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Redistricting redux? Tobin wants special election on new district maps

Republican lawmakers’ dormant war with the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission is flaring up anew, as House Speaker Andy Tobin has introduced a host of measures that would set a special election so voters could decide whether to use legislative and congressional maps drawn by the Legislature instead of those approved last month by the volunteer panel.

Tobin, R-Paulden, introduced a handful of measures on Thursday that would put new maps drawn by the Legislature on the ballot for a May 15 special election. Another proposal would put a measure on the general election ballot in November to expand the membership of the IRC, among other changes.

HCR2052 and HCR2053 would call the special election so voters could decide on congressional and legislative maps approved by lawmakers. The proposals come as the IRC is preparing to send its own maps, approved in December, to the U.S. Department of Justice for approval.

Tobin said he and House staffer John Mills, who worked for the GOP-backed FAIR Trust and was a regular fixture at IRC meetings, already completed the congressional and legislative maps he wants to refer to the ballot. He said they began working on the maps about three weeks ago, using public input gleaned from seven days of hearings by a Joint Legislative Committee on Redistricting in October.

They did not speak with other lawmakers about the proposal, Tobin said.

The proposed maps comply with redistricting criteria set by the Arizona Constitution, Tobin said. Republicans have repeatedly accused the IRC of violating the criteria, especially a requirement that the districts respect communities of interest.

Republicans have long argued that the IRC was dominated by Democrats and worked to undermine Republicans. They also criticized the IRC, especially independent Chairwoman Colleen Mathis, for drawing some of the maps outside of the commission’s public meetings.

“I think it’s clear that there should be an alternative to the IRC maps. And I think the voters should see a clear and distinct alternative,” Tobin said. “The politics that drew the IRC maps through the back door with the lights turned down is not going to stand. I think the voters know when they see deception.”

Tobin said his proposals would also provide fairer representation to rural Arizona, which he said were “devastated” by the IRC’s maps.

While the speaker accused the IRC of operating behind closed doors, he defended his and Mills’ drawing of the maps by themselves without any public input. He said the IRC took public input on the maps but simply ignored it, while his proposal will give the voters themselves the chance to decide the new districts.

“What’s more transparent than that?” Tobin said.

IRC Executive Director Ray Bladine said the commission heard comments from the public at 53 meetings. Bladine had no comment on Tobin’s proposal, other than to say it was his right as a legislator and as speaker of the House.

House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, however, had plenty to say. Campbell, D-Phoenix, said Tobin’s plan is a perfect example of why the voters took the redistricting process out of politicians’ hands in 2000 when the approved Proposition 106, the ballot measure that created the IRC.

Campbell said Tobin’s plan was nothing more than a scheme to protect GOP incumbents and maintain Republican dominance, and he predicted that voters would overwhelmingly reject the maps.

“This is the most self-serving move I’ve ever seen by any politician in the history of this state,” Campbell said. “The voters are going to find this pitiful. This is a last-ditch power grab to protect incumbency for members.”

Tobin’s measures would not actually eliminate the IRC, as many GOP lawmakers have advocated for. Instead, HCR2051 would ask voters in November to approve reforms that would eliminate some of Republicans’ biggest complaints against the commission.

The measure would expand the commission from five members to 12 and eliminate the Commission on Appellate Court Appointment’s role in screening and vetting candidates. Caucus leaders in both legislative chambers would each select three commissioners, but they would no longer have to choose from a pool decided by appellate commission. No more than two of the commissioners selected by each legislative leader could come from the same party or the same county.

The IRC overhaul would also provide a fail-safe in case voters don’t approve Tobin’s proposed maps in May. It would immediately end the terms of the five current commissioners and authorize the 12 new commissioners to redraw the congressional and legislative maps, meaning the districts drawn by the IRC would only be in effect for the 2012 cycle and would be replaced by 2014.

Tobin’s proposal for the fall election would also require the IRC to comply with Arizona open meeting laws. A Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled in December that open meeting statutes don’t apply to the IRC.

Another measure introduced by Senate Majority Leader Andy Biggs, SCR1035, would put a measure on the general election ballot asking voters to simply eliminate the IRC. Some Republican lawmakers pushed for a special election in February abolish the IRC, but Gov. Jan Brewer balked at their proposal and never called a special session to approve the ballot referral.

The deadline for candidates to get onto the ballot is May 30, but legislation passed last year allows legislative candidates to collect signatures in both their new and old districts. A similar measure introduced this session by Sen. Ron Gould would allow congressional candidates to do the same.

A May 15 special election would cost the state about $8.3 million, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. A previous proposal to hold a special election on Feb. 28, the day of Arizona’s presidential preference election, would have cost about $4 million less because the state was already printing ballots for Republican voters.

The Legislature must approve the special election proposal by Feb. 15 to get it on the ballot for May 15.

If voters approved the Legislature’s maps, the new district would likely end up in court. Arizona is one of a handful of states required by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to get DOJ approval for all voting and election changes. The state would probably have to get a judge’s approval to use the new district lines for the 2012 elections while awaiting preclearance from the DOJ.

Tobin’s proposals are the most recent actions in a long-running war between Republicans and the IRC. Attorney General Tom Horne launched an investigation after the commission’s two GOP members accused their Democratic colleagues and independent Chairwoman Colleen Mathis of violating open meeting laws.

In November, Brewer and the Senate ousted Mathis for allegedly ignoring the constitutional criteria for districts and violating open meeting law. But the Arizona Supreme Court later reinstated her, ruling that they had no legal basis for removing Mathis.

See the proposed alternative maps

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