PHOENIX (AP) — Maricopa County would be split into four smaller pieces under legislation advanced Wednesday by Republicans in the Arizona House.
With 65% of the Arizona’s population and more people than half the U.S. states, Maricopa County is becoming too big to be efficiently managed, said Rep. Jake Hoffman, the Queen Creek Republican who sponsored the bill.
But Democrats suspect the legislation is really motivated by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors’ refusal to go along with former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.
“This is about putting more chips on the roulette table so you can win your bet,” said Rep. Lorenzo Sierra, an Avondale Democrat. “One of these three counties, I’m sure, would decertify this election in a heartbeat.”
The House Government and Elections Committee approved the measures in a 7-6 party-line vote with Republicans in favor.
Hoffman said his proposal would provide for a better local government and allow the four smaller counties to focus more on regional needs.
“If we don’t allow for the formation of new counties that are more reflective, more representative, more accountable to the people, we will be kicking ourselves in 30, 40, 50 years that we never did this,” Hoffman said. “And it is much easier to do it now than it will be then.”
He said it’s “pure conspiracy theory” and “laughable” to suggest his proposal is motivated by the election.
The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors is controlled 4-1 by Republicans, but the board enraged Trump and segments of the GOP for defending the integrity of the 2020 vote count, which the former president falsely claims was rigged.
Hoffman is one of the Legislature’s staunchest supporters of GOP bills to change election laws. He is also among 11 Republicans who would have voted for Trump in the Electoral College if he’d won Arizona. All 11 Trump electors signed a document falsely claiming to represent Arizona’s electoral votes.
Maricopa County has just under 4.5 million people and is the fourth largest in the nation after Los Angeles County; Cook County, Illinois, which includes Chicago; and Harris County, Texas, which includes Houston.
Arizona last created a new county in the 1980s, when La Paz split from Yuma, a breakup that left the new county without a sufficient tax base to cover its expenses.
Under Hoffman’s proposal, Central Phoenix, Guadalupe, Tempe, Glendale and Avondale would remain Maricopa County. North Phoenix, the suburbs and outlying areas would be split into three new counties: Hohokam, Mogollon and O’odham.
After a transition period, each would have its own county functions including a court system, elections department and public health agency along with its own elected officials including a board of supervisors, county attorney, sheriff and recorder. Maricopa County’s existing debts and assets would be divided proportionally.
Rep. Sarah Liguori, D-Phoenix, said the three new counties would lean toward Republicans while Democrats would be overwhelmingly concentrated in one district.
Eddie Cook, the Republican assessor in Maricopa County, said his office has plans in place to grow with the county and won’t have trouble handling its current or future workload. The assessor values properties for tax purposes.
It’s unclear if the bill has enough support to pass the pass the full House and Senate, which are controlled narrowly by Republicans.
The measure is moving through the House at the same time the Senate is advancing a bill that would expand the number of members on the boards of supervisors in Maricopa and Pima Counties.
“A Maricopa County supervisor represents more (people) than a member of the U.S. House of Representatives,” Sen. J.D. Mesnard, who is sponsoring the bill, said at a hearing late last month. “That does not seem right to me.”
His bill would expand the number of supervisors in a county over 1 million from five to seven, and counties above 3 million would have nine. The only two counties affected are Pima, which would go to seven members, and Maricopa, which would go to nine board members.
Craig Sullivan, executive director of the state county supervisors association, said most of what counties do are directly implementing state law.
“We don’t have expansive legislative authority,” Sullivan said. He also noted that most services are provided at the city level and 93% of Maricopa County’s residents live in cities.
Associated Press writer Bob Christie contributed.
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