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Democratic redistricting commissioner resigns

Democratic redistricting commissioner José Herrera listens as the commission's legal counselors advise the commission on the legislative privilege that may be invoked to prevent commissioners from giving testimony under oath. (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

Former democratic redistricting commissioner José Herrera at a commission meeting in August 2011. (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

Democratic commissioner Jose Herrera unexpectedly resigned from the state’s five-person Independent Redistricting Commission today.

In his resignation letter, Herrera said that since the commission finished redrawing the state’s legislative and congressional districts in early 2012, its meetings have been “unproductive and, at times, toxic.”

Herrera lamented what he called a distrustful attitude from the commission’s two Republican commissioners, which led to commissioners testifying against their fellow commissioners in federal court.

Two pending lawsuits pit Republicans against the commission’s Department of Justice-approved congressional and legislative maps. The Republicans say the maps were illegally drawn to favor Democrats, in part due to an alleged coordination between Herrera, his fellow Democratic commissioner Linda McNulty and the commission’s independent chairwoman, Colleen Mathis.

Herrera played a central role in the allegations put forward by Republicans, who claim he and McNulty took direct mapping orders from Democratic party officials and that a voting alliance between Herrera, McNulty and Mathis made it impossible to stop the Democrats’ plans.

Those three and the commissions’ attorneys have denied any wrongdoing. Herrera and McNulty did, however, acknowledge that they had been given mapping assistance by Democratic Party officials.

Mathis also said she called commissioners outside of public meetings to urge a unanimous vote on hiring a mapping consultant bid. It was ultimately awarded to a firm with ties to Democratic campaigns and candidates, with Herrera, McNulty and Mathis providing the only three votes necessary to award the bid.

Ray Bladine, the commission’s executive director, said Herrera first told him about his intention to resign this morning.

“I think he just got worn out. He said he wants to get his life back,” Bladine said.

Bladine said Herrera told him he was also resigning from his position on the Northern Arizona University Alumni Association.

“He decided he needed more family time,” Bladine said.

Mathis responded to Herrera’s resignation by expressing gratitude for his service and acknowledging the time and stress associated with serving on the commission, particularly since the map-drawing phase of the commission’s work ended in early 2012.

To replace Herrera, the state’s Commission on Appellate Court Appointments will first have to select three possible Democratic replacements. The commission is the panel of attorneys, political appointees and the state Supreme Court chief justice who vet judicial nominees.

Mary O’Grady, one of the commission’s attorneys, said it’s not clear whether the panel will go back to the pool of Democratic applicants from 2010 or whether new applicants will be considered.

Once three possible replacements are selected, House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, who selected Herrera from a similar pool of finalists in early 2011, will select the replacement, O’Grady said.

O’Grady said the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments also learned of Herrera’s resignation today, and that a meeting will be scheduled to determine exactly how to select possible replacements.

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