In the high-stakes job to redraw Arizona’s political districts, much has been debated about the idea of “transparency.”
The Independent Redistricting Commission, apparently concerned about the public perception of its decision to hire a mapping firm with historic ties to Democratic causes, recently established a rule intended to allay fears of partisanship driving the mapping process.
The five-member panel last month voted to require tracking of all contact between the group’s mapping firm, Strategic Telemetry, and anyone outside the commission. The rule was initiated by Republican Commissioner Scott Freeman and crafted by the panel’s attorneys.
But what about the commission itself? Shouldn’t its members be held to the same standard?
In other words, the public just might want to know whether former Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick was lobbying Democratic commissioners about how to draw a northern Arizona political district that would favor her return to power over U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, a Republican.
Conversely, the public would probably want to know whether conservatives, such as state Sen. Don Shooter, are talking with Republican commissioners about the need for a proposed “river district” in western Arizona that would carve out Democratic U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva and create a squarely GOP constituency.
When reporter Evan Wyloge first touched on this transparency issue (“Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission panel weighs disclosure,” March 25, Arizona Capitol Times) Democratic Commissioner José Herrera resisted the idea, saying such disclosures would simply be too onerous.
“What if I run into my neighbor at the grocery store, then they bring up redistricting? Would I have to make a disclosure about that?” Herrera said at the time.
I think “Joe and Jane Six-Pack,” to whom commissioners are ultimately accountable, would argue that such disclosures wouldn’t be too much to ask.
Freeman, who pushed for the mapping firm disclosures, also has so far resisted placing similar requirements on the commissioners themselves.
Asked by Wyloge recently about whether he would support such transparency measures, Freeman said he’d consider it. But he hasn’t exactly gone out of his way to place it on the agenda.
To be sure, IRC commissioners have in many ways a thankless job and should be lauded for their public service.
But if they were really concerned about transparency – about throwing cold water on the perception that each of them was angling for their parties’ interests – they’d support disclosing with whom they were speaking, and when.
— Bill Bertolino is managing editor of the Arizona Capitol Times.