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Redistricting panel hires D.C.-based, Democratically connected mapping firm

Arizona's Independent Redistricting Commissioners (from left to right) Democrat Linda McNulty, independent Chairwoman Colleen Mathis, Republican Scott Freeman and Democrat José Herrera. (Photos by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photograpy)

Arizona's Independent Redistricting Commissioners (from left to right) Democrat Linda McNulty, independent Chairwoman Colleen Mathis, Republican Scott Freeman and Democrat José Herrera. (Photos by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photograpy)

Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission decided Wednesday to hire Strategic Telemetry, a Washington D.C.-based mapping firm, to serve as the group’s mapping consultant.

Much as it did last month when it chose attorneys, the panel split 3-2 on the decision to hire Strategic Telemetry, a firm that has strong ties to high-profile Democrats, including President Barack Obama. Independent Chair Colleen Mathis sided with the two Democratic commissioners. The two Republican commissioners jointly dissented, saying they would have chosen to hire the firm that served the previous commission, National Demographics Corporation.

The vote was taken after three hours of closed-door executive session discussion.

The panel’s two Republicans, Scott Freeman and Richard Stertz, joined with Republican observers in questioning the political leanings of Strategic Telemetry, which worked on the 2008 Obama presidential campaign and the 2004 John Kerry presidential campaign. Additionally, the firm is currently working on the effort to recall Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

The firm’s principal, Ken Strasma, previously told the commission that he is a Democrat, but that his work requires him to deliver an unbiased product and that he intends to do so when drawing Arizona’s political lines.

Before the vote today, Freeman said he had a concerns that the selection of Strategic Telemetry could cause public perception problems, given their political ties, but said he hoped he would be proven wrong.

Several of the commissioners acknowledged that Strategic Telemetry provided a detailed bid proposal, and that it received high marks for its methodology and attention to detail.

Democratic Commissioner Linda McNulty said she also liked the way Strategic Telemetry proposed using social media and mobile phone technology to involve the public in the mapping process.

After the vote was taken, Mathis defended the choice she made to vote along with the two Democratic commissioners.

Hands shaking, she read from a prepared statement and explained that, as an independent, she represents the fastest growing segment of Arizona voter affiliation and must make decisions based on the information she is presented, not with preference to any particular partisan advantage.

Mathis said she understood that partisan connections had become the main focus of public comments surrounding the mapping consultants, and more broadly surrounding the entire redistricting process.

Mathis highlighted the fact that Strategic Telemetry has also worked for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who she characterized as the “best known independent in the country.”

“I’d also like to point out that Strategic Telemetry’s public input manager, who will attend mapping hearings and focus on all public input issues, is a Republican and former Texan who served in the White House as associate director of political affairs for George W. Bush,” she said.

Mathis also pointed out that the 2008 Obama campaign is recognized as one of the most technically sophisticated campaigns ever run, and that working with that campaign was not a negative in her mind.

Mathis said she made her decision based on who she thought had given the best proposal and who she thought would do the best work.

She urged the commission and the public to remain focused on their task at hand, which is to begin working on the maps.

The commission will meet again Thursday afternoon in Tucson. Its agenda includes the initial planning for public input meetings, as well as a briefing from the commission’s new mapping consultant.

11 comments

  1. Here we go again…. Last time the redistricting commission was “run by Democrats”, they tried to gerrymander all the minorities into specific districts so they would have “adequate representation” in the legislative process. The idea sounded so wonderful that the liberal 9th circuit struck down their entire redistricting process and make the commission start over from the beginning.

    Good News vs Bad News:

    Good news: Candidates might be running in their old districts like they had to last time.

    Bad News?: Based on the last census, I am not sure which ethnic race would be considered a minority – Black, White, Hispanic, Chinese, Native American, etc.?

  2. In response to Don Goldwater’s comment: if I recall correctly the ‘last’ (actually the first) IRC leaned Republican and was not, to my knowledge “run by the Democrats.” Being the Independent member of the IRC is a tough position. In our current polarized political climate, it will inevitably be the Independent chair who will break the partisan ties. Let’s see what the end product looks like before raising partisan alarms.

  3. And so the the “Shadow Party” gets a step closer.

  4. Noone has mentioned that this Company will cost the tax payers of Arizona twice a much and will take longer. Also they are a POLITICAL Company, not a MAPPING Company. This is shocking since the State has financial issues. This does not help the State and keep jobsd here in Arizona…How Independent is the Chairman really??? Her voting record has been biased. What does it say on her application. After all she was appointed by a group of “Democrat Judges” appointed by Janet Napalitano (What does that tell you?)

  5. All of Strategic Telemetry’s “jobs’ have been for political campaigns–democratic ones., even though their “products’ say they do work for corporations, governments, non-profits and campaigns. Proof of the first 3 would put an end to the bias contention….or provide further proof of their democrat leading far to the left. In any case, ANY appearance of bias on ANY of the contractors hired by the IRD should be a red flag regardless of political affiliation. As an Independent I don’t want anyone with any strong political affiliation, R or D, involved in this process. It cannot be that hard to find qualified contractors in AZ who are NOT on the R or D’s payroll/influence/pocket. Keep the jobs and the tax payer money in AZ.

  6. The Democrats are always doing the underhanded thing, just mentioning that they were hooked up with Obama should put them under suspicion. Obama has done nothing in office to be proud of, and has certainly not made the Presidency domething to be proud of. He is a Chicago “goon” and they will do anything to further their attempts to make him King. We need another party to replace Democrats, something that is above reproach. The Democrats scare tactics are just a joke anymore. I am a senior and I take care of my own finances and I know Obama and the Dems lie and try to scare everyone.

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