Lawmakers consider recalling redistricting panel members over gripes - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

Lawmakers consider recalling redistricting panel members over gripes

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Posted: Tuesday, October 25, 2011 8:30 am | Updated: 3:45 pm, Thu Jan 19, 2012.

A parade of witnesses urged lawmakers Monday to recall at least one -- if not all five -- members of the Independent Redistricting Commission and start the mapping process over again from scratch.

Elected officials and individuals from all corners of the state complained about specific flaws they see in the lines drawn for the state's nine congressional and 30 legislative districts. And they are not confident that the protests they are making at commission hearings will make a difference.

Objections include:

- Failing to include the Sonoita area in what some say should be a district that also encompasses all of Cochise County.

- Separating legislative districts for the Prescott and Verde Valley areas.

- Having Flagstaff in the same congressional district as the Navajo Nation.

- Splitting Yuma between two legislative and congressional districts.

And Ken Moyes, who is doing work for the possible congressional campaign of state Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, charged that the commissioners created a "Trojan horse'' district that they claim is politically competitive but actually tilts Democratic if the voting patterns of independents are considered.

Rep. Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix, the co-chair of a special legislative panel reviewing the commission's work, said he shares the frustration of many who testified. Weiers said he believes the commission all but ignored the constitutional mandate to protect "communities of interest,'' possibly -- though he said he lacks proof -- for political reasons.

But Weiers, who is not seeking reelection and has no direct interest in the outcome, said he's not convinced that ousting the current commissioners would necessarily overcome those objections.

"If you throw them out, do you get the same results?'' he said. "Or do you get better or worse?''

Weiers said Arizona is stuck with the current process mandated by voters in 2000 when they stripped lawmakers of the power to draw legislative and congressional districts. That process often resulted in lines drawn to create "safe'' districts for those in power.

What replaced it was a commission with two members chosen by top elected Republicans, two by the top Democrats and those four selecting a fifth political independent to serve as the chair.

Lawmakers cannot repeal the commission, at least not without taking the issue back to voters. But Gov. Jan Brewer does have the power to remove commissioners -- with the consent of two thirds of the Senate -- for "substantial neglect of duty, gross misconduct in office, or inability to discharge the duties of office.''

Brewer has been noncommittal about what she may do.

Moyes said he has discovered grounds.

He said that, on paper, the lines for the congressional district that would be created from the Catalina Foothills section of Tucson through Green Valley, Sierra Vista and Douglas appears to be highly competitive, where a candidate from either party has a chance to win. In pure party registration, 34.5 percent of voters are Republicans against 34.4 percent Democrats. But he said that Strategic Telemetry, the mapping firm retained by the commission that Republicans contend is biased, created a district where 73 percent of the remaining independents have shown a propensity to vote with the Democrats.

"So they can literally create a non-competitive district, calling it competitive, and that's what we think they've done,'' he said.

"They know where the independents are voting,'' Moyes told lawmakers. "It is a Trojan horse.''

What makes that illegal, he charged is a constitutional provision which says that all of that information is off limits when first crafting a map. Only after the initial phase does the law allow party registration and voting history to be used, and only to "test maps for compliance'' with various goals, including competitiveness.

Moyes said, though, he believes Strategic Telemetry used the voting patterns early on the process in several districts, all to the benefit of Democrats.

"There's no smoking gun,'' he conceded. But he said the way the lines were drawn suggests no other reasonable explanation.

Lynne St. Angelo, secretary of the Pima County Republican Party, read lawmakers a resolution asking for removal of all five commissioners, charging it has violated state and federal constitutional and statutory provisions. A virtually identical resolution was passed by the LD 17 Republicans in Maricopa County.

Others, like Lora Lee Nye, a member of the Prescott Valley town council, had their own way of asking lawmakers to intercede and stop the commission's work.

"This is your opportunity to stop this train wreck,'' she told lawmakers of her concerns about splitting that area with the Verde Valley communities of Cottonwood and Clarkdale. "Listen to the people, give them back their voice.''

Flagstaff resident Joy Staveley weighed in with her objections to having Flagstaff in the same congressional district as the Navajo Reservation, saying the community has nothing in common with that tribe. Staveley was undeterred even after Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, pointed out that Flagstaff already is in the same district and still has managed to elect area residents who do not live on the reservation.

Several of those testifying Monday repeated allegations that Tucsonan Colleen Mathis, the chair, is not truly independent, that the mapping consultant is biased toward Democrats and that some commissioners shredded documents in connection with awarding that contract. Attorney General Tom Horne is attempting to investigate Open Meeting Law but three commissioners have refused to submit to interviews.

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