Arizona is about to embark on its second round of drawing new boundaries for its legislative and congressional districts under the direction of an independent group, and certain interests are already maneuvering for representation on the panel that will do the work.
The process began Sept. 14 with the call for applicants who want to sit on the Independent Redistricting Commission, a panel of five that is charged with drawing the maps that have to fulfill a litany of requirements and pass the scrutiny of the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Commission on Appellate Court Appointments will submit 25 nominees to Republican and Democratic leaders of the Legislature’s two chambers. Applications to the commission are due by 5 p.m. on Oct. 15.
Legislators used to draw the maps, but voters approved a measure in 2000 that created the redistricting commission to set the boundaries in an effort to end gerrymandering and design districts that are fair and competitive. New boundaries are redrawn after every U.S. Census.
Although nominees don’t have to be submitted to the Legislature until Jan. 8, the Legislative Latino Caucus is already laying the groundwork to get a Hispanic seated.
Sen. Richard Miranda, who co-chairs the caucus, said the first order of business is to get the word out so Hispanics apply and then stress to Democratic leaders the importance of a diverse commission.
“I think we need to force the issue,” Miranda said, adding that there was no Hispanic representation on the first commission.
Miranda said he would welcome a Republican Hispanic, but that shouldn’t exclude the Democrats from choosing a Hispanic either.
Calls to House Speaker Kirk Adams went unreturned.
Sen. Rebecca Rios, who will get a choice to seat one member of the Independent Redistricting Commission if she gets the minority leader position she is vying for next session, said she would choose someone who fights for more competitive districts.
“Politically, I think that serves the state better if we get rid of the many heavily leaning districts that we have that have basically eliminated the ability to have a true competitive majority of races,” she said.
While legislative leaders get to choose who sits on the redistricting panel, the law requires there be no more than two from the same party – and those four choose the fifth commissioner, who must be from a third party or an independent and will serve as chairman. And no more than two of the first four members appointed can be from the same county.
Although the intent of the commission’s creation was to take politics out of the process, that hasn’t been so, Rios said.
“This process is as political as it’s ever been,” she said.
Rios pointed to the Commission on Appellant Court Appointments, which will choose the nominees, is weighted toward Republicans and includes Gov. Jan Brewer’s campaign press secretary.
“These are the people who are going to screen and refer the applicants to us, so to a large degree the 25 we get to choose from, they’re going to be screened by a commission that is leaning heavily Republican, so that calls into question who we get to choose from, from that list,” she said.
No matter who gets on, they can expect a lot of work, but maybe not as much as the first commission, which had to attend to a host of novel issues and ambiguity, said James Huntwork, a Republican who was placed on the first commission by then-House Speaker Jim Weiers, a Phoenix Republican.
The map of the first commission sparked four lawsuits, the last of which wasn’t settled until 2009.
The commission will start with a blank map and the lines will be drawn based on constitutionally required criteria, which are: roughly equal population for each district; compliance with the Voters Rights Act of 1965, which stresses minority representation; each district must be compact and contiguous as possible; the districts must follow geographic features, county and city boundaries and other dividing lines to the most practicable extent; districts must respect communities of interest; and competitive districts should be favored.
When voters passed the 2000 measure, 311 people submitted applications to sit on the redistricting commission, said Annette Corallo, who is coordinating the effort for the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments.
“We’re interested to see this time if there is that interest,” said Corallo, who also coordinated the first nominee selection process.
The court commission should have its slate of nominees by Dec. 10, Corallo said.
Qualifications for the Independent Redistricting Commission:
Applicants must be registered to vote in Arizona and continuously registered with the same political party or independent for the past three years.
They cannot have held or run for public office, other than a school board, or served as an officer of a political party or a candidate’s campaign committee, or worked as a registered paid lobbyist in the past three years.