Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Friday, July 1, 2011

Redistricting -- meeting in Tucson

Today was brutal.

Not for me, but for all five members of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission.  

Fifty-two people gave public comments.  The vast majority expressed angry indignation, primarily aimed at Chairwoman Colleen Coyle Mathis, about the decision made yesterday by the Commission to hire Strategic Telemetry, a D.C. based firm to serve as mapping consultant.

Strategic Telemetry has done political work, including geographic micro-targeting for candidate campaigns.  But that's not what the firm was hired to do here in Arizona.

One online observer likened this meeting to a major case of "working the refs."  An example of how this sports analogy relates to influencing decisions (in journalism in this case) is found here.

Most certainly, the Tea Party related groups have every right to organize for political advocacy.  The commissioners ALL felt the pressure.  It was apparent on their faces.  During a recess after the nearly three-hour comment period , one commissioner said that even though the comments were not aimed at him (or her), he (or she) could definitely feel it.

I wonder how many of those members of the public took the time to understand Wednesday's decision. How many learned anything about Strategic Telemetry other than that it had done work for Democrats?  And how many reviewed the interview and presentation the firm made last Friday?

Granted, Strategic Telemetry's proposal has not yet been made public.  It will be, hopefully soon.  I hope thoughtful conservatives take the time to read it as soon as they can.

When they do read it, will conservative leaning Arizonans stop when they see words that trigger partisan angst?  Or will they do as Commissioner Rick Stertz did when interviewing Strasma and probe to understand what Strasma and his firm can do for conservatives in our state?

Commissioner Mathis was tremendously gracious under fire today.  Yesterday, to explain her vote, she read a prepared statement (posted here and on the IRC website).  Today, because Arizona Revised Statutes allows for it,

H. A public body may make an open call to the public during a public meeting, subject to reasonable time, place and manner restrictions, to allow individuals to address the public body on any issue within the jurisdiction of the public body. At the conclusion of an open call to the public, individual members of the public body may respond to criticism made by those who have addressed the public body, may ask staff to review a matter or may ask that a matter be put on a future agenda. However, members of the public body shall not discuss or take legal action on matters raised during an open call to the public unless the matters are properly noticed for discussion and legal action. (emphasis added)
she responded to the criticism and did so with thoughtful insights.  Each of the other commissioners did likewise.

Commissioner Stertz, citing President Reagan's famous quote, "trust, but verify," echoed his thoughts from yesterday that he intends to work with Strategic Telemetry but will be vigilant to hold them accountable to their promise and proposal.

Will Tea Party activists in Arizona trust Rick Stertz?  I am confident he is willing to be held accountable for his promise too.

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One commenter, Christine Bauserman, wanted to know why I seem to have inside knowledge of what is going to happen with the IRC before it gets posted BY the IRC.  During the recess, I told her my secret.  I make phone calls and ask questions.

I do so because I have a passion.  I want to know and I want YOU to know.  I want everyone interested in Congressional and legislative redistricting in Arizona this year to know all that is legally available to know about the process.  I want to let you know background and what is happening as it is happening.  I don't believe in hoarding this knowledge only for my friends or those who share my political views.

Because I believe that the anxiety so many people expressed today arises -- at least in part -- from not knowing what is really going on, I hope to provide an antidote to that anxiety.  Of course, not everyone will agree.  But if we actually LISTEN to each other (it IS a two-way street, after all), we can have discussion.  Fruitful discussion.

Isn't that one of the biggest things that has been lacking in the Arizona Legislature over the last couple of years?

Because I have attended most of the IRC meetings, I have come to know -- to a degree -- each of the commissioners.  Because they have read my blog and watched and listened to me, they know -- to a degree -- me.  Regular readers know that from the start, I have been most skeptical regarding Commissioner Stertz.  I still do not agree with his politics.  But I've developed a profound respect for him, as I have for each of the other four.

If I was afraid, if I was anxious, or if I lacked curiosity, I would not have been able to share any of these insights with you.  I hope you will join me in this journey as we all continue learning, sharing insights and discussing what we want this state to look like when the AIRC is finished with its work. 

