Tonight's Public Outreach Hearing of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission was held at the Mesa Convention Center with Vice-chair Scott Freeman handling the gavel. More than 150 people attended.
After a brief presentation by Strategic Telemetry on the redistricting process, a predictable litany of complaints against the Commission (primarily by tea partiers, including now familiar names and faces) and push back, mainly from Democrats, proceeded for more than two and a half hours.
The most remarkable comments, in my mind, came from former LD17 Republican candidate for state senate, Wendy Rogers. A retired US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and pilot, Rogers told us she does not believe the Tempe legislative district is at all competitive. Despite having biked to thousands of homes, raised four times as much money privately as her Clean Elections funded Democratic opponent, and had plenty of signs out, she could not get elected.
The ONLY valid conclusion, in light of her gargantuan effort, of course, is that LD17 had been made a safe district for Democratic candidates in the last redistricting.
Never mind that my friend (Republican) Laura Knaperek represented LD17 in the Arizona House of Representatives from 1994 -- 2002. Term-limited in 2002, Laura ran for state senate. She lost in the general election to incumbent Democrat Harry Mitchell. In 2004, Laura again ran for the Arizona House and won. As a Republican. In LD17.
Lt. Col. Rogers apparently wanted and had the attention of the good folks at sonoran alliance. They posted Rogers' press release dated July 24, 2009 announcing her candidacy. The comment thread below the press release is enlightening. Because so many people in Tempe like a hard-working, go-getter who is vague on issues, it is simply amazing that Rogers could not get elected.
When my turn came, I had intended to mention my district boundaries (I'm in LD23, only a block away from LD17). Instead, I basically thanked the Commission and Commissioners for their hard work and for volunteering for this job. I also said I thought it was time for the Republican members of the Commission -- Scott Freeman and Rick Stertz -- to be more up front and emphatic in public statements about the incessant complaints from tea partiers. Not yet dying down, the pesky noise has, since the legal services contract was awarded to Ballard Spahr, only crescendo-ed.
Several of the complainers also exaggerated claims of how much money was available to the AIRC. Miraculously, funds appropriated to the AIRC grew first to $6 million, then $9 million, in just a matter of minutes. Imagine how much trouble could be saved in DC if they could increase appropriations so quickly and effortlessly. So, I said the amount was actually $3.5 million. The crowd did not like me correcting the previous comments.
However, when I later took a restroom break, taxpayer funded GOP operative John Mills graciously corrected me, saying the appropriation for the current fiscal year is $3.5 million which, with the prior fiscal year's non-lapsing appropriation of $500K, makes the total $4 million. He actually was gracious (I'm not being sarcastic here) and I did thank him for that correction. UPDATE: I'm not sure why he offered to "correct" me, but I determined this morning that Mills' information was INcorrect. The appropriation for the fiscal year which began on July 1, 2011 is $3.0 million, making the total available to the AIRC of $3.5 million.
Before the final gavel ended the hearing, Commissioners Herrera and Freeman took time to each make a statement. As at the end of the other hearings, the commissioners' statements were thoughtful and reflective.
Freeman did make it a point to emphasize that he fully supports AIRC chair Colleen Coyle Mathis and the other commissioners and believes it is time to move beyond the controversy over both Mathis and Strategic Telemetry. For that, I thank him (and did thank him personally). He indicated he had already thought that if people continued on about those issues tonight he would say something. His comments sounded as if he had, indeed, thought them out ahead of time. So, I believe him. I hope something clear and emphatic is coming from Rick Stertz ASAP also.
When I contacted the producers of Arizona Illustrated last week, after they dramatically dropped the ball with the unchallenged propaganda they allowed Terri Proud to spout on the program, I suggested they interview Stertz. I hope they allow him the opportunity to call off the dogs, as it were.
Speaking of dogfights, after the end of the hearing this evening, I had the opportunity to ask "unFair Trust" mouthpiece David Cantelme a few questions. Ever since first hearing the name "fair trust," it has bothered me. Because Arizona's lobbying and campaign finance laws make it very clear people being paid to influence elections and elected officials must disclose where and from whom their funding comes. But THIS situation apparently does not fit into that particular box.
So, when I first asked Cantelme about the "UNfair trust" he accused me of using epithets. LOL. "Unfair trust" is a swear word? Boy was he testy. And it went downhill from there. Cantelme VOWED that I would NEVER find out who was behind this group. Maybe it will not matter.
Arizona Eagletarian readers will remember that unFair Trust's other mouthpiece got my attention last month. At that time, Liburdi explicitly expressed the clandestine group's opposition to the hiring of either Research Advisory Services or Strategic Telemetry to be mapping consultant.
Liburdi attended the Public Outreach Hearing at South Mountain Community College last Thursday but declined to speak. He did show up in Nogales on Friday and DID speak on behalf of his client, unFair Trust. (Yes, the UN part is MY characterization).
Neither Liburdi nor Cantelme spoke during Saturday's hearing in Yuma. However, Cantelme's remarks at the Mesa hearing struck me as being almost verbatim the same as Liburdi's in Nogales. Without a transcription, or watching a recording of the two sets of comments, I will not know. But my initial impression was strong.
Because the unFair Trust is reportedly a group representing the interests of Arizona's GOP legislative leadership and GOP Congressional delegation, and because they are so secretive about their funding, I have been and will continue to be skeptical of what they have to say. There is no doubt they are up to no good. There is even LESS doubt that they want their motives and underlying message to remain a mystery.
However... Cantelme revealed much more than he wanted.
After expressing his outrage that I swore at him by calling his client unFair Trust, he began an aggressive verbal attack aiming to get me to engage on his terms. He repeated his attack, rapid fire, for what seemed like a couple of dozen times. I never took the bait. But I did repeat, as many times as he attacked, that I refused to engage on his terms and would not take his bait.
What was he trying to get me to do or say?
He asked repeatedly if I was against allowing Latino voters to be protected by the Voting Rights Act. When I refused to answer his question he alternately said it was because: I was afraid; or I did not want Latinos to be protected by the Voting Rights Act.
Since Cantelme is an attorney and a litigator, it's obvious he was trying to trip me up. The bottom line is that I did not then and I will not now answer his questions. This blog will not be on his terms.
However, I did honor the request he made to have me swear at him. And in a little bit less aggressive manner, he returned the favor. He told me to go "f-myself." LOL. Certainly, that was the least offensive of his words this evening.
While I may not find, when I do listen to recordings of both Liburdi and Cantelme, their comments to be the same, verbatim, I may determine what the underlying goal is in their clandestine operation.
Currently, my hunch is that the unFair Trust strategy is to get minority coalition group(s) to trust them and get them to believe that they (unFair Trust) have minority voters' best interests in mind. If they succeed, the minority groups will pressure the AIRC to pack as many Latinos and other Democratic leaning minorities into as few districts as possible.
If they succeed, there will be no increase of minority voters influence over public policy decisions at the state legislature.
Even more urgent to GOP interests is to prevent Arizona's 9th Congressional district from becoming a third Voting Rights district.
Cantelme clearly did not want to show his hand. But he showed it anyway.