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IRC approves final maps amid clashes

The members of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission spent their final mapmaking meeting the same way they’ve spent most of the past nine months – arguing, sniping at each other and lobbing accusations across the aisle.

In what may be its last meeting for several months, the IRC gave final approval to its congressional and legislative maps, and voted to officially send the maps to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office. All three votes, as with most of its important votes in the past, were 3-2, with independent Chairwoman Colleen Mathis siding with the commission’s two Democrats.

The IRC will submit the congressional map to DOJ for preclearance near the end of the month, and will send its legislative map about two weeks later. DOJ has 60 days to accept or reject the maps, or to request more information from the commission to ensure they comply with the Voting Rights Act.

The DOJ submissions likely don’t require commission approval, according to Executive Director Ray Bladine. The first IRC did not vote on the DOJ submissions, and commission counsel Mary O’Grady said there are no plans for an IRC vote to submit the new maps.

“Probably the next meeting would be if there’s something they need to authorize legal action for,” Bladine said following the meeting Tuesday.

But Republican Commissioners Scott Freeman and Richard Stertz made sure to get in some parting shots at what they characterized as an unfair process with a predetermined outcome. And the Democrats, particularly José Herrera, disputed their GOP colleagues’ complaints and accusations at every turn.

Freeman reiterated long-running complaints that Mathis and the two Democrats marginalized the Republicans, from the selection of the IRC’s legal counsel in May to the tentative approval of the two maps in December. He also lamented the numbering system for legislative districts, which he said should follow some kind of logical progression or correlate to the current districts.

Freeman accused the commission of approving maps drawn by the Democratic Party, and suggested that the party may have drawn maps with problem areas built in so the IRC could appear to make changes based on public input.

“This commission has been totally gamed,” Freeman said.

Stertz put Mathis – the subject of intense GOP criticism and an impeachment that was later overturned by the Arizona Supreme Court – in the spotlight, pointing out that she has consistently voted with Democratic Commissioners Herrera and Linda McNulty and against the two Republicans. Stertz said the ability of one person, the chair, to determine the outcome of the IRC’s votes was a fundamental flaw in the process.

“I’ve got my theories and the public’s got their theories on why that might be, but they’re purely theories,” Stertz said. “It has been your vote that has swung this.”

Herrera maintained his role as the Republicans’ foil, questioning how the GOP commissioners could consider the maps to favor when Democrats when the legislative map virtually guarantees them 16 districts – compared to 10 solid Democratic seats and four toss-up districts – and the congressional map ensures four Republican seats to the Democrats’ two.

“If somebody can explain to me how these are … Democratic maps, I will apologize,” Herrera said. “But the facts are what they are, and the facts don’t lie.”

Herrera also defended Mathis’ work as chair. He said he didn’t get everything he wanted from the process either, which he deemed a sign of her independence. Herrera also noted that Stertz voted for the final legislative map in December while Herrera voted against it.

“You’ve given me a lot of headaches in the last eight, nine months,” he said to Mathis. “But you know what? That’s what you were supposed to do. You were supposed to upset people on this commission.”

Freeman questioned the maps’ compliance with the Voting Rights Act and suggested that DOJ would rubber-stamp them for preclearance because they are “Democratic dream maps” for President Barack Obama. He recommended bypassing DOJ and going to court to get preclearance directly from a federal judge to ensure that the preclearance process “would all be out there in the open so there would be no question that Arizona’s not getting a sort of pass on compliance.”

At one point during the preclearance discussion, Herrera interrupted Freeman. After Mathis told him to let Freeman finish talking, Herrera temporarily left the table.

Freeman also questioned Herrera’s argument that the maps couldn’t be Democratic leaning because they ensure Republican control of the Legislature. He said the congressional map, including a more Democratic northern rural district that led Republican Congressman Paul Gosar to move into a neighboring district and a “highly contrived” Phoenix and Tempe-based district where voters predominantly support Democrats in statewide races, shows how little the Democrats truly compromised.

“This is the Democratic Party map. And the only thing they’re really saying is ‘we could’ve made it worse for you, Republicans. We could’ve completely flipped the map … on the legislative side as well,” Freeman said.

Stertz also contended that the congressional map favored Democrats, but said the next decade’s worth of elections would be the true test.

“This will play out. We will find out what happens over the next 10 years. My crystal ball is broken,” Stertz said.

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