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Republican, Democratic leaders show partisan split on redistricting

Senate Majority Leader Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, tells the state redistricting commission about "constitutional deficiencies" he believes have been included in the group's draft maps. (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

The partisan legislative maneuvering over Arizona’s redistricting process may be over for now, but the arguments lived on as Republican and Democratic leaders spent more than two hours on Wednesday making their cases to the remapping commission.

Senate Majority Leader Andy Biggs, who co-chaired a joint legislative committee on redistricting, told the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission that its draft maps were full of “constitutional deficiencies” and said the panel should restart the process.

House Minority Leader Chad Campbell followed him, decrying legislative Republicans’ criticism of the IRC and their short-lived ouster of Chairwoman Colleen Mathis as “political theater.”

Biggs, R-Gilbert, seized on Republican allegations that the IRC ignored redistricting criteria in the Arizona Constitution and undermined the process by favoring competitiveness over other requirements. He also questioned whether the IRC illegally considered incumbents’ residences, saying the commission may have inadvertently done so by using maps from outside groups that sought to protect Democrats while packing Republican incumbents into the same districts.

“The position we would like to see happen is that the IRC immediately commence a new mapping process for both the congressional and legislative districts that comports with the requirements … of the Constitution,” Biggs said in his conclusion.

The Senate majority leader steered clear of allegations that the IRC, and Mathis in particular, violated open meeting law. That accusation was one of the primary factors cited in Mathis’ ouster, which was later reversed by the Arizona Supreme Court.

House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, acclaims the commission and the work they've done until now. (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

Campbell, D-Phoenix, spent little time discussing the actual districts and devoted much of his presentation to decrying what he called GOP efforts to undermine the IRC and the will of the voters, who created the commission by approving Proposition 106 in 2000. He also sought to refute many of the allegations Biggs presented.

The joint committee, which its two Democratic members boycotted, was formed with a predetermined outcome in mind and “was orchestrated in an attempt … to gerrymander the districts,” Campbell said.

Campbell said Democrats were also unhappy with the IRC’s draft legislative map, which he insisted would guarantee Republican hegemony at the Capitol for the next decade. The IRC should have strived to draw maps that reflected Arizona’s voter registration, he said, with Republicans, Democrats and independents each making up about a third of the electorate.

“The map should reflect that, nothing more. As long as it meets the other constitutional requirements … the map is doing the right thing,” Campbell said.

But Campbell praised the commission’s work and said elected officials like him shouldn’t interfere with the redistricting process. He said the current process was far superior to the first IRC.

Biggs discussed GOP criticism about several districts, specifically pointing to the 9th Congressional District, a central Phoenix and Tempe-based district designed to be highly competitive, and Legislative District 7, a sprawling district that encompasses most of northern Arizona’s Native American tribes. Biggs said LD7 should not put areas like Greenlee County with far flung northern areas, with which it has nothing in common with.

The commission created such districts in total disregard of communities of interest, one of the six constitutional criteria, Biggs said, while favoring the “mandatory and conditional” competitiveness requirement.

“We recognize that that is a difficult task to respect communities of interest, obviously. But that certainly was what most of the complaints were that I heard,” Biggs said. “I would suggest that (a 2009 Arizona Supreme Court) opinion, along with the Constitution, does provide a hierarchy of the criteria within the Constitution of Arizona.”

Biggs also said the IRC did not properly analyze minority voting strength and compliance with the Voting Rights Act in its draft maps. Campbell countered the assertion, saying the first IRC also did not complete its Voting Rights Act analysis until after it completed its draft maps.

The commissioners did their best to assist their ideological brethren. GOP Commissioners Scott Freeman and Richard Stertz engaged Biggs in a protracted philosophical discussion about how the constitutional prohibition on considering incumbent residences undercuts voters’ institutional memory.

Freeman, who has frequently clashed with his colleagues over the issue, asked Campbell whether the constitutional language on competitiveness – which says competitive districts should be favored when there would be no detriment to the other criteria – had any relevance, and asked whether the minority leader believed the IRC was working toward a predetermined outcome.

Meanwhile, Democratic Commissioner Linda McNulty, who did not speak during Biggs’ presentation, told Campbell that the IRC’s draft maps weren’t predetermined, and said the term “communities of interest” is frequently misinterpreted.

Democratic Commissioner Jose Herrera asked Campbell whether former Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, ever sought or threatened removal against Republican commissioners from the last IRC. Napolitano wasn’t yet in office when the IRC drafted its maps, but was governor during protracted legal battles that forced the commission to redraw some districts. Herrera failed to note that Republicans controlled both chambers of the Legislature during Napolitano’s governorship.

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