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Redistricting panel to select mapping firm today

Arizona's Independent Redistricting Commissioners (from left to right) Democrat Linda McNulty, independent chairwoman Colleen Mathis, Democrat José Herrera, Republican Richard Stertz and Republican Scott Freeman. (Photos by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

Arizona's Independent Redistricting Commissioners (from left to right) Democrat Linda McNulty, independent chairwoman Colleen Mathis, Democrat José Herrera, Republican Scott Freeman and Republican Richard Stertz. (Photos by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

Following several hours of interviews last Friday, Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission will meet today to review mapping consultant applicants and select just one to help them begin to redraw Arizona’s political lines.

Public testimony at the commission’s most recent meeting underscored how much influence the selected firm will have on the commission’s maps.

One member of the public described the mapping consultant role as the commission’s “stealthy black box.”

And one of the previous commissioners went so far as to say that the previous mapping consultant had “manipulated” that commission, suggesting the manipulation was intended to appease partisan interests.

The four firms being considered are Research Advisory Services, based in Arizona and led by Tony Sissons; National Demographics Corporation, based in California and led by Douglas Johnson; Strategic Telemetry, based in Washington D.C. and led by Ken Strasma; and TerraSystems Southwest, based in Arizona and led by Howard Ward.

Questions about a bias toward Democratic candidates and causes were raised over Sissons and Strasma.

Sissons’ political contributions to Democratic campaigns and his work for the Service Employees International Union were raised to buttress that argument. For Strasma, it was the work he did for the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and John Kerry, the work he’s currently doing to help the recall effort of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his record of making campaign contributions to Democrats.

National Demographics Corporation’s impartiality was brought into question for its ties to, and the work it’s done for, the Rose Institute, a government research institution based out of Claremont McKenna College in California. The Rose Institute has a long record for researching and taking part in redistricting efforts, but is widely viewed as having conservative leanings.

Predictably, principals from each of those three firms said evidence they are biased is cherry-picked and comes from groups who want to see a different firm hired.

The only firm whose political motivation was not questioned by member of the public was TerraSystems Southwest, Inc. The company has mostly worked on county, city and special district mapping, but has not done state redistricting. The firm is led by one registered Republican and one registered Democrat.

TerraSystems Southwest’s proposal includes using Zimmerman & Associates, a public relations firm that has worked on what President Carol Zimmerman describes as “issue-based campaigns,” such as a regional transportation plan in Pima County, the Southern Arizona for Indian Gaming campaign and a number of bond elections and school override elections.

The Independent Redistricting Commission meeting begins at noon.

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