Republican lawmakers got a lot of blowback over their new redistricting committee from legislative Democrats and sympathetic members of the public, but they got what they wanted when a parade of speakers stepped forward to air grievances against the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission.
Democrats held a press conference before today’s Joint Legislative Redistricting Committee to announce that Sen. Robert Meza and Rep. Lynn Pancrazi, the committee’s two Democrats, would boycott the hearing. But several members of the public stayed behind to voice their opposition, sparking arguments with Republican committee members.
The commission’s two Democrats said it would be inappropriate to lend their credibility to a committee whose purpose appears to be solely political. Pancrazi, D-Yuma, said she attended the IRC’s public hearing in Maryvale on Thursday, and said Republican lawmakers should do the same if they want to provide input on the maps.
“I’m sick and tired of the partisan games where only voters lose,” Pancrazi said in a press statement. “These lawmakers have hijacked the very process that puts the power in independent hands.”
Sen. Steve Pierce, the committee’s Republican co-chairman, said the committee was formed to give the Legislature a voice, as per the Arizona Constitution. The Constitution stipulates that either or both chambers of the Legislature can make recommendations to the committee.
“I wish they would take part. They should be here with us,” Pierce said. “We’re doing what we’re supposed to do. If they don’t want to participate, that’s fine.”
The first speaker of the public comment period, a Phoenix resident named Tonya Norwood-Pearson, echoed some of the Democrats’ sentiments. She accused the Republicans of acting with a “mob-like mentality” and trying to undermine the IRC’s independence for partisan political gain, and said they should testify at the IRC instead.
“You are pushing your partisan agenda to forward your own political interests for political gain. It kind feels a little bit like bullying,” she said.
Sen. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, said the committee was nothing more than a fact-finding mission formed to craft the Legislature’s official response to the IRC’s draft maps. He accused Norwood-Pearson of using the kind of inflammatory rhetoric that she alleged the committee was using.
“Demagogic language would be to say this is mob-like,” Biggs said, shortly before he had a liberal blogger ejected from the meeting for allegedly mouthing swear words at him.
In response to criticism from Tempe resident Jana Granillo, co-chairman Rep. Jerry Weiers, who griped repeatedly that the public had no idea how the IRC reached some of its conclusions, asked what she would do if she’d seen the commission completely reverse itself at the last minute. Granillo said she would ask for more information. “Exactly,” responded Weiers, R-Phoenix.
And what would you do if you didn’t get that information, Weiers asked. “Then so be it,” Granillo responded.
“Come on, please,” replied an incredulous Weiers.
Many of the people who spoke before the committee were from Yavapai County, including a handful of elected officials. They said the IRC should not have split their county into multiple districts, with some saying the schism was the result of the commission bowing to pressure from Flagstaff officials who wanted to be separated from nearby Native American reservations.
Cottonwood Mayor Diane Joens, whose town would be split from most of Yavapai County under the IRC’s proposed legislative map, said the cities in the county have too many common interests to be separated.
“I really do not feel that the Verde Valley, at least the upper Verde Valley, has been represented at all. And to split Yavapai County up like the commission is doing just doesn’t work for us. And I don’t feel that we’re being heard,” Joens said.
Mike Flannery, a member of the Prescott Valley City Council, said Flagstaff has been so aggressive in the redistricting process because it “showed up late to the dance” 10 years ago and decided to get organized early this time. But the result has been splitting up communities of interest that have common interests in regard to water, agriculture, mining, forestry, transportation, tourism and other issues.
“They have had a great deal of influence over how those maps have been drawn,” Flannery said.
Other speakers had complaints about the way their communities were split. Casa Grande resident Benjamin Bitter said Pinal County should have been kept as whole as possible because it drove much of the population growth that gave Arizona a ninth congressional district. Instead, it was split into four congressional districts.
Goodyear City Councilwoman Sheri Lauritano said her city wanted to be in an urban legislative district that was part of the Phoenix area, but ended split into the two mostly rural districts.
The committee will again meet at 1 p.m. Monday. Pierce said it may meet Tuesday as well. Once the meetings conclude, Pierce said the committee will submit its recommendations to the IRC, which holds its last public hearing on the draft maps on Nov. 5.
An unanswered question hovering over the meeting was whether there would be a special session of the Legislature to remove IRC Chairwoman Colleen Mathis, an independent whom Republicans accuse of being in league with the commission’s Democrats. Mathis can be removed with a two-thirds vote of the Senate, meaning at least 20 of the Senate’s 21 Republican members must vote to remove her.
It is unknown if Senate Republicans have enough votes to oust Mathis. And even if they do, it would be largely dependent on Gov. Jan Brewer calling a special session, something she has been hesitant to do.
Biggs said there has been vote counting and conversations between lawmakers and the Governor’s Office. But he acknowledged that there were a lot of unanswered questions, such as how long it would take to replace Mathis and whether the new chair would have enough time to redraw the maps.
Pierce said he didn’t know whether there would be a special session. “It’s up to the governor,” Pierce said.
Brewer said she doesn’t have enough information to determine whether Mathis should be removed, and said she would wait until after the 30-day public comment period ends before making any decisions. She noted that the IRC could make significant changes after the public hearings end, eliminating the need for a special session.
“I know that everybody’s talking to see if there possibly could be one. But at this point in time I have no indication that there will be one,” she said on Thursday.