Saturday, August 20, 2011
Redistricting -- Rubber stamps, discussion and dialogue
Some political complaints in Arizona have been brewing for at least ten years. While there were obviously common statewide themes in the first round of Public Outreach Hearings, there were also some regional themes.
People outside of Maricopa and Pima Counties want lines drawn such that the majority of people in at least two Congressional districts will be from rural areas. Citizens in western Arizona want a district primarily focused on populations along the Colorado River. Like a story in the White Mountain Independent notes, in eastern Arizona, they do not want to be represented in Congress by someone based in Flagstaff.
One of the easiest exercises for people interested in the current efforts of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission is to boil down the mistakes of the first AIRC and hope this year's group do not repeat them. Naturally, of course, they will make plenty of their own. But mistakes alone (or lack thereof) will not determine the success or failure of this year's redistricting.
Nevertheless, there is a very vocal faction that DOES want the same mistakes made, when it's all said and done. That would be those who want to continue dominating public policymaking with a supermajority in the state legislature. The GOP's luxurious supermajority is so dramatic their lawmakers do not even bother to greet Democratic colleagues in the halls of the legislature.
Among the enduring stories people tell about the first AIRC, is that the Independent chair, Tucson Electric Power executive Steve Lynn along with AIRC Republican legal counsel Lisa Hauser dominated the process. Some wonder if the ongoing tea party cacophony these days, about Colleen Mathis' husband Chris having worked in a political campaign last fall, has any grounding in the fact that Lynn's wife was active in GOP circles ten years ago.
Hauser has brought plenty of her own drama into this year's process already, protesting the AIRC legal services procurement process. Former counsel to Republican Gov. Jan Brewer and current State Bar President Joe Kanefield beat Hauser out for the contract this year. And the tea people have been complaining incessantly about it ever since.
Much has been made of the sharp partisan divide in this year's process. In fact, as the Arizona Republic's Mary Jo Pitzl has reported, the 3-2 AIRC votes on contracts for Republican legal counsel and for the mapping consultant contract can be viewed as flash points for the subsequent tea party uproar. Many of the 2001 AIRC votes ended up being 4-1 with Democratic Commissioner Andi Minkoff being the lone dissent.
In this year's AIRC, none of the factors cited above (from the 2001 AIRC) has been replicated. Nor, in my estimation, will they be.
Among the concerns I have heard from activists and elected officials over the last few weeks is a belief that the end result of this year's statewide redistricting is a "done deal." I strongly disagree.
None of the five current commissioners is dominating any part of the process. Barring any unforeseen event, none will. On Wednesday, when Justice O'Connor addressed the commission, she validated them as individuals and as a team. Intentionally or not, she also recast the disagreements they've had thus far as simply part of an important process that all of Arizona is depending on them to complete with diligence and integrity.
Numerous studies have been done on the dynamics of group decision-making, which naturally includes tolerance and candid discussion on points of disagreement. Tolerance of disagreement can be characterized by the expression, "agreeing to disagree" whereby relationships within the group remain intact and, at least, respectful. I believe this condition exists within the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission today and is being positively nurtured, or at least maintained by two key people, Commission Chair Colleen Mathis and Executive Director Ray Bladine.
Don't get me wrong, certain disagreements do seem to bother each of them, but overall, there is a healthy atmosphere of respect in the meetings and in relationships among the members and staff that everybody, but especially those two, contribute to making happen. There's a distinct difference between something bothering someone and it being intolerable.
A key thing to remember -- and a stark contrast between the first and the current AIRC -- is that the way disagreement is handled makes all the difference in the world in the quality of the outcome.
My impression of the first AIRC is that Steve Lynn managed disagreement by doing his best to suppress it. Morrison Institute for Public Policy senior research fellow David R. Berman described Lynn (in the section on the Role of the Independent) defining his role as being a consensus builder. I believe that's a dramatically false characterization. True consensus is not developed by surpressing disagreement, but by working through it.
Otherwise, the five page Morrison Institute paper seems to be a fair overview of the 2001 process.
If one reflects on the testimony provided by 2001 AIRC commissioners Minkoff and Lynn to this year's commission, it is blatantly obvious they did not work through their disagreements ten years ago. It's also apparent that they do not now respectfully disagree with each other.
My observations do not reflect the feelings, and may not reflect the attitudes, of this year's five commissioners. I'm not inside their heads. But I do observe their interactions and am keenly interested in the process. I've said before and still think it is valid, that as long as this group does its deliberations on the maps publicly, the result will be good. Or at least less bad than it was the last time.
Maintaining respectful relationships will go a long way to ensuring effective public deliberation. A key component of respect is tolerance of the perspective from which each of the commissioners views the project ahead of them. If they stay on course -- and I think they've done a tremendous job staying focused so far -- they will succeed.