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Don’t give redistricting back to the Legislature

Five pieces of new legislation introduced by House Speaker Andy Tobin have taken power-grabbing to a whole new level, and would set redistricting back to a time of shadowy legislative deals. We could start by asking the now worn-out phrase, “What part of independent does the Arizona House not understand?”

However, we will take the bills at face value, and simply suggest that these efforts are an insult to the voters of Arizona who wanted the Legislature OUT of the redistricting process. These bills do four major things that should alarm the Arizona public.

First, they create an expensive special election at which Speaker Tobin hopes voters will undo the work of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. The bills specifically refer a measure to the ballot that would change our state Constitution so that we would adopt a set of maps created by the state Legislature for 2012, and then task a new redistricting commission to adopt maps for the remainder of the decade.

Second, the bills create an “alternative” map of Mr. Tobin’s liking with no public input, other than that which he prefers. A total of 5,364 people attended commission meetings, another 1,800 viewed online and over 7,403 submitted written comments. Maps drawn behind the doors of the speaker’s office are, by definition, inferior to maps drawn by the commission with this substantial public input. We believe this, despite also maintaining that the commission’s maps were less than perfect.

Third, the bills fire the current commissioners and change the make-up of the Redistricting Commission in such a way that the Arizona Legislature has much more control over the outcome of the process. While it increases the number of commissioners (which we would normally approve of), it specifically excludes the important role played by an independent chair. Under Mr. Tobin’s plan, the chair must no longer be registered as an independent. Further, the bills cleverly allow for the appointment of some commissioners who are “not of the same party,” which we take as a method to stack the commission with party plants.

Amazingly, while the voices of independents grow in this state, these bills totally snub this group by eliminating a mandated independent voice. Furthermore, these bills seize control of the commissioners’ appointment process by eliminating the vetting role of the Commission on Appellate Court appointments, which has been a firewall between the Legislature and the Independent Redistricting Commission. It also allows some elected party members to be appointed as commissioners, effectively stripping the “Independent” from the Independent Redistricting Commission.

Members of the Arizona Competitive Districts Coalition attended or viewed every IRC meeting. We were not happy with the number of competitive districts and submitted contest maps, which showed a greater success in competitiveness. However, despite our disappointment we believe the process was reasonable and painfully transparent.

We are disappointed that Tobin, rather than confront useful reforms of the redistricting process, chooses to present the public with a list of unnecessary modifications, which clearly seek to take power away from the people and give it back to the Legislature.

We hope that his fellow legislators think better than to follow this course.

— Former state Reps. Ken Clark, a Democrat, and Roberta Voss, a Republican, co-chair the Arizona Competitive Districts Coalition. Clark served in the House from 2003-2005; Voss served from 1997-2003. Dr. Barbara Klein is a former health care provider and the current president of the League of Women Voters of Arizona.

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