Republican legislators on Monday called the state redistricting commission’s work fundamentally flawed as the panel said its independence had been undermined by Gov. Jan Brewer’s accusations that it violated constitutional mapping criteria and legal processes.
The commission asked Brewer in a letter to refrain from consideration of removing any of its members for office. The Republican governor had accused them on Wednesday of neglect of duty and misconduct and cited a constitutional provision allowing her to remove commissioners with consent of two-thirds of the Senate.
Meanwhile, their work process was targeted by a special legislative committee, which recommended that the full Legislature call for a do-over. The commission lacked necessary data and trampled on some constitutionally mandated mapping criteria, said a House-Senate panel, which suggested that the process should start over.
“This particular product has a taint of illegitimacy to it,” said Senate Majority Leader Andy Biggs, a Gilbert Republican who served on the special legislative committee.
The recommendation vote by majority Republicans was unanimous, as Democrats continued their boycott of the committee. Lawmakers had invoked a constitutional provision that allows each legislative chamber to make recommendations.
The full Legislature could consider the committee’s recommendation as early as Tuesday, and the Senate majority whip had advised fellow GOP senators to report Tuesday afternoon for a special session.
A possible special session also could go much further by considering removal of commissioners.
Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said the governor would not issue a proclamation Monday summoning lawmakers for a special session, but he declined to say whether Brewer would do so on Tuesday.
Earlier Tuesday, Benson said Brewer and her staff were reviewing response letters sent her by the commission and its five volunteer members.
Arizona’s once-a-decade process for drawing new congressional and legislative districts has become a heated political issue, with Republicans condemning the draft maps as either favoring Democrats or giving short shrift to at least some of the constitutionally mapping criteria. Democrats, on the other hand, say the legislative map doesn’t have enough competitive districts and that Republicans are trying to pressure the commission to make changes to help GOP incumbents.
Brewer had demanded point-by-point explanations by Monday of how the commission made specific decisions on drawing a draft congressional map, hiring legal representation and hiring mapping consultants.
The commission’s reply, sent through attorney Mary O’Grady, said Brewer’s accusations were incorrect and legally unfounded, falling short of any legitimate grounds for removal of commissioners.
O’Grady wrote that Brewer’s accusations “disregards the principles” embodied in the 2000 ballot measures approved by Arizona voters to take redistricting out of the hands of the governor and the Legislature.
In her own letter, commission chair Colleen Mathis, an independent, said she was “personally devastated” by the accusations. She joined in the commission’s response but also separately denied any wrongdoing in the procurement process for the commission’s hiring of mapping consultants.
Brewer’s accusations drew some support from the responses filed individually by the two Republican commissioners, Rick Stertz and Scott Freeman. Stertz reiterated his contention that Mathis tried to orchestrate a unanimous vote in favor of Strategic Telemetry.
The commission’s selection of that Washington-based firm been criticized by Republicans because the firm has done campaign work for President Barack Obama and other Democrats.
Stertz also said the draft congressional map did not follow constitutionally mandated mapping criteria, such as respecting communities of interest and local government boundaries. Freeman voiced similar concerns.
Two proposed mostly rural congressional districts could be drawn to meet those goals but don’t, said Freeman, who with Stertz voted against the draft congressional map supported by Mathis and the two Democrats.
Mathis, in her response, acknowledged urging fellow commissions to make a consensus decision on hiring of mapping consultants, but she denied urging other commissioners during private one-on-one conversations to vote for Strategic Telemetry.
Commissioner Linda McNulty, a Democrat who was instrumental in shaping both draft maps, said the commission tried to balance all the mandated criteria.
Republicans’ criticism that the panel gave short shrift to respecting communities of interest is unfounded because districts, by necessity, will contain many such groupings, including those with varied interests, she said.
O’Grady said Brewer had no basis to consider removing commissioners because of alleged open-meeting law violations. That issue is for the courts to resolve, the attorney said.
A judge last week ordered Attorney General Tom Horne to have another prosecution agency handle his office’s open-meeting law investigation of the commission. Horne’s office had a conflict of interest because it previously advised the commission on compliance with the meeting law, the ruling said.
Mathis also responded to Stertz’s criticism that it was improper that she and the two Democratic commissioners gave perfect scores in reviewing Strategic Telemetry’s contract proposal. The rating was deserved and Stertz and Freeman gave perfect scores to their choice for one of the commission’s attorney selections, she said.
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