Panel to begin process of replacing ousted redistricting head - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

Panel to begin process of replacing ousted redistricting head

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Posted: Thursday, November 3, 2011 5:07 pm | Updated: 6:46 pm, Fri Nov 11, 2011.

A special screening panel is set to begin seeking a replacement Monday for the ousted head of the Independent Redistricting Commission - assuming it is not blocked by a court order.

The 2000 initiative that took the process of drawing political lines away from lawmakers requires the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments to nominate replacements to fill vacancies within 30 days. The clock on that started running Wednesday, the day the commission staff was formally notified of the prior day's vote by the state Senate to ratify the decision by Gov. Jan Brewer to fire Colleen Mathis.

But what remains to be seen is whether the panel will simply review the list of people who applied last year, when the redistricting commission was first being put together, or ask for new applications.

The meeting notice comes as attorneys for Mathis and the redistricting commission are asking the Arizona Supreme Court to rule that her removal by the governor was illegal. By extension, they want to prevent anyone else from taking her place while the issue is litigated.

The court has yet to decide whether to even hear the case.

Brewer, who forced the issue, said Thursday she expects the redistricting commission, once revamped, to come up with maps for the nine congressional and 30 legislative districts that are vastly different than the drafts adopted by the panel.

Republicans have been particularly unhappy with the congressional maps, as it places two incumbents now who have "safe" districts into ones where the party registration figures make them politically competitive. Brewer, in her formal charges against Mathis, said drawing those lines to create competitive districts ignored requirements for compactness and keeping communities of interest together.

"It would appear to me that if those maps remain in the same configuration that they are currently in, that it certainly isn't being done in a fair, open manner," Brewer said.

Under the terms of the 2000 initiative, the appellate commission is required to come up with three nominees to replace Mathis, all of whom have to be, like her, unaffiliated with either major political party. Then the four remaining members, two chosen by Democratic leaders and two by Republican elected officials, select from that list.

In her telephone interview Thursday with Capitol Media Services, Brewer defended being in New York City to promote her new book, "Scorpions for Breakfast," not only when Mathis responded to the allegations but also while the Legislature met in special session to vote on the ouster.

"There was no need for me to come home," she said, saying there's plenty of technological ways for her to do her job.

"They were in contact with me constantly," the governor said of both her staff and Republican legislative leaders. "There was nothing I could have done there that I couldn't accomplish from here."

The legal fight over Mathis' removal has created a conflict for Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca Berch, who also chairs the screening panel that is set to start work Monday. So Berch has agreed not to participate in the legal arguments over the governor's action, with retired Justice Michael Ryan, a Republican like Berch, taking her place temporarily on the bench.

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