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IRC chair – the state’s most important political figure

Deposit Photo

Deposit Photo

An aide to Gov. Doug Ducey, a former top attorney for the state’s largest utility company and a former attorney at the Goldwater Institute are among 39 applicants for the chair of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. 

The person selected to lead the commission will become the most important person in Arizona politics for the next few years as he or she will be the deciding vote for mapping out the state’s congressional and legislative districts for the upcoming decade. 

The IRC chair cannot be registered with a political party. The inaugural IRC chair in 2000 voted with the two Republican members on the five-person commission more than not. And in 2010 the chair voted with the Democrats. 

Ducey, a Republican, has been working since the early days in his first term to assure that Republicans win this next round of redistricting. Democrats have accused Ducey of stacking the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, the body that vets IRC candidates, as well as judicial nominees. 

The state Supreme Court was a big factor in the 2010 cycle and could potentially come into play again. Ducey has appointed five of the seven justices – four are Republicans and the other is a conservative-leaning independent. 

The job of the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments is to winnow down the total list of IRC applicants to 25 – 10 Democrats, 10 Republicans and five independents. History has shown that for this cycle both political parties will want an independent chair who leans their way to gain a majority on the five-member panel.  

THE CANDIDATES

 here are several candidates who run in Arizona’s political circles or have been known to work behind the scenes that could make it onto the final list of five, come 2021. 

Alec Esteban Thomson

Alec Esteban Thomson

Alec Esteban Thomson, the director of strategic initiatives under Ducey, applied for the job.

Thomson, a Maricopa County resident, previously served as the COO of the Arizona-Mexico Commission. He has an immense resume and one that would appear to go against the narrative of picking a chair with strong Republican leanings. 

Thomson has only given money to Democrats through ActBlue ($50 in 2015), he worked with the Human Rights Campaign to elect Hillary Clinton as president in 2016 and he was the chief of staff to former Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell, a Democrat. But he also worked for Republican Gov. Jan Brewer and is credited recently with working on Ducey’s Mask Up AZ campaign and helping get people to fill out their Census data.  

Thomas Loquvam, the general counsel at EPCOR and former Pinnacle West general counsel, also applied for the job. Loquvam left APS’s parent company in April 2019 after nine years. He spent a lot of his time arguing on behalf of the utility at the Arizona Corporation Commission. 

Loquvam, the brother of outgoing APS lobbyist Jessica Pacheco, also has ties to the Greater Phoenix Chamber and is registered as a lobbyist for EPCOR, which is a violation of the IRC requirements. However, in his application, Loquvam said he is not a paid lobbyist. 

“The nature of my responsibilities with EPCOR require that I register as a lobbyist with the Arizona Corporation Commission … in order to speak with any Commissioner on virtually any issue,” he wrote, adding that he included this information “in an abundance of caution.” He said he is not “specifically paid to lobby.”

Loquvam, a Maricopa County resident, also signed a notarized document stating he will not register as a paid lobbyist during his term on the IRC, if appointed. The term will last 10 years. As of August 27, Loquvam is still listed as EPCOR’s lobbyist on the Corporation Commission database. 

Thomas Loquvam

Thomas Loquvam

Loquvam contributed $250 to Republican Rep. Shawnna Bolick’s campaign for the state House back in 2014, an election she lost. He also contributed thousands of dollars to the Pinnacle West Political Action Committee in several installments. 

Nick Dranias is a former Goldwater Institute attorney who lives in Maricopa County. Dranias contributed $250 to Jonathan Paton’s congressional campaign in 2010. Paton is one of the Republican members on the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, who Ducey reappointed to a new term earlier this year. 

Dranias also gave money to Republican Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich for his first campaign in 2014 and chipped in hundreds of dollars to a Republican federal PAC called WINRED, where he earmarked at least $100 in June to re-elect President Trump.

Outside of the state’s largest county, there’s Michael Hammond, a Pima County independent who former Governor Brewer appointed to the State Transportation Board. Hammond’s term began in 2015 and runs through 2021. Members of governmental boards or commissions are not eligible to serve on the IRC.

Mignonne Hollis

Mignonne Hollis

Mignonne Hollis of Cochise County applied for the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments multiple times over the past two years and contributed to campaigns of Republicans and Democrats. Joseph Cuffari, a former commission member who worked for Ducey, suggested Hollis apply for the commission. She also listed Rep. Gail Griffin and Sen. David Gowan, both staunch conservative Republicans, as references for those applications even though she financially contributed to one of Gowan’s previous opponents. 

Hollis also contributed to campaigns for former Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, a Republican, in his bid for governor in 2014, and David Garcia, a Democrat, in his bid for state superintendent of public instruction the same year. She also financially supports Planned Parenthood.

