Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Redistricting -- a dose of political reality?

Yesterday, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission met to start getting into the nitty gritty of drawing the maps that will form the structure for the state's political campaigns for the next decade.

Other than making it sound like the AIRC, its members and staff had an awakening to the significance of protecting Minority voting rights, the AP story by Paul Davenport does a good job of summarizing the meeting.  Well, as good a job as one can be expected to do if not actually in the room paying attention to the peripheral activity.

Davenport's story yesterday showed up on newspaper websites, the first one being the Houston Chronicle, before the meeting even adjourned. I mention this as an example to show that editors often decide to include only some, but not necessarily all of what an AP reporter writes on a given event.

I included the MyFoxPhoenix link because it had more of the details.  On some websites, the lede gave the impression this year's commission did not previously realize that the Voting Rights Act is the first priority and trumps all others. Six criteria are required by Prop 106 for the new maps.

However, as Davenport explains:
Created as a result of a 2000 ballot measure to take redistricting out of the hands of the Legislature, the first Arizona redistricting commission learned the importance of Voting Rights Act compliance the hard way. It had to redraw several legislative districts to satisfy Justice Department objections.
Regular readers of this blog will know that people (perhaps prompted by county elections officials) have been complaining about the time line this year's commission has been following.  The first round of hearings was held later this year than ten years ago. Selection of legal counsel and the mapping consultant took longer this year also.  Back in March (this year), Maricopa County elections officials addressed the commission to lay out the urgency for completing the maps by October.

However, a number of things, in retrospect, point to THIS commission actually being able to complete its job in time to prevent the adverse ramifications MANY people had to deal with last time.

This year, the AIRC has moved methodically to (at least attempt to) ensure things were done properly.  I'm convinced that no decisions made differently by them would have appeased the raucous GOP and tea party people.  That is, any decision shy of reinstituting two of the major factors in the first AIRC having delayed so badly. Namely re-hiring Lisa Hauser to be Republican legal counsel and National Demographic Corp to facilitate complete elimination of competitive districts this time.

In the face of side shows like Tom Horne's partisan witchhunt and the tea party efforts to disrupt meetings, the AIRC has remained focused and is proceeding deliberately.  And it looks very much like the target specified by Strategic Telemetry -- to complete the maps for submission to DOJ for preclearance by the end of October -- is realistic and in sight.

That's because THIS AIRC already knew to avoid dramatic pitfalls and substantive errors made by Steve Lynn's 2001 AIRC.  Yesterday, I wrote that Bruce Adelson, the former DOJ attorney consulting on preclearance related issues, showed me a DOJ letter dated May 20, 2002 (yes, MAY 2002... when it was already too late for county elections officials to put any new maps into effect for the 2002 primary elections).  In that letter, DOJ issued an extremely rare finding that Steve Lynn's AIRC INTENDED to discriminate against minority voters.

Beginning on page 4, the letter, regarding the proposed LD23, says that because two towns, San Manuel and Oracle -- with significant minority populations -- had been removed from the benchmark district (the 1990s LD7) and replaced with Casa Grande and Apache Junction with dramatically higher Anglo populations, the Bush Administration's DOJ said it could not establish that the changes had been made without the intent to discriminate.

THAT is a key factor in Arizona elections officials being dramatically delayed in implementing any AIRC generated maps/district lines for the 2002 elections.

THIS year, the AIRC had that lesson in mind well before Adelson made his presentation yesterday.

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Last week, in public session, the commission discussed the burden certain public records requests had placed on staff.  In particular, there have been three dramatically burdensome requests, by Arizona Capitol Times reporter Christian Palmer as well as from GOP state Rep. Terri Proud and Sen Andy Biggs (majority leader).  Other records requests, from other reporters and bloggers, have been minor compared to those three.

Biggs and Proud requested copies of just about EVERYTHING.

At the meeting last week, Stertz asked legal counsel if the records requests have been "onerous."  Mary O'Grady replied with one word, "yes."  Biggs has since repeated his request.  Republican counsel Joe Kanefield reported that Biggs' request has required counsel to review "tens of thousands" of documents to determine which should be considered confidential according to statutory requirements.

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Yesterday, the commission revisited last week's decision to require mapping consultant Strategic Telemetry to keep a log of all contacts it has with people regarding its work on this redistricting.  The question of whether to allow media (including bloggers) to be excluded from the log was today's subject. This issue was NOT decided.  Kanefield had his associates do some research on the issue. However, McNulty, also an attorney, raised questions that went beyond the scope of Kanefield's research.  Mathis said she'd like additional info before taking a vote on the matter.  Freeman supported that position and the subject was put off for another day.  But not before they made sure ST knew to include media and blogger contacts in the log.

As one might expect, media outlets that cover the AIRC are keenly interested in the issue.  News stories and blog posts here, and here and here for example. The Blog for Arizona post by AZ Blue Meanie is particularly poignant, as it cites the issue of UNREGISTERED LOBBYISTS that have been attempting to influence (and already succeeding in some skirmishes) the commission.

If as Commissioners Freeman and Stertz said yesterday, the underlying issues are to allay citizens' concerns and provide transparency to the public, perhaps it is the commissioners themselves who should be making their phone records public.  After all, WHO will be making district line decisions?  Who do you think is going to be subject to lobbying efforts from those wanting to influence the end result of the redistricting process?

The tea party might be (still) concerned about the mapping consultant, but nobody who understands the process and the players believes Strategic Telemetry will be doing anything other than providing technical consulting services. The buck stops at the foot of the five commissioners.

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Tucson Libertarian activist Jim March wrote up a complaint (also embedded below) about UNfair Trust and John Mills [In case a reader finds my use of the name "UNfair Trust" confusing, that is how I refer to the group calling itself Fair Trust]. Though I did not witness it, two people reported to me that Mills confronted Jim March in the parking lot after the public session yesterday.  Mills (as I have personally witnessed) gets upset easily.




Before leaving the meeting yesterday, I also observed Mills making demands of AIRC staff to provide copies of any maps anyone presents to the commission.  Again, I fail to see how Mills making any demands of AIRC staff could reasonably be considered appropriate according to the Arizona Constitution (section 16). Remember that House spokesman Paul Boyer cited as that section as authority for taxpayers to foot the bill for John Mills activities at AIRC meetings.

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The AIRC meeting is scheduled for NOON on Thursday in Casa Grande.

A group of Hispanic county supervisors (who started presenting yesterday in Tucson, but could not finish due to time constraints) will present their map suggestions. Provision has also been made for other citizens, individuals or groups to present maps for consideration by the commissioners.

Otherwise, continuation of ongoing mapping issues and the matter of media contact with Strategic Telemetry are also scheduled, as is an update, probably in executive session, on legal advice related to the AG investigation.

Yesterday was the first meeting in which people who signed up to give public comment were not given the opportunity to speak. Hopefully that trend will not be ongoing.









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