The next steps of choosing members of the Independent Redistricting Commission may get tricky in the coming weeks as the field of 24 Republican, Democratic and independent candidates is nearly set.
When voters in 2000 approved the creation of the IRC – the panel that draws the state’s political boundaries for the next decade – there was nothing specifically written that said new legislative leaders beginning in years ending in one will pick the partisan commissioners. But that’s how it went in 2001 and 2011 when Republicans held firm majorities in the House (the Senate was split evenly in 2001).
But this time, with the Republicans’ slim majority in the Legislature threatened, a bevy of scenarios could play out, one of which could wind up in court.
By law the House speaker gets first choice and has until January 31 to make it. Of course, Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, may no longer be the leader at that point as some Republicans have let it be known they want the job, and the Republicans may no longer hold their majority then either.
Once the speaker picks, it sets off a series of week-long deadlines in which the House minority leader, Senate president and Senate minority leader make their choices.
A Bowers pick before Election Day would set off that mad rush of selections.
Chad Campbell, the House minority leader in 2011 who is now a political consultant, speculated that litigation would be on the horizon if Bowers makes his pick immediately after the election and Democrats take control of the House.
“If the majority flips, then something needs to be done to make sure the majority caucus gets to make the first pick,” Campbell said.
The last IRC, which had a chair that voted almost exclusively with the Democratic members, drew maps that many say gave current Democratic U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema her win in the 9th Congressional District and tipped the power of the congressional delegation to Democrats by five to four.
This time around, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has appointed mostly Republicans to the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, the 16-member panel that chooses the candidates for the IRC, a move that appears to benefit Republicans.
The Commission on Appellate Court Appointments spent roughly nine hours interviewing 38 Republican and Democratic candidates on October 9, winnowing them down to 10 from each party. A day before, the appellate court commission finalized the list of five independents, but Nicole Cullen withdrew, citing family circumstances.
The commission is required to submit five independents and is scheduled to meet October 20 to consider making that selection. The four IRC members selected by the legislative leaders will then choose one of the independents to serve as chair.
The chair commonly acts as a deciding vote for map drawing and other decisions that need three of the five commissioners to approve.
A spokesman for Bowers would not comment on when he would make his pick or who.
House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez said she has begun to review nominees but has not decided yet.
“They (the GOP) make the first move,” she said, adding that she has seen no indication that Bowers is primed to make a pick, though she acknowledged that she likely wouldn’t be the first to hear about it, especially since the lack of physical proximity these days makes it even more difficult to pick up information.
“I’d certainly hope they wouldn’t” rush the pick, she said. Ultimately, her selection will be the result of a “group effort” involving her caucus, she said. She has also regularly been meeting with Arizona Democratic Party Chair Felecia Rotellini.
Rotellini, through a spokesman, declined to discuss IRC strategy.
Kirk Adams, the House speaker in 2011, said that picking the first commissioner gives the speaker a lot of “freedom” to make his choice. He chose first in the 2011 redistricting, picking Republican Scott Freeman from Maricopa County.
“There are no county restrictions at that point and there aren’t really any political restrictions either,” he said.
No more than two of the four partisan picks can be from the same political party or from the same county.
Since the speaker makes the first pick, he – or she – is not bound by the IRC composition’s partisan and geographical requirements. Adams took until the last possible day to select Freeman on January 31, 2011 after interviewing the Republican candidates and working with House staff to figure out who fit his three-pronged approach, he said.
His first criterion was, “Can this person count to three?” Adams said. “Three is the magic number on that commission.”
Five members make up the IRC, so the independent chair holds the most power and is often the deciding vote.
Adams said his second criterion was to find the candidate who had “the intellect to process data,” given how data-driven the IRC is.
“And then the third one, which is just as important as the others, was someone that was reliable – reliably Republican,” he said.
Campbell said his chief priorities while making his selection for the commission were ensuring his choice would “fight for fair maps” and that the IRC had more than “just a bunch of white dudes up there.”
Democrats this year will likely have the same goals while picking their appointees, he said, but a new factor is that control of the House and Senate may be hanging in the balance as leaders choose their appointees. Campbell said he worked with David Schapira, the Senate minority leader at the time, to figure out who each would choose for that cycle’s IRC.
Being reflective of the state was a priority, Campbell said. He also looked at whether candidates knew Arizona well and understood communities of interest, groups of people who are likely to have similar legislative concerns. Ultimately, Campbell picked Jose Herrera, a Latino from Maricopa County, and Schapira chose Linda McNulty, a white woman from Pima County.
Independent Redistricting Commission Finalists
The four legislative leaders will choose two Republicans and two Democrats from the following list of candidates for the IRC. The final four will then pick an independent as chair.
Jonathan Allred – Maricopa County
Scott Crouch – Maricopa County
Lisa Davis – Maricopa County
Paul Djurisic – Maricopa County
Kevin Kopp – Maricopa County
Walter Schoch – Maricopa County
Douglas York – Maricopa County
David Mehl – Pima County
Brandi Oveson – Apache County
Michael Striplin – Pinal County
Ernest Calderon – Maricopa County
Donald Evans – Maricopa County
Shereen Lerner – Maricopa County
James Robbins – Maricopa County
Maxine White – Maricopa County
Grant Buma – Yavapai County
Bryan Cooperrider – Coconino County
Robert Kovitz – Pima County
Teresa Wyatt – Pima County
Derrick Watchman – Apache County.
Megan Carollo – Maricopa County
Thomas Loquvam – Maricopa County
Erika Neuberg – Maricopa County
Gregory Teesdale – Pima County
Robert Wilson – Coconino County
Editor’s note: This report has been updated to reflect Megan Carollo’s addition to the list of independents after Nicole Cullen of Maricopa County withdrew from consideration on Oct. 15