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Fractured IRC gets back to work

Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission Chair Colleen Coyle Mathis, left, and Vice Chair Jose M. Herrera listen in during discussions Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011 in Tempe, Ariz. Arizona's embattled redistricting commission was meeting for the first time in a month, to resume work on new congressional and legislative districts now that the state Supreme Court has overturned Gov. Jan Brewer's attempt to remove the commission's chair. (AP Photo/Matt York)

After winning an Arizona Supreme Court battle against a Republican governor and Senate that ordered her removal, reinstated Independent Redistricting Commission Chairwoman Colleen Mathis is facing the immediate challenge of leading a commission that has fractured down party lines.

Mathis, during a brief recess during the commission’s meeting today, told Arizona Capitol Times that her first priority was to “move forward” from her failed removal and focus on achieving the commission’s final task of approving changes to draft legislative and congressional maps.

But just how far the commission is willing to amend the preliminary maps is of prime importance, especially to Republican Commissioner Richard Stertz, who openly called on his colleagues to redraw the congressional map from scratch.

Stertz seized on the fact that part of the that draft map was drawn in private by Mathis over the course of a weekend in early October, and then quickly approved by the commission. Mathis and the panel’s Democrats, José Herrera and Linda McNulty, voted in favor of the map, while Stertz opposed it. The other Republican on the commission, Scott Freeman, abstained, citing a concern that the map may be unconstitutional.

And he wasted no opportunity in confronting Mathis on how she would like to see commissioners recommend changes to the map or to what extent the commission would consider the thousands of demands, proposals and recommendations offered by Arizonans during a 30-day public comment period.

Mathis declined to directly answer Stertz’s suggestions that the process of creating and approving the congressional draft map unconstitutionally violated the terms of Proposition 106, the 2000 ballot initiative approved by voters that created the commission and set criteria for the maps it draws.

Instead, those questions were answered by IRC attorney Mary O’Grady, who said there was no legal need to require the commission to resort back to the commission’s congressional grid map. Doing so would force the commission to re-open additional 30-day periods for public comment, she said.

Stertz’s attempts to restart the congressional mapping step appear to have little to no chance of gaining commission approval, as Mathis and the commission’s Democrats were reluctant to even have the commission’s mapping consultant create separate maps based on the recommendations from individual commissioners.

Both Herrera and McNulty indicated they would not be willing to support substantial changes to the congressional draft map based on input from commissioners or even the public.

Herrera said he didn’t expect a great deal of unexpected or surprise proposals or recommendations.

“There is nothing that is going to be proposed that is going to be mind-blowing,” he said, adding that even commissioners are well aware of what each other would like to see included in the final approved maps.

Likewise, McNulty said she held the approved congressional draft map in high regard and said that only “discreet, concrete changes” would occur.

During the meeting, Stertz on several occasions referred to Mathis as the “swing vote,” and during a recess he told Arizona Capitol Times that the commission appears to be split 3-2 to the detriment of Republicans.

“We’ve got one person in the state of Arizona that has entire control over Arizona voting for the next 10 years,” he said, referring to Mathis. “I’m not sure that’s what the voters had in mind.”

The accusations that Mathis has and will consistently side with the commission’s Democrats are hardly new. Her work on the draft congressional map, and her votes and activities to secure a contract for mapping consultant Strategic Telemetry became the base complaints that led to her removal.

Mathis said at no time did she consider resigning her position or allowing the removal to go unchallenged.

“I’m just thick-skinned,” she said. “I have a job to do and I want to see this through to the end.”

Earlier this month, Gov. Jan Brewer determined Mathis was guilty of “substantial neglect of duty and gross misconduct” and removed her from the panel with the support of two-thirds of the Senate. However, the Arizona Supreme Court reinstated Mathis and said the removal didn’t meet those constitutionally established standards.

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