Redistricting commission finalizes Ariz. political maps - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

Redistricting commission finalizes Ariz. political maps

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Posted: Sunday, January 22, 2012 5:00 pm | Updated: 3:15 pm, Sat Dec 22, 2012.

The Independent Redistricting Commission gave final approval Tuesday to the maps that will govern Arizona politics for the coming decade, maps the two Republicans on the panel say are rigged to Democrats' advantage.

The 3-2 votes came after Colleen Mathis, a registered political independent who chairs the panel, sided with the two Democrats. Republican Richard Stertz said that was no surprise, all but saying that Mathis was a Democratic plant.

Scott Freeman, the other Republican on the panel, charged that the maps that were adopted were actually drawn by Democratic outsiders and spoon-fed to the commission. He said the last nine months of hearings were essentially a sham "results-oriented process."

Democrat Jose Herrera said the numbers prove otherwise, saying the final maps create 16 legislative districts where Republicans have an edge, 10 that lean Democratic and four competitive.

He also said that four of the nine congressional districts are likely to elect Republicans, with two Democratic districts and three which are competitive.

Freeman, however, said a closer look proves that's a lie. And he laid out the case for what he said is a biased result that could form the basis for a legal challenge.

The final votes echo what has been a familiar pattern since the commission's first days after choosing Mathis.

She was the deciding vote in rejecting who the Republicans wanted as their legal counsel. Mathis also pushed to hire Strategic Telemetry, a firm with close ties to Democrats and which did work for Barack Obama in his presidential bid, as the consultant to help draw the maps.

That latter act formed part of the basis for the decision by Gov. Jan Brewer to try to fire Mathis, contending that she had conversations with others ahead of awarding that contract that violated the state's Open Meetings Law. While the Republican-controlled state Senate ratified the firing, the decision was overturned by the Arizona Supreme Court.

The bickering was no less intense on Tuesday.

"The whole process is, in my opinion, substantively flawed because it is one person in the state of Arizona that is really the linchpin in making the decisions," Stertz said to Mathis, telling her that she has routinely taken the side of the Democrats.

"I've got my theories and the public's got their theories about why that might be," he said. "But they are purely theories, they're purely just suppositions."

One of the charges against Mathis was that she hid her husband's ties to the Democratic party, including that he had been the treasurer in the unsuccessful bid by Nancy Young Wright to retain her seat in the state House in 2010. Mathis said the failure to disclose that fact, which was only learned after she was chosen as chair, was an oversight.

And Freeman said Herrera's claims that the maps are fair are not borne out.

As proof he cited the newly created 9th Congressional District, a crescent-shaped area carved out of parts of Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa and south Scottsdale.

Freeman said an analysis of the votes in 2010 - a year Republicans did spectacularly well in Arizona in both legislative and congressional elections - shows voters in that district would have elected Terry Goddard as governor and Felecia Rotellini as attorney general. Both Democrats lost statewide.

And more voters in the newly created district supported Barack Obama in 2008 than home-grown Republican John McCain.

"Now, Democrats call that a competitive district," Freeman said.

Similarly, he said, Congressional District 1 used to be truly competitive, with both Democrats and Republicans elected from there in the past decade.

"Now, more Democrats have been piled into their version of that district such that the Democrats hold a 10-point registration advantage," Freeman said, which is why incumbent Republican Paul Gosar is instead going to move from Flagstaff to run in a more Republican district centered around Prescott.

Herrera, however, said the Democrats did not do anywhere near as well as the Republicans contend.

He said the reason there are 10 legislative districts leaning that way is because of the requirements of the federal Voting Rights Act which forbids states from doing anything which dilutes minority voting strength.

Those districts, pretty much by political definition, have more Democrats than Republicans.

"I thank God for the Voting Rights Act or we wouldn't have any," he said.

But Freeman said that ignores the other side of the equation. He said once all those Democrats had to be put into the 10 Voting Rights districts, that left Republicans with a 2-1 margin in the remaining 20 districts, something Freeman said should have meant those remaining districts should have swung that way.

Instead, Freeman said, the Democrats on the commission - with Mathis' vote - packed as many of the Republicans as they could into several districts to artificially create at least four districts more where Democrats could get elected.

Democrat Linda McNulty, however, defended the final plans.

"I think our record will stand," she said. "It speaks for itself."

Tuesday's vote is legally not the last word. The maps will now be submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice to ensure that the new lines comply with the Voting Rights Act.

Freeman, however, said he believes that, too, is a sham.

"The deal has already been done with the Obama administration," he said.

"The Department of Justice is going to give Arizona a pass," Freeman continued. "Basically, Arizona's got the Democratic dream maps."

The arguments over Mathis' role has led to several lawmakers suggesting a change in the five-member commission, expanding it to three Democrats, three Republicans and three political independents.

House Speaker Andy Tobin said that eliminates the possibility of a single person making the final decisions on a politically deadlocked committee.

He said it's also fairer, as independents now outnumber registered Democrats in the state.

Commission attorney Mary O'Grady said the feds will have 60 days after the maps are finally submitted to say if they have objections.

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