What's My Line?

Jim Pederson has a dream. He wants to make the Arizona Legislature safe for democracy.

That's a lofty goal for a man who's spent his career building shopping centers rather than political agendas. Then again, this is the guy who's bringing the In-N-Out Burger to Arizona.

Pederson is chairing the campaign for a statewide initiative called "Fair Districts, Fair Elections" -- Proposition 106 on the November 7 ballot. Right now, the Arizona Legislature has the power to redraw legislative and congressional districts. Proposition 106 would take that power away and give it to an independent commission.

The basic theory behind the initiative is that, under the current system, incumbent legislators put their personal interests like ensuring that they will still live in their own district, and ensuring their reelection by packing their district with their own party members ahead of creating compact districts. That creates funny-shaped districts and, critics say, a serious problem with representation. For instance: To achieve their personal goals, legislators sometimes split communities in two. The city of Casa Grande was split in the last redistricting, and the people there argue that they don't have a representative who is responsive to their concerns.

An independent commission would not consider voter registration or where an incumbent lives when drawing boundaries. The hope is that this would create districts that better represent communities rather than splitting them up. A predicted byproduct: Incumbents wouldn't be as safe at reelection time.

It's a once-in-a-decade chance at reform. Redistricting happens every 10 years when new census figures are released; the next redistricting will take place in 2001. So while Jim Pederson's developer cronies are wringing their hands and emptying their pockets to defeat the Sierra Club's proposed growth boundaries initiative on the fall ballot, Pederson is focusing on different boundaries -- legislative and congressional ones.

He is as committed to rehabbing the Arizona political process as he is to rehabbing his shopping malls. Pederson has turned over office space, half his time and almost $450,000 (and counting) to the Fair Districts, Fair Elections campaign.

Most of that money was donated in the form of a loan, but Pederson is having trouble getting it back. Word around town is that his pockets are deep, so why bother giving to a well-funded cause? Pederson keeps pouring money into the faltering campaign, which, its backers admit, has only a "modest amount in the bank" -- and a modest showing in the polls.

And early voting ballots will be in the mail by the end of this week.

There's no money for television ads; pro-106 radio ads began Wednesday, and a mailing went out to about 150,000 registered voters in Maricopa and Pima counties.

And more trouble is percolating; Republicans launched a "no" campaign this week.

Redistricting is a complicated concept with a simple goal: power. And no matter what either side tells you, the reality is that this battle pits Republicans against Democrats.

This is Jim Pederson's first real foray into politics since 1970, when he ran a U.S. Senate campaign for shopping mall mogul Sam Grossman, a Democrat. Grossman lost, and Pederson joined his business, then left in 1983 to start his own.

The Pederson Group survived the 1980s recession, rehabbing old malls all over the Valley and building the much-touted Promenade in north Scottsdale (soon to be home to the state's first In-N-Out Burger outlet).

Pederson is still a Democrat. And while the coalition that supports Fair Districts, Fair Elections includes high-profile moderate Republicans, it's hard to disguise the fact that this campaign is largely about the future of the Democratic Party in Arizona. The current redistricting system protects the status quo, and Arizona's status quo is solidly Republican: state House, Senate and governor. On the federal level, five out of Arizona's six congressional districts and both U.S. Senate seats belong to the GOP. Because the Republican-controlled legislature is now in charge of redistricting, it's in charge of the above largesse, along with the two additional congressional seats Arizona is getting this time around.

That is clearly the reason for the Republicans' "no" campaign on Prop. 106. In what may be the national GOP's first formal opposition to the idea of an independent redistricting commission, the Republican National Committee donated $75,000 to the cause.

RNC officials did not respond to New Times calls, but they desperately need to win the two new Arizona seats in Congress. And redistricting could help or hurt, depending on who draws the boundaries.

The state Republican Party has rounded up another $65,000 and is working on more, which should be easy with leadership from the likes of state Treasurer Carol Springer (campaign chair and a Republican) and support from the Arizona Chamber of Commerce.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.