Pinal County flexes political muscle - East Valley Tribune: News

Pinal County flexes political muscle

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Posted: Wednesday, July 4, 2007 5:56 am | Updated: 7:28 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Arizona’s 1st Congressional District is undergoing a seismic political shift. The district, which spans more square miles than Illinois, previously was considered to be centered on Flagstaff, but Pinal County’s booming population is tilting the political center south.

View Congressional District 1 map

Consider this: Four of five probable Democratic candidates for the 2008 U.S. House race live either in or near Pinal County.

Republican incumbent Rick Renzi’s residency always has been something of an issue. He owns a home in Flagstaff, but spends considerable time in Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C.

Renzi has announced that he is the subject of an FBI investigation and withdrawn from all of his committee assignments in the House. He remains in office, but Republican and Democrat insiders alike expect that he will decline to seek re-election, leaving the race wide open.

“The population boom in Pinal really will be an important factor this time,” said Winslow Mayor Alan Affeldt, who considered running for the office but chose not to. “The demographics are shifting.”

There’s no question about that, agreed Mike O’Neil, president of O’Neil Associates, a Tempe-based public opinion research firm. The 1st District is becoming more urban.

“It’s like the evolution of the whole state. Truly rural communities are diminishing. This is picking up not suburbs, but exurbs of Phoenix — the extreme outer periphery,” he said.

Four cities in the 1st District had populations that exceeded 25,000 in 2003, the U.S. Census Bureau says. The northern portion had the largest cities, but the southern portion had the fastest growing communities. Here’s the breakdown:

• Northern portion: Flagstaff, with 55,900 people and a 5.5 percent growth rate since 2000, and Prescott, with 37,600 residents and a 10.5 percent growth rate. Flagstaff is in Coconino County and Prescott is in Yavapai County.

• Southern portion: Apache Junction with 34,000 people and a 7 percent growth rate, and Casa Grande with 29,700 residents and a 15.5 percent growth rate. Both Apache Junction and Casa Grande are in Pinal County.

Even those figures disguise the growth because one-third of Pinal County’s population is in unincorporated areas, according to the Census Bureau.

So far, two Democratic candidates already have started campaigns:

• Attorney Howard Shanker, who has a primary residence in Ahwatukee Foothills, which is in Maricopa County and the 5th District, and has a second home in Flagstaff in the 1st District.

Former Phoenix television news reporter Mary Kim Titla, who lives in Chandler, which is in Maricopa County and the 6th Congressional District, and is planning to move into unincorporated Gold Canyon or the surrounding area in the 1st District.

Three other Democrats are considering running for the seat.

• Bob Mitchell, the former mayor of Casa Grande, which is in Pinal County and the 1st District. He said he is uncertain when he will decide whether to run.

• State Department of Environmental Quality director Steve Owens, who owns a primary home in Scottsdale, in Maricopa County and the 5th District, but has a second home in Flagstaff in the 1st District. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

• Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, DFlagstaff, who alone among the five lives in Flagstaff in the northern portion of the 1st District. Taylor Bell, the director of her congressional exploratory committee, said she plans to announce within the next few weeks whether she plans to run for the House seat.

Mitchell, younger brother of freshman Rep. Harry Mitchell, D-Tempe, of the 5th District, said the population shift is obvious, but he’s not certain how a southern-weighted 1st District would play out in an election.

“Certainly, a lot of the issues that we faced here are the same issues that people face in much of the Southwest. You’re looking at infrastructure concerns, transportation, water issues, air quality. You’re looking at a lot of issues that affect Pinal County, that affect Arizona, that affect the Southwest,” Bob Mitchell said.

Shanker offered a different assessment.

“The interest and the agenda of people in Sedona, Flagstaff, Casa Grande, Florence and the reservations are all so varied. It’s not like one group that has some sort of common local interest,” said Shanker, whose legal work is focused on environmental issues in the northern portion of the district.

Some issues, such as education, are considered important across the district. However, transportation is important in the south, and natural resources issues are a top concern in the north, he said.

Titla, who was born and raised on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, said she can represent the interests of the district’s broad geographic and demographic interests.

“People recognize me because I’ve been on the news for so long. They know I’m sound, fair and a hard worker. I’m carrying that over to my candidacy,” she told the Tribune last week before the state Democratic Party fundraiser featuring former President Bill Clinton.

One of the top issues for the race will simply be whether the candidates live anywhere in the 1st District, Affeldt said.

“I think that’s unfortunate when we have people running for this district who don’t live here. I know there’s a fair amount of anti-carpetbagging sentiment going on because Renzi has pretended to be a resident, but really hasn’t been a resident since college. I think there will be a fair backlash against that this time,” he said.

The candidates

Ann Kirkpatrick

Residence: Flagstaff (1st District)

Background: State representative and an attorney with an office in Flagstaff

Status: Considering candidacy

Bob Mitchell

Residence: Casa Grande (1st District)

Background: Casa Grande deputy magistrate judge, former Casa Grande mayor and former high school civics teacher

Status: Considering candidacy

Steve Owens

Residence: Primary home in Scottsdale (5th District), second home in Flagstaff area (1st District)

Background: Director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality

Status: Considering candidacy

Howard Shanker

Residence: Primary home in Ahwatukee Foothills (5th District), second home in Flagstaff (1st District)

Background: Attorney with offices in Tempe and Flagstaff

Status: Registered with FEC

Status: Declared candidate

Mary Kim Titla

Residence: Lives in Chandler (5th District) and is planning to move to Gold Canyon or surrounding area (1st District)

Background: Founder of Native Youth Magazine and former TV news reporter

Status: Declared candidate

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