A nasty fight may be brewing over the redrawing of county supervisor districts--and which of the current supervisors will take the political fallout from the major-league baseball stadium vote.

In February 1994, supervisors voted 3-1 to impose a countywide quarter-cent sales tax to fund construction of the major-league baseball stadium downtown. The widely unpopular tax, which took effect this spring, will take $238 million from taxpayers over three years, about $25 a person per year. Sports czar Jerry Colangelo heads the Arizona Diamondbacks, which will play in the stadium.

Conventional wisdom ever since has held that the sales tax would cost Supervisor Ed King, whose District 4 includes the rabidly antitax enclaves of Sun City and Sun City West, his job. King is up for reelection in 1996.

At the time of the vote, King surprised and angered many of his constituents when he voted for the tax, saying that he had to "do what is right," and claiming to act in the best economic interests of the county. King recently caught more heat when he attempted to distance himself from his stadium vote, announcing that he would not attend a stadium groundbreaking ceremony. Former supervisor Jim Bruner and District 5 Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox also voted in favor of the tax.

Arizona law says the lines that separate supervisorial districts must be redrawn every four years. The law was designed to make sure district sizes--and supervisors' workloads--are kept more or less equal.

Several new plans for the redistricting that will take place before the 1996 election appear to be designed to spare King some of the flak he doubtless faces--by passing it off to District 3 Supervisor Betsey Bayless.

Bayless was out of town and could not be reached for comment.
District boundary plans are accepted from anyone who cares to draw one up and submit it. So far there are seven, and it seems everyone has different ideas about how the new lines should look.

Tom Rawles, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, has submitted two plans. Both would connect Sun City West with Bayless' district via a narrow corridor running west along Bell Road. Bayless' district currently encompasses much of north Phoenix, running roughly along the I-17 corridor to the east.

Other changes are included in Rawles' plan, mainly the shuffling around of some fast-growing areas of Mesa and north Scottsdale.

District 2 Supervisor Don Stapley also has submitted two plans, which give the same treatment to Sun City West.

Rawles and Stapley both have said that their plans for Sun City West are designed to reduce the workload of District 4 Supervisor King. Large numbers of District 4 residents live in unincorporated areas of the county, and, therefore have only their supervisor to call if they encounter problems with services. Supervisors whose districts are made up mostly of incorporated areas can pass off complaints about street maintenance, planning and zoning, or law enforcement to municipalities; King's office must handle everything in-house.

Some observers see more at work in the redistricting process than a simple redistribution of the workload, however. Preston Welch, president of Sun City Taxpayers, an antitax group based in King's district, says he sees an effort to protect King--and break up a voting bloc that has proved troublesome for supervisors in the past.

"I question the motivation of this," Welch says. "It is politically motivated, totally. The voter turnout is heavy here, and people make a lot of noise about how they feel. [Rawles' and Stapley's plans] might be to split the voting bloc, or they might be thinking that Ed King will have a problem getting reelected because of his stadium vote. A lot of people out here still carry a grudge about that."

Whether passing off large numbers of Sun City West residents to Bayless will be a threat to her reelection, or simply an annoyance, remains to be seen. But some wags say Bayless' recent behavior toward other supervisors' pet projects--such as her recent wavering during a vote to develop a new auto mall in Rawles' district--may have earned her at least some enmity from her colleagues.

For his part, King has said that if he hears from his constituents that they prefer to be served by two supervisors rather than him alone, he will accede to their wishes. So far, informal chats with residents of Sun City and Sun City West indicate that they are not interested in being moved to another district, says King aide Dick Bryce.

More meetings are planned, but how many of King's constituents will have input--many live here only part-time and will not begin arriving until October--remains to be seen. The final decision on proposed lines and boundaries must be made by the end of this month, so they may be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Even with a potential tempest brewing over different plans for redistricting (and their reasons), the fuss may come to nothing. Smart money says the boundaries will stay mostly as they are, in anticipation of the total overhaul they will receive when the county votes on its own charter, in November 1996. If the charter is approved, insiders say chances are good that the current system will be scrapped altogether in favor of one with either seven or nine supervisors.