Frustration on the part of commissioners and those following the proceedings is becoming palpable.
Late Friday afternoon, AIRC chair Colleen Mathis wanted to keep going, hoping to complete work on a Congressional draft map. By 4:30pm, Commissioners Rick Stertz and Scott Freeman suggested moving on to public comment and returning to deliberate on maps on Monday.
Then Pima County Supervisor Richard Elias, representing the Hispanic Coalition for Good Government, delivered a 5-page letter (with a copy of a DOJ letter from May 2002 attached as an exhibit) detailing the group's dissatisfaction with the current working map.
At this stage of the game, a lot more people are interested than when the AIRC was working on hiring staff and consultants and making other preparations. This weekend, Tucson blogger Three Sonorans weighed in. A Democratic activist or two in Tucson wondered aloud to me why the three AIRC commissioners from Pima County would at all be interested in this map's apparent diminishment of the influence of Southern Arizona in Congress.
Rick Stertz, after all, is the one who has pushed the idea of drawing three Congressional districts along the southern border. Fellow Pima County members Mathis and McNulty are the ones who have been pushing the hardest to proceed in developing this particular version of the map. So, that's not a partisan issue. Pima's AIRC commissioners are Republican, Democrat and Independent.
Mathis said late Friday she wants to finish and adopt the Congressional draft map on Monday.
Given the allegations, or at least the complications, presented in the letter, approval of a Congressional draft map may not be possible in the next meeting (tomorrow).
HCGG says that the working map irreparably harms Hispanics in Pima County by shifting the population center in the proposed Voting Rights district in southern Arizona towards Maricopa County.
A significant point Mathis made on Friday afternoon is that commissioners should be encouraged about the working map because nobody seemed to like it. That's a reflection on an axiom suggesting that if the AIRC succeeds, the maps they finish with will provide both political parties with something to complain about. There can be, however, a very wide gap between a map that presents less than ideal situations for both parties and a map on which nobody can find anything to appreciate.
My frustration on Friday included observing that none of the commissioners appeared interested (in development of lines on the working map) AT ALL in anything any citizen or group of citizens had to say in written comments or verbal testimony.
Case in point -- I live in a corner of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. Currently, I vote in 5th Congressional district (now represented by Schweikert) and LD23 (now with three Republicans, because of Pinal county growth). My Congressional district is competitive but leaning Republican. LD23 was drawn, ten years ago, as a Voting Rights district. My precinct votes overwhelmingly Democratic, historically speaking. However, reportedly because a lobbyist representing the SRPMIC requested it, the working map has been drawn to disenfranchise me and my neighbors, putting us in a safe Republican Congressional district.
That the proposed district reportedly also lumps two incumbent Republicans (Quayle and Schweikert) as well as two more Republican hopefuls (Matt Salmon and Kirk Adams) together provides me no comfort. Disenfranchisement is disenfranchisement. What should I do about it? Well, we've learned over the last several months that basic attempts at intimidation will do no good. Insults and threats only make it more difficult to get the desired message to those who matter. Unless the threat is to take legal action, preferably a credible legal threat.
David Cantelme, primary mouthpiece for UNfair Trust, made what was perceived to be a (at least minimally credible) veiled threat of legal action to prevent the AIRC from adopting the online mapping tool that hundreds of Arizonans had already learned to use (Redistrict Arizona, sponsored by the Arizona Competitive Districts Coaltion). Cantelme was successful in his effort to impede the ability of Arizonans to make substantive mapping suggestions by using an online mapping tool.
The AIRC, very clearly because of Cantelme's threats, decided to spend $30,000 more to make Maptitude available for Arizonans. Besides costing Arizona taxpayers more money, this decision caused several more issues, some of which are listed in a letter ACDC submitted to the AIRC.
Cantelme's motives are unmistakable, in spite of his sometimes seemingly conciliatory rhetoric. Friday, he pushed a news story that was picked up by the Arizona Capitol Times and the Associated Press. Cantelme's angle was to suggest Mathis and Democrats McNulty and Herrera were conspiring to lump the four Republicans (as described above) together. I'm not certain, but I seem to recall that the safe Republican district at issue was suggested by Rick Stertz. One thing I am confident about is that none of the commissioners had prior knowledge of where any of the incumbents or wannabees reside.
Another troubling aspect of Cantelme's strategy is to ingratiate himself to Chris Mathis, husband to the AIRC chair. Mr. Mathis attends most meetings and has been seen spending ever increasing time sitting and joking with Cantelme. While both Colleen and Chris Mathis undoubtedly will deny Cantelme has any influence on the process, especially with the informal chumming around, such denial is unquestionably the most implausible aspect of the situation.
Mr. and Mrs. Mathis might also do well to consider that a person is known by the company he (or she) keeps. And Chris Mathis, while working for Republican Members of Congress, no doubt had plenty of working contact with (perhaps duplicitous?) lobbyists. This, however, is not Washington, DC and nonverbal communication is being watched by quite a few people who attend the AIRC meetings.
After all of this, what does it boil down to? What is the least common denominator?
While frustration is the mood of the day, it will not be resolved by pushing ahead in spite of opposition from all sides.
When I was younger, I learned some lessons about a concept I knew then as "let go and let God." For me, the context of my lesson was hitchhiking across the country alone. Because of self-imposed deadlines for getting to where I wanted to go, I experienced tremendous frustration on a couple of legs of the journey. When I let go of the frustration, in my mind, seemingly miraculous results occurred.
LET GO and LET GOD! is a basic tenet of the ancient health and relaxation art of Yoga. Letting go is the ultimate answer to distress, when all else fails. Resisting and rejecting our present experience sometimes just keeps us locked in struggle against it - wasting valuable energy that could go into creative transformation into new patterns and new perceptions. There is a wise saying which goes "What we resist, persists".As to the AIRC potentially disenfranchising me and my neighbors, I'm hoping that Let Go and Let God works, because I don't see myself making any credible legal threat. As to the AIRC's frustration with progress on map drawing, I am confident that letting go of the frustration in order to take a fresh look at the situation could be a very constructive step to take now.
A bit of irony presents itself with the potential lumping of Quayle, Schweikert, Salmon and Adams together. During the 2001 redistricting cycle, the now infamous John Mills was reportedly responsible for suggestions enacted that lumped several moderate Republicans together with more conservative leaning Republicans in what is now LD11 in central Phoenix. Overall, the district was competitive or nearly so. But moderate Republicans were defeated by those taking a harder line in the 2002 primary election. And Friday afternoon, Mills made it a point to let the AP reporter know that one particular line change also put Jeff Flake into the controversially lumped group. Even though Flake's quest for the US Senate makes that issue moot.
Mills was also up to his usual tricks that afternoon after a Gilbert resident testified. The lady described how over the many years she's lived there, Mormons had grown in political influence. She finds that development particularly troubling. She was also one of the few people speaking that day who clearly was not acting in synch with a political party or other activist group. Anyway, Mills made sure to confront her right after she was done speaking. Really, I have to wonder why Andy Tobin doesn't make it clear to Mills that such behavior will not be tolerated. It should not be a function of the Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives to harass people John Mills disagrees with.
Since John Mills clearly attends the AIRC meetings as an agent of Speaker Tobin, effectively Tobin is the person who harassed that woman on Friday.
By the way, the other day Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin, during her testimony to the AIRC, named John Mills as her source of information. Mills obviously knew right away that he was busted. Several people observed him putting his head in his hands and hearing him audibly exclaiming,