in the upcoming months.
Subplot: What the heck happened?
From 1912 to 1943, Arizona had one district. Following the 1940 census, a district was added (2 total from 1943 to 1963). We did not receive an additional district in the 1950 census but have received at least one every decade since 1960. This is the first time for Arizona to miss out on over 60 years! Arizona has grown by double digits ranging between 24% to 73% during that time. Now from 2010 to 2020, our growth was slashed in half plummeting to 12%. What the heck happened?
Hopefully as more of the data is revealed we can start to piece together what happened. Obviously, a once in a century pandemic combined with other factors including a push for a citizenship question by the Trump administration contributed to a perfect storm, but there are still questions to answer.
For example, see the chart below. Arizona is dead last when it comes to 2020 Census Population compared to the July 2020 estimate. In fact, the state is only one out of 14 to accomplish that feat and at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to that metric.
The New York Times demonstrates that some of the states who invested more in census efforts fared better than others. The article explains, “Arizona, Florida and Texas — Republican-run states that committed relatively few resources to the census — each ended up with one House seat fewer than the Census Bureau had forecast, while Minnesota and New York, controlled by Democrats, did better than expected.”
Subplot: Could there be a lawsuit?
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he is looking at “legal options” following their loss of a seat by a narrow margin. As the AP article explains, very few legal challenges have been successful, but it’s certainly still an option that some people will consider. Once the more detailed data is revealed and we start to see where some of the cracks are, it’s likely that the lawsuit talk will heat up – especially with billions of dollars and congressional representation on the line.
Subplot: The Redistricting curveball
Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission is going to take a comprehensive look at the state and our growth while it considers the new lines for our congressional and legislative districts. However, in the past, it has been easy to shake things up and start from scratch because there has been a new district on the table. That quelled lot of the discussions about seat ownership because there was a new one up for grabs. There is no doubt that it helped with the dialogue about how the new lines changed for a certain elected official because there was an expectation that things were going to change.
In this case, with nine districts remaining the same number, there will be those who will push a narrative around the status quo. Granted, our growth has not been even throughout the state and some districts have grown more than others. However, it’s going to be a lot easier to draw direct relationships between the current seats and what they could potentially look like. For example, I have been asked several times about what happens to CD9 now – how does it “move” and does it “change.” The status quo narrative will continue to grow as people will advocate to nibble around the edges instead of making wholesale changes.
The general belief is that the districts drawn ten years ago tended to benefit the Democrats (hence, the 5 to 4 Democratic advantage). Keeping the same number of seats may make it more difficult for Republicans who would like to see more dramatic changes to include more of the growing rural communities and suburbs that are growing redder over the next 10 years.
One thing is for certain, this is a major blow to our rural congressional districts. With most of the growth concentrated in the urban areas, it seems less and less likely that we can continue to have two districts that are mostly rural in nature. Will one of the rural districts absorb more of the urban areas in the state? Could CD1 now include more of Kirkpatrick’s district making a difficult Democratic primary? Could we see two members of Congress drawn into the same district, forcing a primary or a head-to-head in the General Election? Losing that “pressure relief valve” of an extra seat may be costly to incumbents.
Subplot: Musical chairs
Now that the needle was ripped from the record, there are more than a few people left looking around for a seat. There has been a lot of talk over the past few years about where a new district would be and who would likely run for it. In turn, that announcement would send off a cascade of jockeying for “open” seats as people moved on. Open seats are typically “everyone in the pool” moments – think about when CD9 was added ten years ago or more recently in CD8 when Congressman Franks resigned abruptly. These types of shakeups can be cathartic for the body politic and tend to be incumbent friendly.
However, as I mentioned in the previous section, without this change, a strong sense of seat ownership is likely to set in. Right now, CD2 is “open” with Kirkpatrick not running, but expect the talk to surround the other seats in the context of their current inhabitants. Even if the district is “new,” expect the narrative to surround incumbency and others who decide to run as challengers.
Also, now that the deck is not being reshuffled quite as much, expect more than a few tough primary challenges in state legislative seats, as term-limited candidates find fewer options than they expected (or hoped). The good news is that with an open Governor’s race, we will see some movement, albeit less than we had initially anticipated.
Subplot: The impact on our state budget
The results of the census will cost the State of Arizona hundreds of millions of dollars over the next decade. According to the AZ Census site, “Just a 1% undercount would represent a loss to the state of $62 million per year for a decade, for a total loss of $620 million.”
It is estimated that our final census number is between 120,000 and 140,000 short of where it was anticipated. At $3,000 per person per year, we are looking at a loss of between $360 million and $420 million annually (or more). It will be very difficult to get over losing that much money over the next decade. It is an enormous loss.
Combined with the latest flat tax proposal which could strip nearly a billion dollars annually from state and local budgets, Arizona could face a massive hole in funding even the most basic services including education funding. The results of these two shortfalls would have massive impacts on our local cities and towns and put even the most essential of services including public safety into jeopardy.
Certainly, Arizona will feel the impacts of this Census bombshell for many years to come and it is likely that other subplots will develop over time. Hopefully, we will learn the necessary lessons and look to come roaring back when 2030 rolls around.