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Home / Capitol Insiders / GOP lawsuit aims to pull former Dem lawmaker into mapping conspiracy theory

GOP lawsuit aims to pull former Dem lawmaker into mapping conspiracy theory

Commission chair Colleen Mathis, middle, pours over possible congressional redistricting maps as she is flanked by commissioners Linda McNulty, left, and commission vice chair, Scott Freeman during an Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission meeting Monday, Oct. 3, 2011, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

A former Arizona lawmaker who is serving time in prison has been added to the Republican case accusing Democrats of rigging the state’s legislative district map after the 2010 U.S. Census.

Richard Miranda, a former state representative, has been in prison since July of 2012 after being found guilty of stealing money from a charity he helped run.

Attorney David Cantelme said during Monday’s opening statements in a federal trial in U.S. District Court in Phoenix that Miranda drew four legislative districts that became the basis of the state’s legislative map. Cantelme is the lead attorney working for Republicans in a lawsuit aimed at getting the legislative map thrown out on the grounds it discriminated against Republican voters.

Cantelme said emails recently turned over by the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission show that Miranda had D.J. Quinlan, then the Arizona Democratic Party’s election director, turn Miranda’s drawings into digital map files. Then Miranda submitted the files to the commission as a formal map proposal, Cantelme said. Quinlan is now interim director of the Arizona Democratic Party.

The commission was established in 2000 by a citizens’ initiative with a goal of increasing public input and transparency. So allowing a member of the public, including an elected official, to submit mapping proposals for consideration by the commission may not necessarily be prohibited by the law.

However, a filing submitted by the plaintiffs on the eve of the trial might suggest where the plaintiffs’ line of logic leads. Cantelme filed a formal request Sunday asking the court to allow new evidence and witnesses to be part of the trial. He contends that depositions with Quinlan and McNulty, as well as email records and map files turned over for the trial, all lead to a conclusion that incumbent lawmakers’ residences were considered during the drawing of maps ultimately used by the commission.

Cantelme didn’t provide any evidence that commissioners or the IRC’s consulting firm, Strategic Telemetry, used incumbents’ locations to guide its work. But he continued to imply as much.

During testimony Monday, Republican Commissioner Richard Stertz said the four districts provided by Miranda were essentially set in stone.

“I asked the question, are these untouchable districts?  And the answer came back from the chair, yes,” Stertz said.

Cantelme asked Stertz whether Strategic Telemetry maintained a list of incumbent residences, and suggested that the firm had included, and later removed, that data from files it sent to commissioners. Cantelme asked Stertz what it would indicate if a map file said “incumbents not found” when someone tried to load it, though he did not explicitly say that such a thing happened.

Stertz said it would indicate that the information was there. But when Cantelme asked if that would indicate that the information had once been part of the file, Stertz said he didn’t know and that he would not be the best person to ask. He also emphasized that when lawmakers or candidates testified before the IRC, its attorneys would stop them if they tried to say where they lived.

“That being the case, why would Strategic Telemetry have had a candidate list?” Cantelme said.

Stertz said he had no knowledge of Strategic Telemetry keeping a file of incumbent residences, but would be concerned if it did.

The redistricting commission’s attorneys did not address the claims about Miranda in their opening statement.

Instead, Colin Campbell, one of the attorneys working for the commission, focused on the minority voting rights analyses done by the commission.  He pointed out that the U.S. Justice Department approved the map and that despite the plaintiffs’ claims, the map met federal requirements.

Voting Rights Act compliance, and the changes the IRC made to legislative districts to achieve it, took up much of the day. The crux of the Republicans’ lawsuit over the map is an accusation that the IRC unconstitutionally packed Republican voters into certain overpopulated districts while underpopulating Democratic districts so that minority voters would be able to elect the candidates of their choice.

Stertz questioned whether two Voting Rights Act districts – Legislative Districts 24 and 26, and to a lesser degree, District 8 – actually gave minority voters the chance to elect their preferred candidates. He noted that in the central Phoenix and Tempe-based Districts 24 and 26, five of the six lawmakers elected in 2012 were white. All six were Democrats.

The commissioner said he believed that all three districts were used for “offloading” certain areas for neighboring districts.

Campbell challenged the plaintiffs’ thesis on why some districts were underpopulated or overpopulated.

He noted that a change in southern Arizona-based Districts 2 and 14, which was made largely at the request of Cochise County residents who wanted to keep their county wholly in one district, caused some underpopulation in LD2. Under questioning from Campbell, Stertz said the northern part of Mohave County and the Schultz  flood area near Flagstaff were moved out of northern Arizona-based District 7, a predominantly Native American district, at the request of residents in Districts 5 and 6.

Stertz emphasized that one of the criteria for redistricting in the Arizona Constitution is to try to keep counties and municipalities whole.

“You were fine with keeping Mohave County together?” Campbell asked Stertz.

“I was in favor of meeting the criteria in Proposition 106,” Stertz answered, referring to the 2000 ballot measure that created the IRC.

Stertz spent the entire day on the witness stand, where much of the plaintiffs’ examination rehashed complaints advanced by Republicans since early 2011 about their belief that the two Democratic commissioners and the independent chairwoman led the mapping process with little to no input from the Republicans.

They also revisited claims made by Stertz and his fellow Republican Commissioner Scott Freeman that the commission’s independent chairwoman, Colleen Mathis, supported by two Democratic commissioners, shredded mapping consultant application scoring sheets while in executive session.

They also have said Mathis called them outside of the public meeting sessions to try to coerce them to select Strategic Telemetry. The Republicans have maintained that she told them she wanted to have a consensus on the choice, but that they expressed unease about her trying to organize a vote outcome, outside of public view.

Mathis and the Democratic commissioners have frequently used the shroud of the executive session to avoid directly answering questions about those instances, but have never denied the claims.

Since those claims were made, Republicans throughout the state have argued that the entire redistricting effort offered a false front of impartiality and transparency, but that Mathis and the Democrats made all the decisions with deference to Democratic-favoring maps.

Cantelme will attempt to use many small pieces of information, such as the claims  of document shredding and vote wrangling, to persuade the federal three-judge panel that discriminatory intent was at the center of mapping choices.

The trial is scheduled to continue throughout the week.

 

 

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