Some of the other notable independent candidates:

  • Christopher Bavasi, Coconino County, the former Flagstaff mayor and a supporter of Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick.
  • Michael Chihak, Pima County, a former journalist at Arizona Public Media, the Tucson PBS station.
  • Joseph Citelli, Maricopa County, the chief counsel at the Arizona Registrar of Contractors. 
  • Eric Gorsenger, Maricopa County, a former Corporation Commission staffer who was the plaintiff in challenges to nominating petitions for several Republican candidates this year. He says he is a “lifelong independent.”
  • Leezie Kim, Maricopa County, general counsel for former Gov. Janet Napolitano, who then followed Napolitano, a Democrat, to the federal Department of Homeland Security as her deputy general counsel. Kim has contributed significantly to several Democrats including President Barack Obama, U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and Congressman Greg Stanton
  • Steven Krenzel, Maricopa County, a Ducey-appointed member of the Arizona Industrial Commission. Ducey also appointed Krenzel to the Arizona Housing Finance Authority in 2016, where he served for six months 
  • Lawrence Mohrweis, Maricopa County, one of 10 Democratic finalists for the IRC in 2010, who says in his application he did not get the appointment because he was “too independent.” 
  • Erika Schupak Neuberg, Maricopa County, served as the chair of American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobby group with several ties to Arizona lawmakers. She has also contributed roughly $25,000 to several candidates from both parties, including Ducey, Democratic Rep. Daniel Hernandez, Democratic Rep. Alma Hernandez, Republican Rodney Glassman (in his 2018 bid for the Corporation Commission), Democratic Rep. Mitzi Epstein as well as Republican Congressman Andy Biggs, Congresswoman Kirkpatrick, Republican Congresswoman Debbie Lesko, and several others.
  • Michael Jensen, Maricopa County, the only Libertarian to apply. 

THE PROCESS 

The Independent Redistricting Commission applications were made public on August 21, and a total of 138 people applied, which is more than in 2010 (79), but fewer than the inaugural commission in 2000 (311). Democrats submitted 55 of the applications and 44 Republicans applied, while 38 independents along with one Libertarian applied for the position of chairperson.  

Applicants come from nine of Arizona’s 15 counties. Maricopa has 89 candidates, but no more than one per party can receive the appointment. The counties with no candidates are Yuma, Navajo, Santa Cruz, La Paz, Graham and Greenlee. 

The process from this point forward will be a slog as the 16-member Commission on Appellate Court Appointments will vet all 138 applicants with the aid of public comments and interviews and eventually narrow down the list to 10 Republicans, 10 Democrats and 5 independents. 

Each legislative caucus leader in January 2021 will appoint one person from the narrowed list, and those four commissioners will choose the independent chair from the list of five.   

FLASHBACK

A look back to 2010 shows the importance of the independent chair. 

Governor Napolitano abandoned Arizona for a federal appointment one year before redistricting kicked off, leaving Governor Brewer to try to remedy as much of the process to sway in the favor of Republicans, but it appeared to be too-little-too-late. 

So once the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments narrowed the list to 25 finalists, the Republican legislative leaders tried to send the vetting group back to the drawing board. 

House Speaker Kirk Adams – Ducey’s eventual chief of staff – and Senate President Russell Pearce demanded two Republican finalists and one independent finalist pull out of consideration. The Republicans, Mark Schnepf and Steve Sossaman, agreed, but the independent, Paul Bender refused.

Critics at the time considered this a tactic to remove Bender given his liberal leanings even as an independent.  

Former redistricting chairwoman Colleen Mathis (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

Former redistricting chairwoman Colleen Mathis (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

The four partisan picks eventually named Colleen Mathis the chair and work was set to begin. After a series of decisions that did not favor Republicans, Brewer called for Mathis’ removal, which received the required two-thirds approval from the state Senate. At the time, Republicans controlled the chamber 21-9. 

“I will not sit idly by while Arizona’s congressional and legislative boundaries are drawn in a fashion that is anything but constitutional and proper,” Brewer said at the time.

Brewer accused Mathis of improperly conducting commission business in violation of the state’s open meeting laws, and skewing the redistricting in favor of Democrats. Tom Horne, the attorney general at the time, launched an investigation into the allegation and Brewer subsequently began the successful attempt at impeaching Mathis. 

The process to replace Mathis began, but the Arizona Supreme Court eventually reinstated her to the chair position in November of 2011. Arizona picked up a ninth congressional seat from the 2010 Census. It was considered a competitive seat that went to Sinema, a Democrat, who held the seat in every election until her run for U.S. Senate two years ago. 

The only congressional seat to flip back and forth, since the ninth seat began in 2012, was the 2nd Congressional District in Pima County. The 2012 election had Democrat Ron Barber defeat Republican challenger Martha McSally by a hair. McSally then defeated Barber after a recount in 2014. She held it for two terms before Kirkpatrick won in 2018 over Republican Lea Marquez Peterson.

This year is the final election cycle of the 2010 redistricting, which could result in one or both chambers of the state Legislature in Democratic control and the possibility of a 6-3 congressional split if Democrat Hiral Tipirneni can unseat Republican Congressman David Schwerikert in Arizona’s 6th Congressional District. 

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story erroneously reported that Gov. Doug Ducey has appointed four Republicans and a Libertarian to the Arizona Supreme Court. The governor has actually appointed no Libertarians, but he has appointed one independent. 

One comment

  1. I understand that Alec Thomson may have overstated his experience on his resume.

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