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Arizona Redistricting Scandal Is A Horror Show

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Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer when she is not in a House of Horrors.
State Republican Leaders Remove Chairman Colleen Mathis After Months Of Attacks And Derision

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By John Guzzon
Modern Times Magazine

Nov. 3, 2011 — Halloween hit Arizona Monday to scare most of the state’s residents out of their skins. No, ghosts didn't fill the skies, nor were showers turned to blood fountains. Rather, Gov. Jan Brewer — all the way from New York on a book tour — sent to the Arizona senate a request for the removal of the chair of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, Colleen Mathis.

The senate, led by the embattled Russell Pearce, voted on a 21-6 partisan vote to approve the removal of Mathis, who had been working for eight months as a volunteer chair for the commission tasked with redrawing the state’s congressional and legislative district boundaries after the 2010 Census.

For those who don’t know the history, the quick rundown of this whole sordid process began in 2000 when voters approved Prop. 106 which established a five-member commission to draw congressional and state legislative boundaries. The proposition called for the house and senate majority and minority leaders to each appoint one commissioner and for those four people to elect a chair from a list assembled of registered independents who apply for the position and are reviewed by the same panel that reviews potential judges.

The first time a independent redistricting commission was formed — in 2001 — the result ended up being that the U.S. Justice Department had to step in because of mostly partisan issues with the map. This time, the contentiousness began from the beginning of the process, with senate president Russell Pearce claiming bias until finally selecting Richard Stertz as his choice.

Mathis, a Yale grad who works at UA Healthcare in Tucson, was selected over many other applicants and the team began its work this summer. A legal staff was assembled — including lawyers representing both political parties. The commission also appointed a one-time applicant for the chairman position as the executive director, Raymond Bladine, who had served in the Phoenix City Manager’s Office from 1968 to 1997.

But as the commission got to work, they were warned by the vice-chairman of the previous commission, Andrea Minkoff, that the selection of the mapping consultant would be the most important step they ever took. And, that selecting one that would not “steer” the process would be paramount for them to come to a final decision on the maps that was a culmination of what they wanted.

Mathis’ commission selected Strategic Telemetry as their mapping consultant in July. The president of Strategic Telemetry, Ken Strasma, was the National Target Director of President Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Mathis was the tie-breaker on this vote siding with democratic party appointees Linda McNulty and Jose Herrera. Republican appointees Richard Stertz and Scott Freeman fought for the selection of National Demographics Corporation as the mapping consultant, who has ties to Republican causes and prepared the last redistricting effort.

Soon after the selection, commission member Stertz complained that Mathis violated Arizona’s open meetings law since Mathis called he and Freeman before the official voting took place in executive session. It is that allegation that is the basis for Mathis’ removal by Brewer and the state senate earlier this week.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne initiated an investigation into violations of the open meeting law but was removed from that case late last week by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Dean Fink who said Horne had a conflict of interest since he had given the commission advice early on in its process. Horne has since handed the case off to Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery who has yet to take action on the case.

Even though Mathis was “removed,” the remaining commissioners, led by Herrera, who is now presiding over the commission as vice-chairman, are still holding meetings on their proposed maps.

Arguably, republicans don’t like the maps because they do create a more competitive landscape. Arizona’s congressional delegation, which would be forced to run in districts that have a greater balance of democrats, independents and republicans, would be forced to not just win their primaries but also the general election.

An analysis of the data that lies beneath the maps, however, show that republicans will still control their hegemony over the state’s political process, but that it is a bit less tight of a grip. Under the new draft congressional map, republicans hold a clear advantage in voters in 5 of the nine districts. Democrats have a clear advantage in three districts and independents actually out number republicans and democrats in one district.

Under the previous district system, only two were competitive for democrats.

This is a redistricting process — usually no one is ultimately happy with the new system — especially incumbent politicians. But the removal of the “independent” chairman because republicans think she is a “closet democrat” who is acting independently is a joke.

“Even though Ms. Mathis is a registered independent, the democrats are reacting as if we are going after one of their own. They are making wild partisan charges and now even threatening to recall four Republican Senators for simply voting for Mathis’ removal. Lately, that seems to be the knee-jerk response by Democrats to any lawmaker they disagree with,” said senate majority leader Steve Pierce. “The Constitution provides for the Governor to call for the removal of an IRC member for neglect of duty or gross misconduct and the State Senate to approve or reject that decision. That is exactly what happened ... For critics to react to that decision with threats of a recall is outrageous. This is the democratic process, but it’s apparently not the democrats’ process.”

Democrats, however, cried foul. They say it is the republicans who, in an effort to maintain their control over the state, are interfering with an independent commission. And, since they had controlled the redistricting process in 2000, they now control enough of the senate to get Mathis removed. After all, Pierce himself said that the biggest problem with the map was that the commission considered competitiveness over compactness and urban connectedness.

"Today, Arizona's Republican politicians showed they are willing to violate the Constitution and the rule of law in order to perpetuate their own power. This baseless, unfair vote to impeach a volunteer citizen commissioner was the culmination of nearly a year of bullying and interference. Every honest person in the state agrees that this is not about ‘substantial neglect of duty’ or ‘gross misconduct in office.’ It is about protecting the careers of Republican congressmen at the expense of good government and fair elections. This is a historic abuse of power without parallel in modern American history,” said Andrei Cherny, Arizona Democratic Party chairman. "Republican politicians know the only way they can stay in power in a closely divided state is to break the law and drag the reputation of an honorable citizen through the mud. Today, they did so. But what they're not counting on is this: The stench is something they will never be able to shake. It will trail them into next year's elections where every Arizonan will know what they did to silence the voices of Arizona's growing ranks of independents. We will do everything in our power to hold them accountable and remind Arizonans whose side GOP lawmakers are on — their own."

Mathis is not taking this lying down.

Her attorney, Paul Charlton is arguing before the state supreme court for her removal to be overturned. Until that time, the commission has announced it will be moving on with its work, which county elections officials across the state are eagerly awaiting since they need to get the process underway in time for the 2012 elections.

This is a battle sure to go on for years. Again, Arizona will be lambasted for right-wing shenanigans.

This time, all the criticism will be warranted.

Let’s end the horror show, please.



Draft AIRC Congressional District Map

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Draft AIRC Legislative District Map

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