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Redistricting commission repeal clears committee

A proposed referral that would ask voters whether they wanted to eliminate the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission took its first step toward the November ballot Wednesday.

The Senate Government Reform Committee approved SCR1035 on a 4-2 party-line vote after its Democratic and Republican members rehashed the arguments that have raged for nearly a year over the independence and fairness of the IRC’s work.

Senate Majority Leader Andy Biggs, who sponsored the measure, said the IRC is riddled with procedural and technical problems, including lack of accountability for commissioners and a lack of oversight, as evidenced by the Arizona Supreme Court’s reversal of Chairwoman Colleen Mathis’ removal.

“My remedy, what I believe, is you’ve got to blow it up,” said Biggs, R-Gilbert.

Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said the better route would be reforms, possibly to expand the size of the IRC and add more independent and rural members. Gallardo also suggested that anyone who has issues with the new maps could sue the IRC, as he unsuccessfully did after the last redistricting process.

But Biggs said he’s spoken with other lawmakers and is convinced that no workable reforms are possible. Even if you add more members, he said, they would still be unelected and unaccountable to voters. And Biggs said he would still worry that the redistricting process could still be dominated by one or two people, as he alleged the current IRC was by the “redistricting czar” Mathis.

“I would ask ‘what reforms do you think would work?’ And no one … came up with any sensible reforms that were on their face workable,” Biggs said of discussions he’s had with GOP colleagues about the IRC.

While Biggs said his issues with the IRC were primarily procedural, others said the maps were problematic as well. Sen. Lori Klein, R-Anthem, said the IRC ignored a constitutional requirement to respect communities of interest when it drew her Phoenix suburb into a Yavapai County-based legislative district.

Klein, who is considering moving to get out her new district, said the IRC ignored the wishes of residents in Anthem and other nearby communities while rubber-stamping a district proposed by leadership in Flagstaff.

“It seems to me they have selective listening at this IRC as far as who they’re listening to,” she said. “To me this is just outrageous. So I think we need to do something.”

Sen. Rick Murphy, the committee chairman, said the IRC ignored similar community-of-interest issues in his new district when it drew the bulk of Peoria in with El Mirage and other communities on the other side of the Agua Fria River.

“According to the constitutional language that the IRC is supposed to be governed by, they’re supposed to respect communities of interest and geographic boundaries,” said Murphy, R-Peoria. “They ignored all of those.”

Gallardo said voters created the IRC in 2000 because they didn’t want lawmakers drawing their own districts, and predicted that voters would overwhelmingly reject to repeal a measure that would put the Legislature back in control of redistricting.

“I look forward to seeing this type of measure on the ballot. I think you’re going to see the same results,” he said.

The committee also approved SB1489, which would require the IRC to also draw district lines for counties, cities, school districts and other political subdivisions. Murphy, the bill’s sponsor, said the bill wasn’t entirely symbolic, despite the logistical problems with having the five-member IRC draw lines for hundreds of cities, counties and other entities.

But Murphy said the bill was mostly meant to make a point about the arguments that legislators shouldn’t draw their own districts because they’re driven by self-interest.

“Why do we want that at the city and county level if we don’t’ want it at the state level? It seems to me if that’s really a problem, if that’s the real reason, either it’s a problem or it’s not. If it’s a problem then we should fix it universally and if it’s not then we should leave it alone universally,” Murphy said after the hearing.

Klein agreed, despite her hesitancy to give more power to a “rogue commission.”

“I find it hard to stomach, but given the interesting wisdom in this, I will pass it out of committee,” she said.

SB1489 passed on a 5-1 vote, with Gallardo joining the Republicans. Sen. David Lujan, D-Phoenix, was the only vote against the bill.

But the bill may not get past the full Senate. Because of the Voter Protection Act, the bill will need a three-fourths vote in the Legislature and will have to “further the intent of the voters.”

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