The most powerful, unpaid political figure in Arizona for the next decade will either be a teacher, a businessman, an attorney for a public utility, a gun store owner or a psychologist-turned-life coach.
After the first of two days of interviews for the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments narrowed its list of 11 semi-finalists for the IRC chair down to the final five: Nicole Cullen, a Gilbert teacher; Thomas Loquvam, an EPCOR attorney who used to work for Pinnacle West; Erika Neuberg, a former psychologist who has contributed to several campaigns of both Republicans and Democrats; Gregory Teesdale, a businessman in the tech industry; and Robert Wilson, a gun store owner who held a rally for President Donald Trump in his parking lot in August.
After a thorough discussion about the independent candidates, the Commission immediately approved Cullen, Loquvam, Neuberg and Teesdale, but had to hold a runoff vote to break a tie for the fifth slot. That was between Wilson and Megan Carollo, a small business owner with an economics background in Scottsdale. Wilson won the run-off with nine votes to Carollo’s four. Neuberg received the most votes overall with 14.
Wilson seemingly received the advantage since he brought geographic diversity due to living in Coconino County. He and Teesdale, Pima County, are the only finalists outside of Maricopa County.
Wilson also received the most letters in opposition, something he appeared to take pride in during his roughly 10-minute interview via Zoom.
“I take a little pride in the fact that I set myself apart from my peers already by being the number one negative letter getter,” Wilson said about the 149 letters the Commission received.
He was the last candidate to move into the interview round when the commission met in September and was considered a “backup” of sorts due to one independent candidate, Mignonne Hollis, potentially being considered a paid lobbyist, which would be grounds for disqualification under the rules of the IRC.
Hollis was viewed by several members of the commission to be a top candidate given how much overwhelming support she received from letters and calls –– and has ties to both Republicans and Democrats, is a Black woman and lives in Cochise County. She claimed to not be a lobbyist, but had to register as one as part of her job.
Ultimately, the Attorney General’s Office determined her job to qualify as a paid lobbyist and she was disqualified from consideration before her allotted interview. Ken Strobeck, the Republican former executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, was also disqualified for the same reason.
One Democrat, Mumtaza Rahi-Loo, later got the axe for serving as a pro tem justice of the peace, which qualifies as a public office – also not allowed on the IRC. But today’s interviews were only for the independents. The 40 partisan candidates will interview on October 9.
Commissioners asked all candidates how they would deal with hostility or disagreement within the commission, what competitive districts and communities of interest meant for the IRC and how they would handle public scrutiny. Some candidates received a fourth question –– either something tailored to what the commissioners found in their due diligence report (a thorough vetting of each candidate) or why they felt they were qualified for the position.
Christopher Bavasi, an independent former mayor of Flagstaff, likely removed himself from consideration due to his answer to that fourth question.
“I’m not sure I’m any more qualified than any of your other candidates,” he said. Bavasi was one of the top vote getters moving him into the interview round last month with 12 votes out of 14, but after his interview only received two.
And Nick Dranias, a former Goldwater Institute lawyer, who received a lot of negative comments for a variety of reasons days leading up to the interviews and from Democratic lawmakers this morning also did not make the cut.
On Oct. 9, 19 Republicans and 19 Democrats will interview with the Commission, which will winnow both down to 10 a piece. Eventually each legislative leader will name a partisan pick to serve for the next decade, and those people will then choose from the group of five independents.