A lawsuit filed by top Democratic legislative leaders challenging nominations for the Independent Redistrict Commission has no merit and should be thrown out, attorneys for the panel that crafted the nominations said Wednesday.
Assistant Attorney General Michael Catlett said there’s no legal basis for the complaint by House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez and David Bradley, her Senate counterpart, that two people on the list are not legally qualified to be considered for the lone “independent” slot on the five-member redistricting panel.
Catlett does not dispute that one of them, Coconino County Robert Wilson, hosted a campaign event for President Trump in the parking lot of his Flagstaff gun store.
He also said Wilson has occasionally hosted “`meet and greets” for Republican candidates at his business. And, as political independents are entitled to do, Catlett said Wilson did vote in the Republican primary.
But Catlett said the fact remains that Wilson has been a registered independent since 2005. He said that more than meeting the terms of the Proposition 106, the 2000 voter-approved constitutional amendment creating the commission that draws the lines for legislative and congressional districts, which requires someone to be independent for just three years.
Everything else, he told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Janice Crawford is irrelevant.
“If those who drafted Proposition 106 wanted to include additional requirements to prove one’s unaffiliated status, they could have easily done so,” Catlett wrote. “The courts should not second guess that decision 20 years later.”
Catlett acknowledged that Thomas Loquvam, the other independent nominee whose status is being challenged, is registered as a lobbyist with the Arizona Corporation Commission because of his employment with utility EPCOR. And Proposition 106 says members of the redistricting commission cannot have served as a “registered paid lobbyist” in the past three years.
But Catlett contends the prohibition against lobbyists serving on the redistricting panel applies only to those who lobby the Arizona Legislature. In fact, he argues, it could never have been the intent to apply the ban to those who lobby the Corporation Commission
“The ACC’s registration scheme was not in existence when voters added the IRC process to the constitution,” he wrote, pointing out that the corporation commission didn’t create its lobbyist registration system until 2018.
Crawford has scheduled a hearing for Thursday to hear arguments.
What’s behind the legal fight is that the 2000 voter-approved system requires legislative leaders every 10 years — after each census — to choose members of the redistricting commission.
But they must select from those nominated by the separate Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, the group Catlett represents. That panel forwarded the names of 10 Republicans, 10 Democrats and five political independents.
The majority and minority leaders of both houses each pick one. Then those four name a fifth from the list of political independents.
What makes all this critical is the redistricting panel has the power to determine the political direction of the state for the coming decade. That’s because its members can draw lines that give one party or the other an edge during elections based on political registration.
Crawford needs to make at least one decision immediately: whether to bring the selection process to a halt while she considers the qualifications of Wilson and Loquvam.
The Arizona Constitution gives the first pick to the speaker of the House. But once that selection is made, each successive choice — the House minority leader, the Senate president and the Senate minority leader — has to be made within seven days or that person forfeits the pick.
House Speaker Rusty Bowers started the clock running Oct. 22 with his selection of Tucson developer David Mehl. Unless Crawford stops the clock, Fernandez needs to make her choice this Thursday or get no role at all in the process.
But Catlett is telling Crawford that delaying the process while she decides whether Wilson or Loquvam are legally nominated “would require the court to unilaterally and unfairly alter the constitutional selection deadlines.”