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Redistricting commission to consider disclosing outside influences

Independent Redistricting Commission chairwoman Colleen Mathis (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

The five volunteers tasked with redrawing Arizona’s political districts may soon have to tell the world who they’ve been talking with, outside the commission’s public meetings, about their highly-political work.

The decision to consider some sort of public disclosure of who the commissioners may be discussing their work with came only days after the commission decided to impose a similar rule for its mapping consultant, Strategic Telemetry. The requirement for Strategic Telemetry to log all contact with anyone outside the commission was debated for several weeks by commissioners, and was intended to allay concern about the firm’s ties to the Democratic National Committee and Democratic candidates.

But the double-standard of applying such disclosure requirements to the commission’s mapping firm, while not requiring such contact disclosure from the actual commissioners was not lost on them.

The commission’s independent chairwoman, Colleen Mathis, made the motion at the panel’s meeting on Saturday to take up the issue at the group’s next meeting, which is scheduled for Sept. 8. She told the Arizona Capitol Times the public should know who is lobbying the commissioners for favorable districts, or if it’s the case, that they’re not being lobbied behind the scenes.

Since the commissioners will be making the ultimate decisions about the new district lines, political incumbents and aspirants from around the state would have a natural incentive to lobby for particular decisions from the commissioners. Keeping such potential requests secret would also bolster the image of a redistricting commission that is operating without political influence, as it was intended, but not necessarily as it could be playing out.

And for the four partisan commissioners who were appointed by legislative leaders, any question about whether those who appointed them are calling in favors could go without answer, unless the commission adopts such disclosure requirements.

Maricopa County Republican Commissioner Scott Freeman told Arizona Capitol Times he’s only spoken with former House Speaker Kirk Adams, who resigned his seat in April to run for Congress, once since being appointed to the commission, and that it was almost immediately after the appointment. Freeman said they did not discuss redistricting specifics.

Freeman said he’s not sure if he would support the disclosure requirements. He said he wants to hear from the commission’s legal counsel about what the ramifications of such a decision would be.

Pima County Republican Commissioner Richard Stertz said he’s only spoken with Senate President Russell Pearce since Pearce appointed him to offer his support as Pearce goes through a contentious recall effort.

“I asked Russell if I could pray for him and his family during this difficult time for them,” Stertz said.

He didn’t indicate whether he would support such a measure, but instead said he thought the issue is part of a much broader discussion, which he said will play out as the commissioners discuss the issue.

Pima County Democratic Commissioner Linda McNulty said she has had “very few” discussions with Senate Minority Leader David Schapira about redistricting since he appointed her to the commission, but she would not expound on the nature of the discussions.

Like Freeman, McNulty said she wants to hear from the commission’s legal counsel before making any decisions about disclosure requirements. Specifically, she said she’s interested to see how the commission’s ability to claim legislative privilege would affect such a disclosure requirement.

Maricopa County Democrat Commissioner José Herrera could not immediately be reached for a comment on whether he has been in contact with House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, who appointed Herrera, about the commission’s work.

When Mathis made the motion to discuss the issue at the commission’s next meeting, she cited a handful of comments from the public about the potential for behind-the-scenes puppeteering, as well as a commentary by Arizona Capitol Times Managing Editor Bill Bertolino, which highlighted the double standard in requiring complete disclosure from the commission’s mapping firm, but not from the commissioners themselves.

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