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Quelland pushes plan to revamp Redistricting Commission

Former state Rep. Doug Quelland wants to revamp the redistricting process to give political independents more say in the matter.  (Capitol Media Services file photo by Howard Fischer)

Former state Rep. Doug Quelland wants to revamp the redistricting process to give political independents more say in the matter. (Capitol Media Services file photo by Howard Fischer)

A former state lawmaker is proposing a major revamp of the redistricting process to finally give independents the political muscle he said they deserve.

The proposal by Doug Quelland would add four people to the Independent Redistricting Commission. That would bring it to nine.

But the significant change is that the two major parties each would get three slots. The final three would belong to registered independents.

Potentially more significant, it would require at least seven votes to approve any legislative and congressional maps.

That effectively means that at least one member of each of the three political groups would agree. And that would preclude Republicans and Democrats from colluding to put independents at a disadvantage.

Quelland said the move is long overdue.

Figures from the Secretary of State’s Office show more than 1.19 million Arizonans have declined to register with any recognized political party. That compares with nearly 1.11 million Republicans and slightly more than 922,000 Democrats.

Quelland acknowledged he has an interest in making the change.

Elected as a Republican in 2002, he was ousted seven years later for campaign finance law violations.

Since that time the Phoenix resident has attempted to regain his seat as a registered independent. But Quelland said the lines drawn by the five-member redistricting commission make such a move difficult for any political independent.

Quelland needs 225,963 valid signatures by July 7 to put the issue to voters in November 2016. Only if it makes the ballot and is it approved would the new commission be named to redraw the lines for the 2018 race.

Prior to 2000, district lines were drawn by state lawmakers. That often resulted in districts designed to benefit the party in power and, in some cases, to help specific candidates for the Legislature and Congress.

That year voters approved the creation of the five-member Independent Redistricting Commission. Top elected officials of each major get two picks.

“And to add insult to injury, who puts the one independent on the commission?” Quelland continued. “The two Democrats and two Republicans.”

With no elected independents in the Legislature, Quelland’s plan would have picks for the commission made by the three independent candidates for the Legislature who get the most votes. Based on the 2014 election, that would give Quelland one of the picks as he tallied 5,438 votes against 25,103 for incumbent Republican Kimberly Yee and 16,613 for Democrat challenger Patty Kennedy.

Having the independents chosen by outsiders, versus the commissioners themselves, would solve another problem that arose with the current commission that drew the lines after the 2010 census.

Republicans charged that Colleen Mathis, chosen in 2011 by the other commissioners to chair the panel when she listed her affiliation as independent, was really a Democratic plant.

They said she hid her husband’s ties to the Democratic Party, including that he had been the treasurer in the unsuccessful bid by Nancy Young Wright to retain her seat in the state House in 2010.  Mathis said her failure to disclose that information, which was only learned after she was chosen as chair, was an oversight.

It also would have precluded the decision by Gov. Jan Brewer to try to fire Mathis, a move that subsequently was overturned by the Arizona Supreme Court. That’s because Quelland’s initiative would allow a commissioner to be fired only by a unanimous vote of the other eight.

But the heart of the measure goes to that change in the state’s political makeup.

In 2000 when the redistricting commission was formed, Republicans made up 43.3 percent of all of the state’s 2.17 million registered voters. Democrats comprised another 38.2 percent, with political independents at less than 17.6 percent. The rest were members of minor parties.

At last count, independents made up 36.6 percent of more than 3.2 million registered voters, with Republicans at just over 34.0 percent and Democrats at 28.3 percent.

“It’s only going to grow,” Quelland said.

“It’s a no-brainer,” he said of the change. “How can you say independents should only get one?”

The idea is drawing interest from the League of Women Voters, which backed the original 2000 ballot measure.

“We do feel like it would be more reflective of the registered voters that we currently have in Arizona,” said Barbara Robertson, the organization’s legislative director. “And that’s good.”

Robertson said, though, the league has not taken an official position on the proposal.

Quelland said he had been a registered independent since he first signed up to vote, becoming a Republican only to run for the Legislature. He won races in 2002 and for the next three two-year cycles but went back to to being an independent after he was removed from office in 2009.

That ouster is the result of a 4-1 vote by the Citizens Clean Elections Commission that he made $15,000 in payments to a campaign consultant but failed to report them.

The panel also found the payments came from Quelland’s business account, making it an illegal donation of corporate funds. It also concluded the payments put him over state spending limits.

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