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Arizona redistricting panel to resume mapping work

Arizona’s redistricting commission plans Tuesday to resume work on new maps of congressional and legislative districts now that the Arizona Supreme Court has undone Gov. Jan Brewer’s attempt to fire the commission’s chair.

However, Republican legislative leaders said Monday that GOP lawmakers still want Brewer to call another special session on redistricting in hopes of short-circuiting the current process, which they contend is flawed.

The state high court on Thursday provided Brewer with requested clarification of the court’s previous order overturning her Nov. 1 removal of commission Chair Colleen Mathis with consent of Republican-led Senate.

Brewer’s stated reasons for removing Mathis lacked a constitutional basis, the justices said in their clarification. She had said the commission under Mathis violated the open meeting law and failed to obey constitutional mapping processes and criteria.

Senate President-elect Steve Pierce, R-Prescott and House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, said lawmakers want to have a special session this week to consider actions ranging from another attempt to remove Mathis to asking voters in a special election in early 2012 to change the redistricting process.

“We should be coming back,” Tobin said, adding that the voter-approved law creating the commission “has been absconded by politicos and it’s very clear.”

Brewer was noncommittal Monday about calling a special session, telling reporters that there are options available and that lawmakers believe quick action was needed. However, she also said she had no talks scheduled with legislative leaders to chart a new course.

“That doesn’t prohibit them from calling me,” she added.

After that, Pierce said he was questioned whether Brewer is interested in taking more action on redistricting.

“I’ve just been waiting for the governor to make a move,” he said. “Now she says it’s up to us.”

Tobin said House Republicans had “a lot of deep concern” about the commission’s work, which Republicans have alleged favored Democrats and given short-shrift to mapping mandates such as respecting communities of interest.

Democrats and commission supporters have accused Brewer and Republican lawmakers of acting in their party’s own interest to try to prevent the commission from drawing many districts competitive between the parties.

Arizona voters created the commission in 2000 when they took redistricting out of the hands of the Legislature and the governor. Supporters said the change would remove lawmakers’ self-interest as a motive for mapping decisions and would help create additional competitive districts.

Tobin said possible changes to the redistricting process could include expanding the commission’s membership to ensure rural representation and give more voice to independents.

The five-member commission now has two Democrats, two Republicans and one independent, Mathis.

“It’s not a power grab by any stretch of the imagination. It’s all about process, and it’s all about what’s really fair,” Tobin said.

Republicans have suggested piggybacking a special election on redistricting on the state’s Feb. 28 presidential preference primary, a Republican-only affair because President Barack Obama faces no opposition for the Democratic nomination.

Brewer said it wouldn’t give her pause to schedule a special election for Feb. 28. Redistricting measures would be enough to draw Democrats and independents to the polls, she said.

The Secretary of State’s Office said lawmakers would have to act by Wednesday to have any legislation passed to take effect in time to hold a Feb. 28 special election.

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