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Tobin measure last-ditch effort for new political maps

House Speaker Andy Tobin (File Photo)

A proposal by House Speaker Andy Tobin may give Republicans one last chance to rid themselves of congressional and legislative maps they’ve fought so hard to eliminate.

The Paulden Republican wants a November ballot measure that would overhaul the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. The proposal would expand the IRC to 12 members, eliminate a panel that nominates commissioners, and impose state open meeting law on the commission.

But HCR2051, introduced Jan. 26, would also end the terms of the five current commissioners and authorize the new 12-member IRC to redraw the congressional and legislative maps that were the focus of such Republican ire for the past nine months.

That would mean the new maps, which have yet to be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice, would be in place for just one election cycle before being replaced in 2014.

This proposal is a companion to one that seeks to put an entirely new set of maps — privately drawn by Tobin and House GOP staffer John Mills — on the ballot for a May 15 special election.

His measure to overhaul the structure of the IRC is an idea that has support of both sides of the aisle.

But the provision in Tobin’s plan to draw new maps ensures that Democrats won’t be on board, and they’ll do their best to convince public opinion to join them come election time.

House Minority Whip Steve Farley, D-Tucson, said Democrats would be willing to sit down with Republicans to hammer out proposed reforms to the IRC. But Tobin’s proposal, he said, is meant to undermine the IRC and score political points.

“It’s way past time for last-ditch attempts. At some point you just have to suck it up and accept what you have,” Farley said. “If you came and talked to us we could work something out. It doesn’t sound objectionable to me.”

The idea already has some support among Tobin’s Republican colleagues. Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said he likes the idea of both reforming the IRC and allowing it to redraw the maps after the 2012 cycle. But, Kavanagh said voters might be more receptive if there were two separate ballot measures dealing with those issues.

“I think the current maps are flawed, probably in actuality, certainly in perception. Almost anything would be better,” Kavanagh said. “Maybe it would have to be two separate bills, one to change the structure of the commission and another to have a redrawing next year. That would get around that issue.”

Kavanagh said it’s important to increase the membership of the IRC to ensure that one member can’t dictate the entire process, as Republicans frequently accused Chairwoman Colleen Mathis of doing. Most of the IRC’s important votes were split along partisan lines, with Mathis siding with the commission’s two Democrats.

The Senate and Gov. Jan Brewer removed Mathis in November, alleging that she violated state open meeting law and ignored constitutionally mandated redistricting criteria. The Arizona Supreme Court later reinstated her.

Some Democrats support changes to the IRC as well — without a redrawing of the maps — but say there’s no need to rush. Senate Minority Leader David Schapira said he would like to see the IRC expanded to nine members and said he’s open to the 12-member commission Tobin proposed.

But Schapira, D-Tempe, said an IRC overhaul shouldn’t be on the 2012 ballot, and that it should come in the form of a citizen initiative, not a legislative referral.

“That’s too reactionary. We have 10 years to decide if we want to use the same process again or not and I think we need to take our time and be smart about what the next IRC is going to look like,” Schapira said.

House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, said the provision authorizing the new 12-person IRC to redraw the maps “subverts the will of the voters.” If Tobin wants to make changes to the IRC, Campbell said, he should get public input first and sit down with stakeholders and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.

“This is one politician trying to dictate how Arizona elections are managed for the next 10 years,” Campbell said.

A spokesman for Gov. Jan Brewer said the governor wants to see changes made to the IRC as well, but is still studying Tobin’s proposal.

“The speaker kept these proposals pretty close to the vest. So we’re still studying the ramifications of these,” Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said. “There’s no question that the governor supports some overhaul of the way Arizona conducts its redistricting. Whether or not these proposals are the right way to go remains to be seen.”

Others, such as Senate Majority Leader Andy Biggs, would prefer to eliminate the IRC entirely. Biggs, R-Gilbert, sponsored a proposed ballot measure that would ask voters to scrap the controversial commission.

Tobin, R-Paulden, has been a vocal critic of the IRC’s makeup, especially its lack of rural representation. But he said he’s willing to negotiate changes to the proposal, even if that means eliminating the provision that would trash the new maps.

“I’d leave that up to members to decide if that’s the direction they want to go. The referral, the reform is negotiable,” Tobin said.

While the proposed IRC overhaul may reach the ballot in some form, Tobin’s special election plans and the new maps he and Mills drew don’t appear to be getting much traction.

Some Republicans are upset at being left out of the loop — Tobin said he didn’t share his plans with anyone until the maps were finished so it wouldn’t look like a conspiracy by lawmakers to draw their own districts — and doubt the proposal will go anywhere.

“It’s kind of interesting that no one’s bothered to brief me on that since the bill would go through my committee most likely,” said Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Biggs said Senate Republicans were “taken aback” by the proposal, but had little to say about Tobin’s plans except, “I’m choosing not to voice my complaints in the media.”

Senate President Steve Pierce sounded skeptical as well. “Everybody has to be on board. The Governor’s Office didn’t know anything. We didn’t know anything about it,” Pierce said.

The Ninth Floor was also hesitant to get behind Tobin’s special election plans.

“I think the governor’s been clear that she’s unhappy with the redistricting process and the maps that resulted from that,” Benson said. “Whether Speaker Tobin’s proposals are an improvement, at this point have yet to be seen. And I think there are still some unanswered questions about how this would be pursued, the timing of an election, the funding of an election, etcetera.”

Some Republicans sounded a little more open to the idea. Kavanagh said Tobin’s proposal won’t see much movement until he talks to other members and gets feedback on the plan. But he said it would be feasible for the Legislature to approve the special election by the mid-February deadline.

“We could do it in two days,” he said.

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