A slate of prominent Arizona Republicans including Gov. Jan Brewer, U.S. Sens. Jon Kyl and John McCain, nearly the entire GOP congressional delegation and state House Speaker Andy Tobin took aim at the state’s redistricting commission today, blasting the panel for a congressional map that they say is gerrymandered to give an edge to Democrats.
The Republican day of rage included simultaneous press releases Wednesday afternoon, on top of scores of articles and columns in local and national media, accusing the Independent Redistricting Commission of drawing a partisan map that intentionally undermines Republicans.
Brewer, who resisted calls from Tobin and other GOP lawmakers over the summer to convene a special session so the Legislature could remove IRC Chair Colleen Mathis, an independent, called the draft map “gerrymandering at its worst.”
“This unaccountable, unelected Commission has misused its authority to draw a congressional map that is every Democrat’s dream. In doing so, they’ve violated their bedrock legal requirements to maintain districts that protect communities of interest and are geographically compact,” Brewer said.
Brewer said she has held her tongue, despite Republican allegations that the IRC was violating the Constitution and that some commissioners were not cooperating with an investigation by Attorney General Tom Horne, who had filed suit to compel Mathis and the two Democratic commissioners to cooperate in Horne’s probe involving whether the commission broke open meetings laws.
But after Monday’s vote on the congressional map, she said, “I’ll be silent no longer.”
When asked if the governor was reconsidering the calls for a special session, Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said the governor is “keeping all options at her disposal.”
Tobin said the commissioners barely had a chance to examine the map before their Monday vote, a reference to last-minute changes Mathis made over weekend that moved several incumbents into new districts.
He argued that the map did not follow the criteria laid out in the Arizona Constitution, echoing Republican complaints that the IRC is required to make districts as compact as possible and respect communities of interest.
“Commissioners voted on this map without even looking at the data or the map they voted on. The ‘we need to vote on it so we can see what’s in it’ approach didn’t work for Obamacare. Neither will it work for the congressional and legislative district maps all Arizonans will have to live with for the next 10 years,” Tobin said.
Tobin told the Arizona Capitol Times that he is considering several legal options for challenging the map, but would not say what those options were.
The GOP officials expressed hope that the commission would make significant changes during the 30-day public comment period before the IRC finalizes the new lines. The governor urged Arizonans to contact the IRC and speak at its meetings, while McCain and Kyl said the commission’s work “is very disappointing and must be corrected.”
“We had hoped that the work of the Independent Redistricting Commission would be a fair process. It is clear that instead it has been political,” the senators said in a joint statement.
U.S. Rep. Ben Quayle, who was moved into a different district by Mathis’ weekend alterations, said the IRC was supposed to take the politics out of redistricting, a task he said the commission failed to carry out. A source familiar with Quayle’s thinking said he is likely to move into the neighboring Scottsdale-based district and run in the Republican primary against incumbent U.S. Rep. David Schweikert, who is also moving into the district.
“Like Gov. Brewer, I have serious concerns about whether the preliminary congressional map drawn by the Independent Redistricting Commission fairly represents all Arizonans,” Quayle said. “This gerrymandered map was drawn with an undeniable partisan purpose. Arizonans deserve a map developed in a fair, nonpartisan manner.”
The Arizona Democratic Party fired back at what it called a “blatantly coordinated assault.” Party Chairman Andrei Cherny noted that the map the commission approved includes four solid Republican districts, two solid Democratic districts, and three “toss-up” seats.
“That is too little competition, not too much. What this is about is a small group of political insiders who have grown accustomed to using gerrymandering to keep a stranglehold of power in a closely divided state,” said Cherny, who said Brewer’s comments were “beneath the dignity of the governorship.”
And Flagstaff Mayor Sara Pressler, who was attending the IRC’s meeting in Tempe when the Republican statements were released, defended the commission’s work.
“Arizona citizens voted, successfully, for this Independent Redistricting process. They also voted for Governor Brewer. I have trust in the citizens. I hope the governor will, too. The draft Congressional map reflects compliance with the law and Flagstaff values the hard work of the entire commission. Let’s focus on Arizona, not politics,” Pressler said.
Other Republican politicians who balked at the commission’s proposal included U.S. Reps. Jeff Flake, Trent Franks and Paul Gosar.