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GOP lawmakers eye array of IRC reforms

IRC chairwoman Colleen Mathis listens to testimony at a recent commission meeting. (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

Now that the outright abolition of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission appears to be off the table, legislative Republicans may seek voter approval for a host of reforms to the panel.

A handful of proposals are floating around the Legislature, most of which focus on the many complaints Republicans have with the current remapping process.

The most common proposals include expanding the commission to include more members, requiring a supermajority vote to approve maps or changing the way the commissioners are chosen. Others want to clarify the six constitutional criteria for redistricting or find ways to force the IRC to operate more openly and transparently, two hotly debated issues that led Gov. Jan Brewer and the Senate to temporarily oust IRC Chairwoman Colleen Mathis.

Few lawmakers say they are actually planning to sponsor such ballot referrals for the 2012 general election, but numerous proposals are expected.

“I think you’re going to see something done about the IRC process,” said Senate Majority Leader Andy Biggs, a Gilbert Republican. “Everybody who wants to do something has a different idea. … I’m hearing all kinds of ideas, and some of them are in direct conflict with others.”

The most prominent reform would be expanding the IRC from five members to nine, so Democrats, Republicans and independents would each have three commissioners. Republican lawmakers have frequently complained that the current process is dominated by the IRC’s lone independent, Mathis, who has sided with the two Democrats on most votes.

“Having only one as a tiebreaker endows that person with far too much power,” said Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills.

House Speaker Andy Tobin said independents are underrepresented on the commission, as are rural Arizonans.

“No map effort could ever be independent leaving out a fair representation for rurals and independents,” said Tobin,

R-Paulden. “Rural Arizonans are the ones most hurt by the draft maps and independents will have less competitive districts.”

Another proposal would require a supermajority of the expanded commission to approve maps. Under that scenario, the IRC would be similar to the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, a 14-member panel with five Democrats, five Republicans and four independents. At least three commissioners from each faction are needed to pass a map.

One of the most frequent GOP complaints is the role of the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, which vets IRC applicants and selects the list of candidates that legislative caucus leaders choose from. Those complaints began early in the process, when Commissioner Louis Araneta questioned whether a Republican candidate’s religious activities would conflict with his duties as a redistricting commissioner. Araneta later resigned.

“I think the appellate commission needs to go. I sat through one of their selection meetings and there’s a lot of politics and ideology beneath the surface of that group,” Kavanagh said.

Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, said one of the most needed changes is a clarification of the six constitutional criteria for redistricting. Antenori and other Republican lawmakers believe that Mathis and the two Democratic commissioners have overemphasized competitiveness at the expense of criteria such as compactness and respect for communities of interest.

The Arizona Constitution states that competitive districts should be favored when there is no detriment to the other criteria, though the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that the competitiveness criteria is not subservient to the other requirements.

“There’s got to be some good fixes. You’ve got to define and prioritize some of the criteria. It’s got to be done,” Antenori said.

And Rep. Jeff Dial, R-Chandler, said changes are needed to ensure the IRC operates more openly and transparently, a reform proposal sparked by accusations that Mathis violated open meeting law by contacting Republican commissioners outside of a regular meetings to urge them to support a Democratic mapping firm that the IRC hired as its consultant.

Dial, however, acknowledged that the proposal is vague and said he doesn’t know exactly what a proposed ballot measure requiring more transparency would entail. He said he doesn’t plan to sponsor any ballot referrals on the subject.

Most Republican legislators have ideas about how they’d like to see the IRC reformed — many would prefer a ballot referral asking voters to abolish the IRC — but few are planning to sponsor the ballot referrals themselves.

Rep. Terri Proud, R-Tucson, said she doesn’t intend to sponsor anything. But that could change, she said, if no one else steps up.

“My problem is there’s a lot of big mouths and not a lot of people who want to take action. They just want to … run their mouths,” Proud said. “We need to take action. And if everybody’s just going to talk about it and nobody wants to lead on it, I’d be more than happy to.”

Proud, who was elected to her first term in 2010, said Republican leadership should have tackled these issues in 2010 or earlier, before the actual redistricting process began.

