State lawmakers from Tucson sometimes struggle to ensure their voices are heard in the Arizona Legislature.
Voters in the Tucson metro area live in one of seven legislative districts, so they elect 21 of the 90 state representatives and senators. That's a shift from five districts a few years ago, and it's not necessarily good, said Pete Hershberger, a Republican former state representative.
In a few cases, the representation does not come from a Tucson frame of mind, he said.
“Many of those districts are touching Tucson but are in other counties as well. In fact, we have certain legislators who are in districts and they live outside of Pima County,” he said.
Examples are LD 11, which includes Oro Valley, but also much of Pinal and Maricopa counties to the north. Or LD 14, which captures voters on the west side of Tucson, but is geographically focused on Cochise County. The incumbents in that district are all from Cochise County.
Another result of more seats with ties to Pima County, is a reduction of collaboration among lawmakers, said Democrat Paula Aboud, a former state representative and senator.
They used to have social gatherings to discuss issues, and meet with Tucson and Pima County government representatives to talk about how to balance local priorities with other state priorities, Aboud said.
“This is happening at a national level, too," Hershberger said. "The dysfunctional process of our Congress, obviously, that doesn’t get anything done. It’s the polarization of politics.”
To be sure, the narrative that Tucson is pitted against Phoenix on state policy priorities and leadership influence is nothing new, but Aboud said it means whichever candidates are elected to office next month need to be smart about how to propose policy changes.
“While it’s difficult to sway Phoenix, what I’ve seen is that when legislators create alliances with the business community, particularly from Southern Arizona legislators, we are able to promote an agenda that has a diverse, multifaceted approach and it creates a sway with the Republican, Phoenix majority," she said.
Three Southern Arizona lawmakers now are in leadership positions. That’s important to the area, if they choose to advocate for regional issues, Hershberger said.
David Gowan, a Republican lawmaker from Cochise County represents District 4, which includes Tucson’s east side. Gowan is the House majority leader, and Hershberger said Gowan is poised to be the next speaker of the house.
If Gowan is re-elected, and retains a leadership position in the Arizona House, he can make a difference for Southern Arizona institutions, such as the University of Arizona, Hershberger said.
“One of the issues that’s very important to us is the University of Arizona and funding for the UA. We didn’t fare so well last year, and I hope that with leadership from David Gowan that we will get a better shake for the University of Arizona this next session," Hershberger said.
If Gowan is re-elected, this will be his final term in the state House, because of term limits. If he still wants political office after that, Hershberger suggested Gowan may run for state Senate, or for the U.S. House in Congressional District 2.
“If he’s running for Congress he has to continually establish his conservative cred," Hershberger said. But if Gowan sought state office again, he might govern differently, Hershberger said.
"He can be more of a consensus builder," if that's his goal, Hershberger said.