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House takes first step toward district boundaries drawn entirely by Republicans

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A House panel approved a change in the redistricting process that, if ratified by voters, could have the lines for future legislative and congressional elections drawn only by Republicans.

The 4-2 vote by the Elections Committee would keep the Independent Redistricting Commission that voters created in 2000 to wrest control of the line-drawing process from the Legislature. Proponents said it would help remove the politics from the decennial process.

But HCR2009 takes the chore of appointing its members from legislators from each of the two major parties and instead has commissioners running for office like any other politician. Rep. Ken Clark, D-Phoenix, said that, given the GOP voter registration edge, that is virtually certain to produce a commission of five Republicans.

Potentially more significant, the measure would remove restrictions that now exist on who can serve. Clark said that would allow candidates and even registered lobbyists to create legislative and congressional districts.

Rep. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, did not dispute any of those contentions. But he insisted that a directly elected commission would be more accountable than what Arizona has seen in the past.

And Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, was undeterred by the prospect of having the lines for legislative and congressional districts once again drawn by a partisan group.

“You can’t remove the politics,” he said. “It is impossible.”

Until 2000 the Legislature was in charge of dividing up the state into congressional and legislative districts. That usually resulted in the party in power — most recently the Republicans — crafting districts designed to benefit their candidates.

That year voters created the Independent Redistricting Commission. Democrat and Republican party leaders each choose two members; they select a fifth person who is a political independent to chair the panel.

The GOP majority in the Legislature did not object after the elections following the 2000 census leaned toward Republicans. But all that changed after the 2010 census when Colleen Mathis, the independent chair, sided with Democrats to craft lines that Republicans said were unfair.

A vote by the Legislature to remove Mathis as being derelict in her duty was slapped down by the Arizona Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court last year rejected a challenge to the ability of the commission to draw congressional lines. And that court is now weighing a separate claim that the commission illegally drew legislative lines favoring Democrats, a claim previously rejected by a panel of three federal judges.

Petersen said this would be a better system.

“It’s a matter of restoring integrity to the redistricting commission,” he said. Petersen said candidates would have to convince voters they would follow the constitutional guidelines for drawing districts, including keeping communities of interest together.

But Clark said all it would do is effectively return Arizona to the system that existed in 2000, allowing the majority party to further cement its power.

Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, said that isn’t necessarily true. She pointed out that independents actually outnumber both Republicans and Democrats and could elect a slate of candidates to the commission.

Clark, however, said independents tend not to vote because “they don’t believe the process helps them at all.” Ugenti-Rita sniffed at that logic.

“I don’t have any sympathy for anyone who doesn’t get out and vote,” she said.

Mesnard acknowledged that this system could result in effectively going back to before 2000 with the majority party drawing the lines. He said, though, that does not bother him.

“I think the power of drawing maps belongs with the Legislature,” he said. “But in the absence of that, it should not be with unelected bureaucrats.”

If the measure gets the necessary votes of the full House and then the Senate, the final word would be up to voters in November.

5 comments

  1. …And when the tables turn and Dems are in power, Repubs will cry “it’s not fair” and try to change the rules again to suit their “needs”. This is the problem with a two-party system. The fact the current panel did something the Repubs don’t like, show they aren’t as politically motivated as it was before 2000. Leave the current process alone.

  2. Another non-problem being solved by the legislature. The voters approved the election commission consisting of dems, repubs, and an independent. Let’s not mess this u[

  3. This sentence in the article, “That usually resulted in the party in power — most recently the Republicans — crafting districts designed to benefit their candidates,” is contextually inaccurate. The House has been controlled by Republicans for 45 consecutive years, the Senate 43 out of 45 years. “Most recently” implies the Democrats have controlled the political process not that long ago. Democratic governors have reacted to Republican legislative efforts through veto and influence; they have not generally had any real control over the Legislative agenda.

    This Republican domination has resulted in the State of Arizona having a per capita income of $13,500 less than Colorado residents and the difference increased from $12,000 to $13,500 in the last two years that statistics are available (2012 and 2014). The Republican philosophy is so partial in its approach that it just isn’t very workable to create a framework for a successful economy that works for vast majority of people. The numbers are quite clear. Arizona Republican control leads to, on the whole, poorer Arizonans and what trickles down is a poorer quality of economic opportunity and life.

    Government is the infrastructure designed to improve the general welfare of its people. 40+ years is long enough to demonstrate that whatever snake oil Republicans sell year after year to justify destroying Arizona’s government does not work and our pocketbooks are dramatically poorer is the end result.

  4. Excuse me Exctyengr, but only if you’re a Democrat can you claim this fraud of an “Independent Redistricting Commission” is a “non-problem.” In 2011 Colleen Coyle-Mathis (or vice-versa) was officially a registered Independent. BUT her far-left former Republican lawyer husband was an activist Democrat, working as treasurer for a Democrat, makes her anything BUT an “Independent” by any stretch of the imagination.

    The Commission VIOLATED almost every aspect of the Arizona’s State Constitution in creating the two majority-minority Congressional Districts, four extremely Republican-weighted Districts (with over 60-40 GOP registration advantage) and THREE so-called “swing” districts with about 50.5-49.5 Democrat Districts.

    That resulted in the 2012 election, 4 GOP elected Congressmen and 5 Democrats, EVEN THOUGH the Republican Candidates received 200,000 MORE votes than Democrat candidates! That Republican vote advantage was duplicated in 2014, while the only difference being that Martha McSally eked out an ultra-slim 167 vote victory over Ron Barber giving the GOP a 5-4 advantage.

    The Democrats can’t win in the battlefield of ideas, so they have to play games to gain any advantage.

  5. Michael Powell, your claim of Republican “snake oil” is so utterly laughable as to make me bust a gut! It’s NOT the duty of government at ANY LEVEL to “improve” (aka provide for) the general welfare of the people. The responsibility of the Federal government is limited the task(s) to “make commerce regular”, provide for national defense and guarantee EQUAL Opportunity to EVERY American: NOT steal the wealth of some in the name of “fairness.” You can find that in the Communist Manifesto.

    State governments’ are more flexible per the US Constitution, but again, You DRIVE away producers to other states, with Socialist, egalitarian values of “Unequal Output, Equal Benefits.” Again, “From each according to his ability, To each according to his need” is found in Karl Marx’s writings, NOT in the founding Documents of the United States.

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