Big Counties Make Sense in Arizona
Excerpt from Valley 101: A Slightly Skewed Guide to Living in Arizona, a collection of Clay Thompson’s columns for The Arizona Republic. (Originally published February 18, 2001.)
Q: I’m from Indiana, and this is my question: Why are Arizona counties so big?
A: When we first read your question, we were a bit nonplussed, but this is not too surprising because we here at Valley 101 are rather easily nonplussed. Then we remembered we left our pluss in our other pants, and, reassured, we set about to learn the answer.
First, some history:
After Arizona became a U.S. territory in 1863, four counties were created—Mojave, Pima, Yuma and Yavapai. A fifth county, Pah-Ute, was claimed — and taxed — by both Arizona and Nevada, with Nevada emerging as the winner. Maricopa County was created in 1871, and others came along over time when need arose. When statehood was won in 1912, the state Constitution allowed for 14 counties, and this was the case until 1983, when La Paz County
was carved out of northern Yuma County because people there were tired of driving so far to Yuma to do official business, a plight with which we can sympathize.
Anyway, we do indeed have big counties. Maricopa County, at 9,222 square miles, is bigger than Massachusetts, and Coconino County is almost twice as big as Maricopa.
Look at it this way: Why would we need smaller counties? What or who would they govern? Gila monsters?
Indiana, which has a population density of about 154 people per square mile, has 92 counties. Arizona has something like 35 people per square mile and the aforementioned 15 counties. With numbers like that, smaller administrative units wouldn’t make sense. If we cut Arizona up into 92 counties, we’d end up with a lot of teeny-tiny counties with hardly anyone in them. Plus, it would be hard to think up all those county names, although if any new counties ever were to be created, we would modestly suggest that Thompsonia would make a dandy name.
At least Thompsonia would be more unique than, let’s say, Clay County Flordia, Minnesota, Iowa, Texas, South Dakota, Kansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, Indiana, and Missouri. Only god and the Internet know how many other states have a Clay county. Jeeves, that family sure got around.
I would add to Clay’s comments: Gila Bend isn’t in Gila County; Pima is in Graham County; Maricopa is in Pinal County; the rr station called Pinal is in Pima County; Fort Apache is in Navajo County; and Navajo is in Apache County.
“Fort Apache is in Navajo County; and Navajo is in Apache County.”
Just a note: Fort Apache was originally in Apache County. Navajo and Apache counties were one huge county until they were split in (or about) 1895. So, it made sense then, even if it doesn’t make sense now.
Just for the purpose of comparison, Texas is about twice the size of Arizona, in terms of land mass, but Texas has over 250 counties.
I don’t have a problem with Arizona counties being big, my problem with the gerrymandered cites in Maricopa county and the size of these towns. Goodyear is about 200 sq miles. along the proposed freeway. cites are too large. in some areas, the town feels so different that you really can’t believe that you are in the same town. in Glendale one part of town does not feel like the other. it should really be two towns since they have a different feeling altogether.
Larger cities usually do have sections that “feel” different than others because they don’t develop all at once. Even smaller towns usually have a “wrong side of the tracks”. A city’s size and diversity is the result of age, annexation, topography, industry, agriculture, housing or industrial development, and whatnot, not of gerrymandering. Gerrymandering refers only to the establishment of boundaries of election districts. The word is often used negatively to describe boundaries that favor one group (age, race, party affiliation, etc.) over another. The courts periodically order redistricting to try to control gerrymandering and try to maintain a fair balance of electoral districts, but it is usually the planning and zoning commissions of each city, and of the county, that allow some parts of the city to be different than others.