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Special session prospects look bleak for Prop. 106 repeal

Elizabeth Bernstein, of Bisbee, Ariz., walks in front of the Arizona Capitol as she shows her dismay at the handling of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission by legislative Republicans, at the Arizona Capitol, Tuesday, Nov.1, 2011, in Phoenix. Arizona legislators were expected to convene Tuesday to call for a new start on the drawing of new congressional and legislative districts as Republican Gov. Jan Brewer considered ousting members of the state's redistricting commission, a move that would throw the high-stakes political process into disarray. The Republican-led House and Senate planned to meet Tuesday afternoon to consider a special House-Senate committee's report that calls the redistricting commission's draft maps fundamentally flawed. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

With the deadline for getting a measure on the Feb. 28 ballot looming, the prospects for a special session to refer Proposition 106 back to the ballot seemed bleak.

Gov. Jan Brewer said today that she’s open to the possibility of a special election on a ballot referral for the 2000 initiative that created the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. But the special session must be completed by Wednesday if the election is to be held on the day of the Republican presidential preference election, and Brewer said she has yet to speak with legislative leadership since the Arizona Supreme Court last week reaffirmed its decision to reinstate the redistricting panel’s chairwoman after Brewer and GOP lawmakers removed her earlier this month.

“I think we probably have a lot of different options. I don’t know exactly what direction the Legislature wants to go, how they want to address it. But we have options,” Brewer said.

The governor said she doesn’t have any meetings with Republican legislative leadership, either, but said they could call her if they were interested in a special session.

Calls for a special session on the proposed ballot referral have grown louder since the Arizona Supreme Court reversed the Senate’s Nov. 1 ouster of IRC Chairwoman Colleen Mathis. On Nov. 23, the court elaborated on its ruling, saying Brewer and the Senate did not have sufficient grounds to remove Mathis, whom Republicans accused of violating open meeting law, ignoring constitutional criteria for redistricting and colluding with the IRC’s two Democratic members.

Meanwhile, GOP legislators are becoming increasingly skeptical about the chances for a special session. Some lawmakers said they hadn’t even been polled yet on their availability.

“If it were going to happen, there would be more definitive signs coming out of the Governor’s Office and leadership. Since this week is the drop-dead week, I’m not clearing my calendar,” said Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills.

Senate President Steve Pierce said lawmakers are still considering a number of options for dealing with the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission.

“We’ve got to sit down and come up with a plan. There’s a lot of options, but we have to come up with an idea, talk to the Governor’s Office, (and) see what she wants to do or what she’s willing to do,” Pierce said.

House Speaker Andy Tobin did not return a message seeking comment.

Senators told the Arizona Capitol Times the fact that no decision has been made at this point and rank-and-file members have yet to be briefed of any plan make the possibility of a special session iffy, at best.

“You would think if that was going to be attempted, somebody would be calling me and other senators and House members, and saying, ‘we need you today or tomorrow or Wednesday or some time very soon, we’re going to try to do this.’ I’ve heard nothing at this point,” said Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler.

House Majority Whip Debbie Lesko said she has been talking to members about their availability this week, but said she was still unsure of the likelihood of a special session being called.

“This is something we have been talking about for a couple weeks now, and we’ve continued to discuss it,” she said. “Will there be a special session this week? Who knows. One thing I’ve learned here is that anything is possible.”

While she said she hadn’t personally spoken to the Governor’s Office about a special session, Lesko said she believed other members of leadership had been.

Other legislators, including Rep. Cecil Ash, R-Mesa, and Rep. Vic Williams, R-Tucson, said they had been asked about their availability but were similarly in the dark about whether the call was imminent.

Ash said he would support letting the voters decide whether they wanted to keep the IRC.

“Half of what we do at the Legislature is correcting what has been done in the past,” he said. “The public should be entitled to re-evaluate what has been done by the general public before.”

But some lawmakers, such as Kavanagh, were skeptical about voters’ willingness to eliminate the IRC and turn the redistricting process back over to lawmakers. He said polling shows that voters prefer that the IRC, rather than the Legislature, have that power, and that voters have a generally low opinion of the Legislature.

Some lawmakers said they would still be willing to remove Mathis again, despite the court’s ruling that the accusations against her didn’t rise to the level of “gross misconduct” or “neglect of duty,” as required by the Arizona Constitution. Others said the Legislature should focus on reforming Prop. 106 instead of repealing it.

Kavanagh, for example, has suggested that the five-person IRC be expanded to nine members to eliminate the immense power of the independent chair. Rep. Jeff Dial, R-Chandler, said reform is a better option because voters clearly intended to take the redistricting process out of legislators’ hands when they approved created the IRC in 2000.

Dial didn’t have any plans yet for specific IRC reforms, but said the possibilities he’s considering include enlarging the commission and prohibiting commissioners from drawing district lines behind closed doors, as Mathis did when she redrew Maricopa County’s congressional map at home over a weekend.

Such reforms wouldn’t have the tight deadline as the proposed Feb. 28 special election, Dial said.

“I don’t see why we couldn’t do it during regular session,” he said.

Brewer said she and the Legislature frequently operate under time constraints, and believes there is still enough time for the Legislature to refer Prop. 106 to the ballot for Feb. 28. She said it would cost the state less money to hold the special election on that date because it will coincide with the previously scheduled presidential primary.

-Luige del Puerto and Caitlin Coakley Beckner contributed to this story

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