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In her comments today, Shirl Lamonna seemed to be concerned that I had done a google search on her (because of her previous comments before the IRC).  Welcome, Shirl, to the World Wide Web and to what accountability is beginning to look like today.  I'm glad you joined us (as well as the other groups you participate in).

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Taxpayer funded GOP operative John Mills, who attends all the IRC meetings (on YOUR dime) is justified by his boss, Speaker of the House Andy Tobin, on the basis of the right given by voters for the state legislature to make recommendations on the district maps produced by the AIRC.  However, today, as soon as Mathis began responding to the criticism leveled at her, Mills went to complain to IRC counsel Mary O'Grady that it wasn't on the agenda.  O'Grady pointed him to the statute I cited above. Would a reasonable person think that qualifies as making a recommendation on the district maps?

Mills was also heard (by me) telling someone that the IRC has totally blown it regarding the timelines.  Readers should note that this Commission effectively fired the State Purchasing Office yesterday.  SPO was helpful in getting things going for hiring legal and mapping consultants.  But yesterday, the Commission exercised its constitutional prerogative to conduct the hiring on its own.

Today, because the public comment period went FAR longer (and was more stressful) than anticipated, several substantive agenda items (everything other than the public comment and the Executive Director's report) were tabled. In other words, these five real people who have volunteered for a thankless job, had to put them off until next week. 

Besides the personal wear and tear each endures, organizations (this time it was the Pima Community College District) graciously host commission meetings.  They do not generally charge rent for the space but would need to pay additional costs to keep facilities open beyond regular business hours.
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Last point -- the kindest thing I can say about former AIRC chair Steve Lynn's comments on Wednesday is that they were unseemly and unbecoming.  If you want to know more, watch the recording.
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I actually got this posted exactly at midnight. So, the date on the post will be July 1.  However, I wrote it intending to get it posted before June 30 ended.  Happy New (Fiscal) Year!

16 comments:

  1. Steve:

    Once again, excellent reporting. I really appreciate all the hard work you put into this site to keep me (us) informed of the activities of the IRC. And your coverage is consistently unbiased – which must be close to impossible.

    From what I saw today, the term "working the refs" is very appropriate. I didn't care for the tone used by many of the speakers, basically challenging the integrity of the commissioners. For example, bringing up the issue of Christopher Gleason at this time is ridiculous. And suggesting the selection of the mapping consultant was some sort of an Obama socialist conspiracy is nonsense.

    From other sources, I am seeing lots of objections to the process and the very real likelihood of lawsuits. On the June 26, 2011, Sunday Square-off, Greg Patterson predicted the maps would eventually be developed by the courts. A very alarming prediction, but given the history of the past six months and the hurried schedule of upcoming activities, I can image such a situation arising.

    And there doesn't seem to be anything anybody can do to stop it.

    Ken Pritsker

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  2. I don't recall seeing Greg Patterson at any of the IRC meetings, so I'm guessing that he's just guessing.

    Of course, others have expressed concern about the timeline compared to 10 years ago. But technological advances since 2001 could mitigate any process delays up to this point. But if fear and anxiety keep causing delays in addressing agenda items, it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy on the part of those naysayers.

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  3. As a newcomer to your blog, I am now addicted. I check it at least twice a day. There is not another source that comes close to the breadth and depth of your redistricting reporting. I TRULY appreciate your efforts.

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  4. The problem that people have with Strategic Telemetry is that yes they have done work with progressive campaigns before and many of their studies seem to have a leftward slant to them. In fact, the company even promotes itself as helping progressive campaigns. From the company's Facebook page

    About
    Strategic Telemetry helps progressive campaigns target the right voters with the right messages.

    Company Overview
    Strategic Telemetry provides data analysis, strategic advice and statistical modeling of individual-level voting behavior to progressive organizations and campaigns.

    Mission
    Strategic Telemetry is dedicated to providing individual-level microtargeting, data analysis, strategic consulting and other services to help enable campaigns to successfully reach their target audiences and have their message heard.

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  5. Mr. or Ms. Anonymous (the 11:04 am comment),

    The ONLY thing in what you copied and pasted that relates to Strategic Telemetry's engagement with the AIRC is that the firm is dedicated to data analysis.

    I am VERY uncomfortable with allowing the publication of anonymous comments that foster fear as I believe yours does.

