Do Arizonans have enough representation in the state legislature? Voters may have the chance to answer that question at the ballot box.

An amendment to SCR 1010 would tie the number of legislative districts to the population of the state. This would mean that as Arizona’s population grows so to would the number of state Senators and Representatives.

Article IV, part 2, section 1 of the Arizona Constitution would be amended to include the following: “By April 1 of each year that ends in one, the Independent Redistricting Commission established pursuant to this section shall determine the number of legislative districts by dividing the total population of this state by two hundred twenty thousand and rounding that quotient to the nearest whole number.”

Since SCR 1010 amends the Arizona Constitution, it will need approval from the voters of Arizona before becoming law.

A dilution of representation

The total population of Arizona, when it achieved statehood in 1912, was approximately 200,000. At that time the state legislature consisted of 19 senators, or one for about every 10,500 Arizonans, and 35 representatives, or one for about every 5,700 Arizonans.

Sixty years later in 1972 SCR 1001 established the current system of 30 state senators and 60 state representatives. At that time Arizona’s population had increased by an order of magnitude to 2.008 million. After SCR 1001 went into effect the ratio of senators to residents was 1 to 67,000.

Today Arizona’s population is over 7 million. Each legislative district contains roughly 230,000 people. This means that the power of each citizen’s vote is less than a third of a voter in 1972 and a twentieth of a voter just after statehood.

SCR 1010 would prevent further dilution of the political strength of voters for members of the Arizona legislature. Population projections by the Office of Economic Opportunity suggest that by 2050 Arizona’s population will increase to between 9 and 13 million people by 2050.

Population Estimates / Data from the Office of Economic Opportunity / Graphs by Nathan Davis
Population Estimates / Data from the Office of Economic Opportunity / Graph by Nathan Davis

At the medium projection of the Office of Economic Opportunity, the majority of the population growth will accrue in the Phoenix metro region. By 2050 the Phoenix metro will be home to 71 percent of all Arizonans.

Projected Population of Arizona / Data from the Office of Economic Opportunity / Graph by Nathan Davis
Projected Population of Arizona / Data from the Office of Economic Opportunity / Graph by Nathan Davis

Several members who support the measure point to issues of connecting with constituents that this change would remedy, reported Howard Fischer for Capitol Media Services.

Sen. Warren Petersen (R-LD12) said that it has been more difficult to reach his constituents as the population increased.

Other members pointed out the challenge of traveling across Arizona’s large, rural districts. Rep. Regina Cobb (R-LD5) mentions the difficulty to travel across her sprawling district in eastern Arizona.

Legislative district 5 covers most of Arizona’s eastern border, covering all of La Paz County and most of Mohave County. At 16,795.91 square miles, LD 5 is larger than Maryland and Delaware combined.

One member gave another reason for his support.

“My goal here is to get enough members so we can tear down these old buildings,” said Rep. Ken Clark (D-LD24) referring to the current House and Senate buildings which were constructed in the 1960s.

 

It is long overdue that the number of legislators representing increases to reflect the increased importance of Arizona.

Arizona is currently the 21st largest state by gross domestic product. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Arizona’s GDP in 2016 was more than $300 billion.

Gross domestic product of Arizona / Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis / Screenshot taken April 3, 2018
Gross domestic product of Arizona / Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis / Screenshot taken April 3, 2018

Other states with a similar sized economy like Colorado, Missouri, and Wisconsin both have more members of the state legislatures than Arizona.

New Hampshire, with a fifth the population and an economy a quarter the size of Arizona’s, has more than four times the number of legislators in the New Hampshire General Court.

Members of the Arizona legislature currently earn $24,000 per year plus a per diem during regular session, already well below that which legislatures in other similar states earn. With low salaries, the cost of increasing the number of legislators in terms of tax dollars is far outweighed by the benefits of greater representation for the residents of Arizona.