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GOP leadership cries foul over GOP redistricting commission choices

Republican legislative leaders aren’t happy with their choices for the Independent Redistricting Commission and are asking that a nominating commission reconvene and reconsider.

Senate president Russell Pearce and House Speaker Kirk Adams sent their objections Dec. 10 in a letter to Chief Justice Rebecca Berch of the Arizona Supreme Court, who chairs the Commission on Appellate Court Nominees.

The legislative leaders said in the letter that the nominating commission sent them constitutionally-disqualified nominees and a list of candidates that lacks geographic diversity since there is only one person from outside of Maricopa County.

“We submit that the problems identified in this letter, if permitted to go uncorrected, will taint the 2011 redistricting process and undermine public confidence in the role of both the IRC and your commission,” the letter states.

Jennifer Liewer, Supreme Court spokeswoman, said Berch received the letter late Dec. 10 and had no immediate response.

“Staff and the court are reviewing it,” Liewer said.

The nominating commission met Dec. 8 to interview 39 applicants and decided on a list of 10 Republicans, 10 Democrats and five independents.

Legislative leaders choose four of the five members who sit on the Redistricting Commission and those four pick the fifth from the pool of independents. The redistricting commission will redraw Arizona’s legislative and Congressional districts that will stand for the next decade.

Among the Republicans on the list of nominees are Mark Schnepf and Stephen Sossaman, two East Valley farmers who sit on water district boards.

The Arizona Constitution prohibits anyone from serving on the Independent Redistricting Commission if they have held public office in the past three years.

Adams and Pearce contend that Schnepf and Sossaman are both ineligible to serve.

The legislative leaders are also troubled by law professor Paul Bender being on the list of independents.
Bender’s eligibility has been questioned for weeks because of his service on tribal courts.

“It is unthinkable that the Arizona Constitution prohibits all state, local, and federal public officials from serving on the IRC but allows tribal public officials to do so,” the letter stated. “Is is equally implausible that an IRC with a sitting tribal public official as its chair can enjoy the ‘public confidence in the integrity of the redistricting process.’”

Being an independent gives Bender the potential to become the commission’s chairman.

When the nominating commission met Dec. 8, it went into an executive session that is closed to the public to get legal advice on how to proceed with the eligibility questions of those three candidates and possibly others.

Berch didn’t reveal what advice the commission got, but she did say that it sits as a merit selection commission and not a court.

Pearce and Adams are also upset that they have only one candidate from outside of Maricopa County to choose from.

Only two commissioners from the same county can be chosen in the first four selections.

The selection order will be the House speaker, House minority leader, Senate president and then Senate minority leader.

If Adams’ and Minority Leader-elect Chad Campbell’s choices are from Maricopa County, then Pearce’s only choice would be Benny White from Pima County.

“A choice with no other options is no choice at all,” Pearce and Adams wrote.

They asked Berch to have the nominating commission reconsider its choices. They asked Berch to respond by Dec. 15.

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