Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Redistricting -- Justice O'Connor addresses the AIRC -- UPDATED

Citing the increasingly polarized political climate in our country, former US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on Wednesday encouraged members of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission to work together to develop consensus on fair and appropriate redistricting.

Other highlights of her talk included telling the commissioners to expect a lot of criticism and unwanted publicity. But, she said, this is not a popularity contest.  "Arizona is fortunate to have the law it now has on redistricting, and it looks like a good one to me," O'Connor said.

"I think voters sent a special message that we want to take partisan politics out of the redistricting process and create fair representation in our legislative and Congressional districts.  The citizens of Arizona have confidence in you that you will draw boundaries that will not favor any particular elected official, political party or special interest.  Don't give up.  Do it well. We'll thank you later. Good luck to all of you."

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After Justice O'Connor's speech, the meeting recessed for a few minutes to take pictures.  Besides the fact that everyone wanted their picture taken with the former member of the US Supreme Court, I think that was a significant part of the day.  The speech, at least for now, brought a tone of cooperation to a commission that has had some stark disagreements already and will again.







Pictures of Justice O'Connor with Rick Stertz and with Jose Herrera turned out even blurrier than the one with Ray and Teddi Bladine (second from the bottom).  But I can't complain.  I took these pics with my Blackberry (phone).

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The Commission covered other items of business today before a call to the public for comment.

They voted to accept a proposal for citizen input using online software provided by Maptitude. The significance of this decision lies in the fact that it was the MOST EXPENSIVE a significantly more expensive option and was chosen primarily based on the fact that UNfair Trust mouthpiece David Can't Tell Me issued a veiled threatened of litigation if the lower cost option from Azavea was adopted. Azavea provided the online mapping tool Redistrict Arizona for the mapping contest sponsored by the Arizona Competitive Districts Coalition.

This is perhaps the firstfruits of what I've described as "working the refs" in previous posts.

I sometimes wonder if the people at the Arizona Capitol Times can see the forest through the trees.  In its gossip rag, the Yellow Sheet, they have reported on numerous "gotcha" items.  It seems they frame every criticism of the AIRC as evidence of sinister intent and corrupt individuals.  And tea partiers have been eating it up.

However, they blatantly laid bare the motivation of the GOP legislative leadership. Using the bottomless money pit known as (UN)fair Trust to badger the AIRC, they aim to make chair Colleen Mathis vote with Freeman and Stertz on as many decisions as possible.

In this case, today, AIRC counsel Mary O'Grady strongly advised the commission to accept the more expensive mapping tool option because of the risk of potential litigation (threatened in a letter from David Cantelme).

It is incredibly disturbing to me to see this happen.

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The commission also discussed and gave informal approval to staff to proceed with setting up the second round of public input.  Here is where my disappointment begins to flesh out.  I've talked with people in various venues who believe the end result of the redistricting process is already a done deal.  And if it is a done deal, then the public hearings are just a formality.  A step consisting of "going through the motions."

Yet, as perhaps the one person who has most closely followed the AIRC itself, I know that is the last thing any of the five commissioners would say or believe.  And certainly, it is not the intent of a majority of the commission.

But today, we saw the invisible hand of money extend its influence on the process.  Cantelme's letter (which I have already requested by way of FOIA/Public Records Request, and will post when I get it) represents an initial shot across the bow of the AIRC.

The AIRC flinched.

EVERY citizen who cares about this process should be gravely concerned that UNfair Trust has effectively usurped the voice of the voting public with this decision.

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In a second decision today, contract amendments for mapping consultant Strategic Telemetry were discussed and authorized.  The intent, though seemingly innocuous, puts another chilling shackle on the process.

To ward off criticism of Strategic Telemetry, because of its experience in Democratic political campaigns, the AIRC directed Ray Bladine to amend the contract to require ST to keep a log of all contact it has with anyone in Arizona related to its redistricting work.

Herrera rightly noted, in discussion before the vote was taken to authorize the changes, concern with ST having contact with press/media.  Because I did not have any advance knowledge of what amendments would be made, I was surprised and found this to be disconcerting.  At the recess, I submitted a request to speak.  I was given the opportunity and called attention to the fact that I understood the intent was to keep track of any potential lobbying anyone might try to do by talking to anyone at ST. However, to make a log of media contacts smacks of harassment of the commission and suppression of freedom of the press.

Not for a second do I believe the intent of any member of the AIRC was to harass anyone wanting to shine disinfecting sunlight on themselves, staff or contractors.  But this again smacks of capitulation by the AIRC -- at the advice of counsel -- to political pressure from UNfair Trust, from the AG investigation and from the dozens (not hundreds, not even so many "scores," but a few dozen) of angry, loud and blatantly uninformed tea partiers and GOP activists.

To his credit, Rick Stertz abstained from voting on this motion, though I didn't get a chance to ask him why.  To THEIR credit, other members of the Commission put their concern on the record when they talked about future agenda items, saying they wanted to revisit the issue to consider excluding the press (including bloggers) from the logging ST must do.

Today's agenda also had items on Open Meeting Law training (which was skipped altogether) and adoption of certain definitions.  ASU political science Professor Jennifer Steen spoke to the issue of definitions. Ken Strasma also indicated he intends to discuss this issue in presentations he expects to make in tomorrow's meeting (in Casa Grande, at 10am) and on Monday (agenda/notice expected tomorrow or maybe Friday morning).  So, adoption of definitions (i.e. "competitive districts," "communities of interest," "significant detriment" and more) was deferred to a future meeting.

The AIRC also authorized contracting with Catalyst: Secure, an "e-discovery" firm.  Apparently, this one hit another nerve with the tea people.  I found out at a recess that on Tuesday a brewhaha came up.  It seems Strategic Telemetry had previously worked with a firm called Catalist.  Needless to say, tea party puppetmistress Lynne St. Angelo took her customary turn at the public input mic to harangue the AIRC over this.  But she was talking about Catalist, not Catalyst: Secure.

Which brings me to this question: if knowledge is power, why do St. Angelo and the other tea partiers insist on going on record so many times with such obvious ignorance of pertinent, relevant facts?  They obviously want the power to influence the AIRC.  And maybe they think they are making a difference.  But really, it has been the invisible hand of limitless amounts of money that has, without any shouting (except for Cantelme's hissy fit at me after the Mesa hearing), that has caused the commission to make the disturbing decisions the GOP wants made. 

And UNfair Trust will continue to exert that invisible influence unless that group -- currently empowered by a Federal Elections Commission advisory opinion and emboldened by the 2010 Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court -- is stopped by the voice of the Arizona voter demanding a return to common sense districts for the next decade.

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UPDATED to provide a link to Cantelme's letter upon which AIRC legal counsel advised against choosing the lowest cost option for online mapping software to allow citizens to submit suggestions for district maps or changes to other proposed district maps.  Azavea's bid came in at $49,651. Maptitude, according to Cantelme's letter (and confirmed by phone with a representative from Strategic Telemetry) will cost $87,000. 


1 comment:

  1. Nice summary of the meeting. I appreciate your explaining the significance of the decision on which mapping software to be used for citizen input.

    ReplyDelete