    Therefore, if anyone else would like to comment on this blog post in a similar tone, they must identify themselves or I will not allow it to post publicly.

    Just reading Strategic Telemetry's website will not help you with your concerns, obviously. BUT, I am confident that the proposal they submitted will be more helpful in that regard. It WAS successful in bringing Rick Stertz to the place where he WOULD be willing to work with Strategic Telemetry.

    If you know anything about Mr. Stertz, you would know that he fully knows how to take a stand and if he did not believe the firm could or would do the job fairly, he would have been more forceful in his stand on this issue.

    I personally believe, from watching and listening to Mr. Stertz, that he had to have developed a level of confidence that Ken Strasma and his firm could and would do the job right.

    I'm in full agreement with the Republican AIRC commissioner in his call to "trust, but verify."

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  6. Interesting, the company says they deal with progressive candidates and organizations and yet you cite fear as the purpose of posting. The purpose of the post was to shed light on why people are uncomfortable with the choice.

    When redistricting is done,(in part) you need to do data analysis and map making from said data, which by the way I do for a living, so you can see why people are having problems with trusting potential data from a company with a progressive lean (again as cited by their own facebook page).

    And yes, if this company said that they were conservative, I would still be against their choice. Redistricting is a very important task (I think we can all agree on this) and should be as neutral as possible.

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  7. I attended the June 30 IRC meeting in Tucson. I believe many of the speakers were criticizing the IRC members without knowing the facts of the situation.

    I'll be following this blog to keep up with activities and decisions of the IRC

    Pete

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  8. @Scott,

    Yes, I agree that redistricting is an extremely important project. I'm confident all of the people who read the Arizona Eagletarian agree on that point.

    Since you say you do data analysis and map making, you should be able to see the significance of the detail Mr. Strasma presents in his proposal. I will find out when we'll all be able to review the proposal.

    Thanks for your comments.

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  9. The mapping consultant proposals will be available within a reasonable time (hopefully not more than a day or two) after the contract is signed.

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  10. A very important post, for a number of reasons. Thanks for your reportage. What is the timeline of public decision points coming up? I notice such a "process map" isn't actually on the AIRC website.

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  11. I expect the mapping consultant to produce a project management timeline, hopefully very shortly after the contract is signed. Posting it on the IRC website is a good suggestion.

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  12. Steve,

    First, I wasn’t concerned with your Google search of me – more surprised that someone was actually able to correctly spell my somewhat unusual name. However, I question why anyone would discount the value of using social networks as one (of many) means of becoming or staying politically informed?? Perhaps one is just disgruntled that conservatives have finally caught on to the use of social media… In any case, I believe one must understand all sides of an issue to assess & make informed decisions. And as you can see, I’m reading your column to assist me in that endeavor. 

    In reference to your comments on Accountability: The Encarta Dictionary defines Accountability as “responsible to somebody or for something” and “able to be explained.” The majority of speakers at Friday’s meeting (6/30) voiced their concerns due to the IRC’s lack of accountability in selecting the mapping vendor.

    We all echoed the same concerns to the IRC: Why would an independent commission select a vendor that (according to Strategic Telemetry’s initial Facebook page )“helps progressive campaigns target the right voters with the right messages? One that has done the majority of their work for the DNC, including microtargeting for the Obama & Kerry presidential campaigns? One that conducted a Recall Scott Walker/State Republican Senators poll on their (Strasma’s) own initiative? One that is significantly more costly than other applicants? One that will perform their analyses out of state? And why does the Independent side with the Democrats on key votes if she is truly non-partisan?

    Regardless of who is in power, ALL parties must have accountability. But sadly, I didn’t hear any explanations that would make me believe the decision was anything other than an attempt to hijack the redistricting process in favor of the Democratic/Progressive party.

    Further, it came to light during the meeting that Chairperson Mathis’ husband was Treasurer for the Nancy Young Wright (D) campaign – a fact that was not disclosed on her IRC application. Is this what accountability looks like today?

    Many Tucsonans - as well as Americans across the country - believe this country is heading in the wrong direction. We have woken up; we are watching. We cannot afford a redistricting process that will promote stealing from the productive by the unaccountable.

