Saying their congressional maps are unconstitutional, Gov. Jan Brewer took the first steps Wednesday toward possibly seeking the ouster of one or more members of the Independent Redistricting Commission.
Brewer sent a letter to all five commissioners saying there have been “allegations that you have committed substantial neglect of duty and gross misconduct in office.’’ These include not just districts the governor said are improper but also possible violations of the Open Meeting Law and bid rigging.
And the governor pointed out that the Arizona Constitution allows her to remove any commission member, with the consent of two-thirds of the Senate, if she concludes on her own the allegations are true.
She is demanding answers from all five commissioners by Monday morning, in writing — and, preferably, under oath — to a series of questions.
Nothing in the constitutional amendment requires the commissioners to do anything.
But Brewer told each of them that “failure to respond will be taken as an admission.’’ And that alone could give her the grounds to oust them, with press aide Matthew Benson saying that ignoring the questions “would be looked at negatively.’’
Brewer likely would have no problem getting that two-thirds vote: Republicans, who appear to be universally unhappy with the district lines being drawn for them, control 21 of the 30 Senate seats.
Gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson said there is nothing political about the move by his boss, who also is a Republican. He said she is simply fulfilling her constitutional duties.
In a written statement, Ray Bladine, the commission’s executive director, said the panel will consider Brewer’s objections to the draft map it has drawn for the nine congressional districts. Bladine said any response to Brewer’s “serious allegations’’ of misconduct will have to come from the commission’s lawyers.
Senate Minority Leader David Schapira, who appointed one of the five commissioners, was not so diplomatic, tossing out some charges of his own that Brewer has now joined Attorney General Tom Horne and the Republican-controlled Legislature in “abusing their public offices for partisan gain.’’
He said voters created the commission in 2000 to end the process where lawmakers got to draw lines for their own and congressional districts, opting for an independent panel. “The voters told them to butt out, but they won’t take ‘no’ for an answer,’’ he said.
And Andrei Cherny, chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party, issued a statement calling Brewer “drunk with power’’ and saying her objections are little more than “a brazen power grab.’’
“She is moving toward impeachment of citizens on the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission simply because these volunteers have fulfilled their duty to draw fair and competitive districts,’’ Cherny said. He said the only maps that will satisfy Republicans is one that guarantees GOP control — even though the voter registration figures show about a third of the electorate are Republicans, a third are Democrats and a third are independents.
The commission is made up of two members named by top elected Republicans, two by top Democrats and a fifth independent chosen by the other four. They have to divide up the state into 30 legislative and nine congressional districts of equal population.
By law, the districts are supposed to, to the “extent practicable,’’ be geographically compact, respect communities of interest and use geographic features and existing political boundaries.
It also says the commission should favor politically competitive districts when doing that would not significantly undermine the other goals.
Brewer contends that one congressional district was created with competitiveness as the prime goal, a move she says is unconstitutional. And she charges that two other congressional districts are neither compact nor respect communities of interest.
But Brewer also is echoing more serious allegations by Horne that the commissioners violated the law.
One is that Colleen Mathis, who chairs the panel, called other members ahead of a meeting to line up votes to select Strategic Telemetry as the mapping consultant. Horne said such lining up of votes outside public scrutiny violates the Open Meeting Law and suggests that the bidding might have been rigged.
And the governor contends that the refusal of Mathis and the two Democrats to answer Horne’s questions about those calls itself can be considered evidence of grounds to be removed from office.
The commission has responded by asking a judge to rule that the commissioners, like lawmakers, are not subject to the Open Meeting Law and have immunity from being questioned about their decisions. A hearing on that is set for next month.
Benson said Brewer’s demand for answers, under penalty of possible removal, is not a scheme to get Horne the answers he has not been able to force from the commissioners.
“The constitution gives her specific authority to do exactly this, in an instance of potential violation, to seek a formal response from the Redistricting Commission.” And Benson said his boss will not take kindly to being ignored.
“It would be looked upon negatively if the commission opts not to address any of these substantive allegations,’’ he said.
Brewer has not yet weighed in on the legislative district lines that were adopted by the commission more recently. But a Republican-controlled legislative panel has been hearing complaints from people who say those lines were not properly drawn.
In his statement, Bladine said the commission intends to continue its hearings around the state to take comments about the maps, with the possibility the lines will be adjusted based on suggestions and objections.