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GOP staffer claims IRC gerrymandered maps; Dems promise complaint

A Republican legislative attorney claimed today that the state’s redistricting commission gerrymandered its maps to benefit certain Democratic incumbents and harm GOP politicians.

The claim by Senate GOP staff attorney Greg Jernigan that the Independent Redistricting Commission blatantly violated the state Constitution is the latest in the escalating tangle over the maps.

Within minutes of Jernigan’s testimony at the Joint Legislative Committee on Redistricting, Democratic leadership from both chambers of the Legislature ratcheted up their complaints that the committee is a waste of taxpayer dollars and an attempt to protect Republican interests.

Senate Minority Leader David Schapira and House Minority Leader Chad Campbell said they will be filing a complaint against Jernigan, saying his testimony to the committee represents a violation of the prohibition against state employees being involved in partisan political or election-related activity.

Jernigan walked through the congressional map first, repeating Republican criticisms that have been made about the plan. Jernigan said the proposed eastern rural congressional district is a Democrat-favoring district disguised as a “competitive” district, and that it’s been created with that goal in mind.

“If you wanted to draw a safe district for Ann Kirkpatrick, it couldn’t be done much better than this.” Jernigan said of former Democratic congresswoman, who announced months ago that she would be running to reclaim a seat in Congress.

Then Jernigan directed his attention to the interior portions of the state, focusing on how U.S. Reps. Ben Quayle and David Schweikert have been left to fight over only one safe Republican district where there previously had been two.

That fact stems from the actions of IRC chairwoman Colleen Mathis, who made adjustments to the congressional map from home one weekend earlier this month. This prompted Jernigan to label it “the midnight switch.”

When Mathis returned with her version of the map, the western Arizona “river district” took in parts of Schweikert’s residence in Fountain Hills. Her map also put Quayle into a new metro-Phoenix competitive district.

Jernigan pointed out that the redistricting commission is guided by the state Constitution to use Census tract lines where possible, but that Quayle’s residence is surrounded by a boundary that follows smaller geographical units, known as census block-groups.

Jernigan coined another new IRC vocabulary word at today’s hearing, when he began referring to Quayle’s new 9th Congressional District as “Frankenstein Nine,” a reference to his perception that the district is composed of disparate communities, only mashed together to achieve a tossup status.

“It’s a conglomeration or aggregation of entirely disparate communities just thrown together,” Jernigan said.

The justification for the district offered by Democratic commissioner Linda McNulty, who was largely responsible for drawing it, was based on commuter patterns and the light rail. But Jernigan called the light rail justification absurd, considering that half of the light rail sits in other proposed districts.

Jernigan focused on Pima County to demonstrate the legislative gerrymandering he claimed to see, highlighting districts that again broke the Census tract geography in order to put Democratic Rep. Matt Heinz into an unfavorable district, which Jernigan said springs from a dislike for Heinz among other Democrats. Jernigan said the intra-party tension involving Heinz was made evident by his resignation as House Minority Whip earlier this year.

Democratic Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales, on the other hand, was given favorable treatment by the commission, Jernigan said. The Pascua-Yaqui reservation, where Gonzales lives, is curiously severed from the neighboring Tohono-O’odham tribe, Jernigan said.

That will raise concern with the U.S. Department of Justice, Jernigan said, since the two tribes should probably be put into a single district if possible, to comply with the U.S. Voting Rights Act. Jernigan said the IRC’s draft map puts Gonzales in a district where she can campaign largely in Democratic-leaning parts of Tucson, while ignoring the Native American tribes that are actually closer to her.

Democratic Reps. Steve Farley and Marcario Saldate are given similarly favorable treatment by the commission’s draft maps, Jernigan said.

The inclusion of six incumbent Republican state lawmakers into the most southeastern legislative district further point to incumbent-based gerrymandering, Jernigan said.

“These coincidences defy the laws of probability,” Jernigan said. “The only result is that Pima County Democrats get their dream map.”

Jernigan’s explanation: McNulty was fed maps by a secret outside source.

Jernigan didn’t expound on this idea, but said he’s sure that McNulty and whoever potentially gave her maps to create will try to keep their identity hidden.

Jernigan declined to comment further on his assertion that McNulty must have been getting maps from outside the commission.

Schapira and Campbell, who were watching the committee hearing from the hallways of the Legislature, said they plan to file a formal complaint.

The two said Jernigan, and perhaps House Republican legislative staff member John Mills, may have broken a rule that bars state employees from getting involved in partisan or election-related activity.

“I don’t think a taxpayer-funded staffer should be making political assertions that are unfounded and slanderous in public testimony in committee. It just shows what a dog-and-pony show this committee really is,” Schapira said.

Campbell said he’s felt that Mills has long taken part in work that falls outside of what’s permitted, but that today’s testimony is the most egregious violation he’s seen.

“The fact that they’re using staff to make baseless partisan attacks underscores everything we’ve said about this committee, which is that it’s a complete joke,” Campbell said. “John Mills is nothing more than a Republican Party staffer being paid for with taxpayer dollars, and apparently so is Jernigan.”

Democratic caucus staff did not respond to a request for information about when exactly the complaint would be filed.

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