    Shirl

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  13. (Response in multiple comment postings because of length)

    Hi Shirl,

    If I'm disgruntled, are you "gruntled?" And what does "gruntled" mean?

    In no sense of the word was I discounting anyone's use of social media for organizing. In fact, my intent was to highlight the significance and effectiveness of you guys doing just that.

    I'm glad you are committed to understanding all sides of an issue to assess & make informed decisions.

    That reminds me of the wisdom one of my uncles shared with me just prior to when I left for Basic Training in the USAF back in the 1970s. He had been a career airman. He told me to keep my mouth shut and my ears and eyes open.

    Of course, in doing what you and I do, we do have to speak up. And we are certainly not young recruits. But it helps to know, as you said, all sides of an issue first.

    This also has me reflect on Biblical wisdom found in the Book of James. Chapter 1, (NIV) 19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

    Now, let me address concerns you brought up about the redistricting process.

    Yes, the majority of speakers Thursday expressed concern about Strategic Telemetry and about Colleen Coyle Mathis.

    On both counts they -- most certainly -- spoke without having accomplished what you suggest should be done first, understand the issue.

    Strategic Telemetry has done far more than just campaign work. They did NOT get hired by the AIRC to do anything related to campaigning.

    The most important thing for you and your friends to consider is that the very most important item NECESSARY to UNDERSTAND how and why Strategic Telemetry was selected is the proposal they submitted in response to the RFP. Next in importance is for you to LISTEN when they make their presentation on Friday. Whether you are there in person or watch the live streaming video, listen with intellectual curiosity.

    Ms. Mathis has explained publicly, on more than one occasion, that Strategic Telemetry's proposal was confidential (by law) and could not be made public until the contract was finalized. She also explained that THE reason it had to be kept confidential is to prevent ANY bidder from having unfair advantage in the procurement process.

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  14. (Response part 2)

    Exec. Dir. Bladine told me today that all of the documents in the procurement file may NOW be made public. Those documents will be released for the public to review no later than 10 days from today. He expects to get them posted well before 10 days have lapsed.

    Your use of the expression, "the IRC’s lack of accountability in selecting the mapping vendor." is a classic example of making a conclusion prior to having even close to enough of the relevant facts to make a legitimate judgment.

    Indeed, many expressed that concern. But how many understood anything but what certain Chicken Little imitators (the SKY IS FALLING) wanted them to know?

    Now, as to your question, "Why would an independent commission select a vendor that helps progressive campaigns target the right voters with the right messages? One that has done the majority of their work for the DNC, including microtargeting for the Obama & Kerry presidential campaigns?

    That's a GREAT question -- IF you really want to know the answer.

    If you mean it as justification for jumping to a premature conclusion, however, all it represents is an obstacle you put in your own path to finding the answer.

    The answer to your question can be found in three places. First, as has already been disclosed, in the words of ALL FIVE of the commissioners; then in the written proposal made by the firm; and finally, in Strategic Telemetry's upcoming presentation.

    Chairman Mathis' prepared remarks are posted in my blog entry from June 30th. Other entries to my blog before and after that date include insights from other commissioners. Most notably, Rick Stertz. I know you and several others who have been interested in this issue know him.

    I don't know if he has said anything to you privately or in any other forum than IRC meetings. But I do know that he has said things publicly that do shed key insight.

    While he clearly doesn't agree with Ken Strasma's political leanings, it is fair to characterize his overall impression of Strasma and Strategic Telemetry as favorable enough to be willing to work with them.

    This redistricting process is NOT about "stealing from the productive by the unaccountable." It's also not about allowing the process to be sabotaged by people who fail to take the time to do what you say you WANT to do (understand the issue from all sides before jumping to conclusions).

    This process is about the will of the voters as enacted by law.

    I hope you will do your part to keep the promise you made as the premise of your comment.

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  15. (Response part 3)

    And Shirl,

    I very much appreciate your comments and that you read the Arizona Eagletarian.

    Thanks,

    Steve

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  16. btw, Shirl, you appear to have missed this key point, but Strategic Telemetry committed to opening an office in Phoenix in the event that they were chosen. They declared it publicly during the initial interview.

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