Secretary of State Ken Bennett facilitated a reasonably smooth flowing meeting this afternoon.
After the four redistricting commissioners -- Republicans Dick Stertz and Scott Day Freeman (no relation to Justice Sandra Day O'Connor) and Democrats Jose Herrera and Linda McNulty -- took the oath of office, they took turns posing questions to the five independent candidates hoping to become the fifth member, and chair of the commission.
After roughly two and a half hours of interviews, the commission went into executive session to confer with legal counsel. Roughly a half hour later, they returned to the public meeting and announced their decision to wait before voting on the fifth commissioner.
Therefore, the three women and two men, Kimber Lanning, Colleen Mathis, Margarita Silva, Paul Bender and Ray Bladine are all still in contention.
Each had a chance to show their strengths, and all did reasonably well. I have my impressions, but nothing stands out drastically enough to expound on at this time.
This was also the first opportunity to observe how the commissioners would approach their duties as a public panel. Each commissioner asked good questions, trying to probe into the substance of what would make each candidate a good choice.
My impression of the commissioners is, overall, favorable. They are all personable and bright and thoughtful. To me, the latent partisanship of Republican Dick Stertz stood out. No doubt all four intend to do the very best they can in what they know will be a dramatically difficult task. All of them realize they will be under a microscope the whole time.
Obviously, I will not be the only one watching.
Two things stood out from the public comment period. Norris Norvold indicated that in discussions he had had with a budget analyst for the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC), legislative leadership has said that if the chairman chosen is at all partisan (I'm paraphrasing), there will be dramatically less money appropriated for FY2012 (which begins July 1, 2011) for the commission to do its work. That sounded very much like a threat. Not that Norvold was threatening, but what he relayed did seem like a threat. If this issue is explored by other reporters, I will update as necessary.
Former IRC commissioner James Huntwork spoke during the public comment period and launched into essentially the same nonsense he has spouted at other meetings -- about his concern that if Bender is chosen, then Arizona Indian Tribes will have a representative on the commission. Huntwork's tiresome screed attempted to re-open or re-litigate an issue on which the Arizona Supreme Court already ruled. The state's highest court said that Professor Bender's service as a part-time judge for two tribes does not conflict with the requirements of the Arizona Constitution as amended by voters regarding the IRC.
The commission will reconvene to take its vote at 1pm next Tuesday, March 1rst. Bennett indicated to me that he does expect an additional opportunity for public comment will be available at that time.