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IRC maps on agenda for final OK

Agendas for the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission’s meetings for the week now include the possible approval of its new maps, and the final vote could come within the next few weeks.

The commission on Friday evening amended its agenda for today’s meeting to include the possible approval of its final congressional and legislative maps. Agendas for the IRC’s Wednesday, Thursday and Friday meetings include items on possible final approval as well.

IRC Chairwoman Colleen Mathis has said she wants to see final approval before Christmas so the U.S. Department of Justice has enough time to evaluate the maps.

But IRC Executive Director Ray Bladine said the Christmas deadline is a best-case scenario and doesn’t expect the commission to submit its maps to DOJ until January. He said there is no chance the IRC will approve its final maps today, and doesn’t expect the commission to approve the maps or any individual districts this week.

“Personally I think they have a long way to go,” Bladine said. “The goal is December before Christmas, but they’ve all acknowledged they may or may not be able to make that goal.”

It will take the IRC and its attorneys about a month at least to compile its submission to DOJ, which must pre-approve all voting and election law changes in Arizona. Bladine said the IRC may not even approve its final maps until next month. The last IRC approved its final legislative map on Nov. 9, 2001, but did not submit it to DOJ until Jan. 24, 2002.

Bladine said the IRC’s decision to include possible final approval of the districts will give the public notice that a final vote may be nearing, and will allow the commissioners to take action when they are ready. He said the preparation is similar to the procedure the IRC used for the approval of its preliminary maps in early October.

“We don’t know when they’re going to adopt it, so it provides an opportunity to let the public know it could happen anytime,” Bladine said.

The IRC is waiting to hear reports from Republican and Democratic legislative leaders this week, and Republican Commissioner Scott Freeman has not yet attended a meeting since the commission returned from hiatus on Nov. 29. Freeman missed three meetings last week due to the birth of a child and his sister’s health problems, though Bladine said Freeman plans to attend today’s meeting.

Democratic Commissioner Linda McNulty, however, will be out of town today tending to her mother, who is very ill. Bladine said she is expected to miss all of this week’s meetings.

Legislative leaders of both parties are scheduled to brief the IRC on Wednesday. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, said he is scheduled to present a report from the Joint Legislative Committee on Redistricting, which skewered the IRC over allegations that the commission ignored constitutional redistricting criteria and violated open meeting law, among other accusations.

House Minority Leader Chad Campbell said he will present the Democrats’ minority report as well. Campbell, D-Phoenix, said that report will deal with primarily with criticism of Gov. Jan Brewer and the GOP-controlled Senate’s removal of Mathis, which was later overturned by the Arizona Supreme Court.

The IRC has not yet posted maps on its website detailing the proposed changes it discussed last week, including changes to strengthen at least three Voting Rights Act-protected legislative districts, as well as changes to the congressional and legislative districts that were proposed in response to Republican criticism. Those changes include moving Fountain Hills into the Scottsdale-based congressional district, moving Oak Creek into the rural northern district and possibly eliminating a division of Cochise County in both maps.

Senate President Steve Pierce, a staunch critic of the IRC, said he didn’t expect final approval so quickly.

“They’re having meetings all week. I don’t think they’re going to do it that quickly,” said Pierce, R-Prescott.

Campbell said he expected the IRC to approve its final maps by next week. That timeframe gives the commission more than enough time to weigh possible changes, he said, and approve maps that would have been finished weeks ago if not for Brewer and the Senate’s ouster of Mathis.

“I think it’s more than enough time. They’ve been doing this far too long. These maps should have been done a couple months ago. The governor and the Republican attempts to overthrow the IRC was just a stall tactic,” he said. “These maps have been vetted. They went through the 30-day comment period. They’re going to make the changes that they feel are necessary to make, I’m sure.”

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