“If there was any possibility of having it reformed or even referred to the ballot, it should have been addressed years ago,” she said.

Democrats, however, said their Republican colleagues shouldn’t act too hastily. Senate Minority Leader David Schapira,

D-Tempe, said it will be difficult to determine exactly what reforms are needed until the process is finished, and any ballot referrals in 2012 would be premature and reactionary.

“At this point we’re in the middle of the process. The sausage-making is always ugly,” Schapira said. “I think we need to get to a point where the process has played itself out so we can look back … instead of having a knee-jerk reaction in the middle of the process.”

Of course, any changes likely wouldn’t have any impact until the next IRC begins forming in 2020. Tobin said the Legislature can afford to wait.

“This issue is old. If it doesn’t affect current mapping, we have time to discuss it,” he said.

IRC?Changes

The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission is considering a number of changes to its congressional and legislative maps. IRC Chairwoman Colleen Mathis wants the maps finalized and sent to the U.S. Department of Justice for approval before Christmas.

For a detailed look at proposed changes and zoomable maps, visit www.azcapitoltimes.com

Here are some highlights:

Congressional

• Democratic Commissioner Linda McNulty proposed moving the Village of Oak Creek from the 4th Congressional District into the 1st Congressional District, which would alleviate complaints about the IRC splitting Oak Creek and Sedona. Democratic Commissioner José Herrera proposed a similar change.

• McNulty proposed eliminating the “lobster claw” in CD4 by moving Fountain Hills into the Scottsdale-based 6th Congressional District.

• McNulty proposed moving the eastern half of Cochise County from CD1 into the Tucson-based 2nd Congressional District. The move would remedy the myriad complaints about splitting the county, but would eliminate a third proposed border district.

• The Hispanic Coalition for Good Government proposed swapping land into the 3rd and 7th Congressional districts, the two minority districts, to increase Hispanic voting strength and ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act.

• Herrera proposed moving part of western Gila County, the area around Miami, from CD1 to CD4.

• Republican Commissioner Richard Stertz presented a proposal that would effectively redraw much of the map. The proposal would move Flagstaff into CD4 while putting the Gila, Maricopa and Pinal county regions of the district into CD1. Cochise County would be made whole in CD1. The plan would move the 9th Congressional District from central Phoenix and Tempe and reshape it to include Scottsdale, north Phoenix and Ahwatukee. The district would include U.S. Reps. Ben Quayle and David Schweikert.

Legislative

• McNulty proposed making Legislative District 8, which includes parts of Pinal and northern Pima counties, more competitive by shifting the area around SaddleBrooke and Oro Valley into neighboring Legislative District 11 and bringing in part of Casa Grande. The change would make LD11 more conservative and would put incumbent GOP Sens. Al Melvin and Steve Smith in the same district.

• McNulty proposed including Show Low into Legislative District 7, a predominantly Native American district, and moving Winslow out into Legislative District 6. The change is opposed by the Navajo Nation, which wants to keep the large Navajo population around Winslow in LD7.

• The IRC’s consultants recommended moving the Arizona Strip region from LD7 into the Mohave County-based Legislative District 5 to bolster Native American voting strength in the Voting Rights Act-protected LD7.

• The mapping consultants also proposed strengthening two “coalition” Voting Rights Act districts in Maricopa County — Tempe and west Mesa-based Legislative District 26 and central Phoenix-based Legislative District 24, which stretches into the tribal areas in the southeast Valley — by moving non-minority voters in Mesa, Scottsdale and Tempe into neighboring districts. The IRC also decided to move Guadalupe from Legislative District 27 to LD26 to strengthen compliance with the Voting Rights Act.

• Cochise County would be made whole in the legislative map under McNulty’s proposal, which would move the “tendril” that includes Bisbee and Douglas from Legislative District 4 into the Cochise-centric Legislative District 1. LD4 would pick up Green Valley to make up for the population loss.

• Herrera proposed moving the Schultz Fire region north of Flagstaff into Legislative District 6, which many Flagstaff residents and officials said would assist with post-fire flood management.

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