-by Eva Putzova,
Founder Catch Fire Movement
In many states the rules of the redistricting process that takes place every 10 years after the Census, benefit one party’s interests. The redistricting processes lead to gerrymandering where districts are created with the sole purpose to deliver victories to the ruling party, even when geographically or historically the district boundaries make little sense. To be fair, this is not exclusively the Republican Party’s specialty, but they are the experts. Any party’s number one interest is power-- not political plurality.
Arizona, despite its backwards politics, has a strong tradition of passing citizen-led progressive initiatives. In November 2000, Arizona voters passed Proposition 106, a citizen initiative that amended the Arizona Constitution by removing the power to draw congressional and state legislative districts from the state legislature and reassigning this task to the Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC). The commission is composed of five members. Party leaders in the legislature select four commissioners. Two are selected by Democratic leaders and two are selected by Republican leaders. The four commissioners selected by the parties are charged with selecting an independent commissioner who serves as the chair.
Although the chair of the commission is supposed to be an “independent”, the current chair, Erika Neuberg, (who sits on the national board of AIPAC) sided with the Republican members in creating 13 safe Republican legislative districts, 12 safe Democratic districts, and 5 “competitive” districts, 4 of which lean Republican. In addition, the commission unanimously voted to create a majority of congressional districts that favor Republicans.
So, our “Independent Redistricting Commission” made Arizona safe for continued Republican domination going forward which of course has dangerous implications for democracy, workers, climate, and anything that puts people over profit nationally. One could argue that having such a commission is certainly better than letting a Republican-dominated legislature determine legislative and congressional districts, but that is a distinction without a difference in our case here in Arizona now that the “independent” chair of the IRC has shown her true colors with her votes on redistricting.
In fact, it is a fiction that a person who identifies as an Independent and is not affiliated with either political party formally can be neutral and without values and therefore partisan beliefs. Early in my campaign for Congress, Erika Neuberg, acting in her role as the head of AIPAC in Arizona, sought to bully our campaign into supporting Israel in order to obtain AIPAC’s support. I refused to engage with her.
The district where I challenged the incumbent in the Democratic Party primary in 2020 changed from leaning D to solid R. Even the most progressive city in Arizona-- Flagstaff-- was split into two districts, making one of the two districts completely unviable for Democratic Party candidates. If you live in an environment like I do, it’s easy to argue that engagement in electoral politics is futile. And yet, this is exactly where we need to double down. We know that the real issue is not the divide between Republicans and Democrats-- it’s between the haves and have nots.
I’m very proud that my former campaign manager, Kyle Nitschke, decided to step up and run an impossible race in one of those legislative districts covering part of Flagstaff that most wrote off. He is not naïve about his prospects, but he understands the power of organizing people who are disengaged and that’s what he is doing on the campaign trail: talking to rural youth and registering voters who are ignored by all. Kyle is also running a clean campaign taking advantage of Arizona’s 1998 Citizens Clean Elections Act that provides public campaign funding for qualified candidates. Read more about Kyle here.
Kyle is running against the most derailed, white-supremacy-promoting Republican you can imagine. Wendy Rogers was recently censured in the State Senate by her own party-colleagues because she called for hanging her perceived enemies. Just one look at her Twitter account is enough to make you wonder what happened in her childhood or what conspiracy drugs she is on.
The short-term thinking that only districts where there’s a path to “victory” are worth investing in fails to appreciate the power of organizing and the time needed to shift public views on major challenges. I believe that people everywhere want fundamentally the same-- to live healthy, prosperous lives-- and that’s something we can build on if we don’t leave them out of the conversation or even worse, vilify them. Therefore, at Catch Fire, we don’t consider district viability when vetting the candidates. I invite you to become our members, so we can prepare across-the-board progressives for the tedious work of grassroots organizing that is vital especially in the often forgotten rural America.