Thu, July 18

Push is on to ask voters to scrap Independent Redistricting Commission

PHOENIX -- A Tucson Republican lawmaker wants a special election to ask voters to scrap the Independent Redistricting Commission and return the chore of dividing up the state politically to legislators themselves.

Rep. Terri Proud complained that the current commission is biased toward Democrats. She said Tucsonan Colleen Mathis, the independent member of the panel, did not disclose that her husband had worked on the unsuccessful reelection campaign of a Democratic legislator and that Mathis voted with the two Democrats on the commission to hire a consulting firm with strong links to that party to draw the final maps.

And Proud said the commission is showing little interest in getting public input before it redivides the state's 30 legislative districts and draws the lines for what will now be nine congressional districts.

Proud conceded that her move, if successful, would return Arizona to the days when the lines were drawn behind closed doors by legislators themselves -- and when one of the prime goals of those who drew the lines was to preserve "safe' districts for themselves.

"That may be (the intent of) other lawmakers,' Proud said. "But that's not mine.'

Anyway, Proud said, voters would make the final decision of whether having legislators draw the maps is preferable to the current system.

House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, said he and other Republicans share Proud's frustration. He said there is reason to believe that the commission, as it is currently operating, is hostile to GOP interests.

But Tobinstopped short of saying the system should be scrapped in favor of going back to the way it was done before.

"I do not believe the voters want the legislative model,' he said. Instead, Tobin said it might be possible to instead ask voters to revamp the commission to ensure the independence and neutrality that was promised.

The 2000 constitutional amendment, approved by voters on a 56-44 margin, set up the Independent Redistricting Commission, with members appointed by the top Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate. Those four then choose a fifth person who cannot be a member of either party.

Commissioners then come up with districts of equal population that are supposed to respect communities of interest, follow visible geographic features and existing political boundaries. And, to the extent possible, the panel was directed to create as many politically competitive districts as possible where the candidate from either party has a chance of winning.

The five commissioners appointed earlier this year are not the same ones who drafted the lines a decade ago. More to the point, Republicans contend Mathis is tilting the process in favor of the Democrats.

One example, Tobin said, is the selection of Strategic Telemetry as the mapping consultant.

Tobin acknowledged consultants often do work for political parties. But he said the commission could still have chosen some firm with Democratic leanings without selection on that had worked for John Kerry and Barack Obama, and is helping a union recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

Gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson said his boss has "no imminent plans' to call a special session. But he said Jan Brewer, a Republican, "is aware of the concerns of some of the legislators and she shares some of those concerns.'

Benson said, though, Brewer believes any talk of overhauling or reforming what voters approved "is purely speculative at this point,' saying she instead wants to be sure the current system "is executed fairly and in accordance with the law.'

There is a long history of politics -- on both sides of the aisle -- in drawing lines.

In 1981, for example, the Republican-controlled Legislature voted to split the southern Arizona congressional district of Democrat Morris Udall, with the line drawn right through the middle of Tucson. Bruce Babbitt, who was governor at the time, responded with a veto.

But Babbitt's veto was undermined by four senators from his own party with their own political agenda: They voted with the 16 Republicans to override the governor in exchange for the GOP majority agreeing to preserve their safe rural legislative districts.

Mathis has conceded she neglected to mention her husband's work as the treasurer of last year's failed reelection campaign of Tucson Democratic Rep. Nancy Young Wright when she applied to be the independent member of the commission. But she said her husband also has done work for Republicans in the past.

Tobin said one solution might be to revamp the commission to require two political independents instead of just one. He pointed out that the number of independents in Arizona now exceeds the number of Democrats, saying they should get at least equal representation.