Arizona Senate Republicans complained Tuesday about the state redistricting commission but reluctantly voted for more funding for the nearly broke panel.
With a 10-3 vote, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill calling for a supplemental appropriation so the panel can remain in existence while federal voting-rights enforcers review new congressional and legislative district maps.
At stake is whether the redistricting commission can keep operating past mid-March and if it can defend and explain its maps during consideration by the Department of Justice and possibly in court.
If the maps don't pass the reviews, the state election calendar could be thrown into turmoil.This afternoon, the House Appropriations committee is scheduled to meet and consider HB2862, a similar measure, to provide supplemental funding for the AIRC. The catch with the House is that HB2862 has not been formally read into the record or assigned to committees. That may seem like a formality (and technically, it is), but in this case it appears to be just another tactic by the House Speaker Andy Tobin, architect of ANDYMANDERING, to stir up trouble.
Just after the close the Senate Appropriations hearing, I heard Andy Biggs(hot) tell Bladine he does not believe the situation will get to where the AIRC will have to sue to compel the legislature to provide the additional funding. But given that House Appropriations generally does not meet more than one time each week, it would seem that if the House does not go through the formality of reading and assigning HB2862 prior to this afternoon's committee hearing, it delay's the bill at least another week.
From the perspective of the AIRC, Bladine has said that in order to ensure he can continue to pay bills (and make payroll for staff), if the legislature stalls this week, he will have to give legal counsel the green light to prepare and file the Special Action in Arizona Supreme Court. Recall that the Commission voted last Friday (March 2nd), 3-2 to authorize the lawsuit in the event legislature does not act (this week).
There is such a dramatic disconnect between what lawmakers say on the official record of proceedings and what they might say when the microphones are not live. Further, even though Don Shooter is chairman of Senate Appropriations Committee, he seemed not to be the one in charge. In the committee, he sits between Ron Gould, the HVAC technician by trade who happens to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee and Andy Biggs(hot), the former lawyer whose claim to fame and fortune is having won a multi-million dollar publisher's sweepstakes. Biggs, of course, was the prime instigator of the effort to drown the IRC in paper last summer.
The House floor session is set to begin momentarily. Watch live here.
More on this situation later, including a sampling of the comments and questions posed during yesterday's Approps hearing.
UPDATE 4:30pm, 3-7-12
To illustrate the atmosphere and tone of inquiry on the question of SB 1533 during the Senate hearing, I give you the following reflections:
Senate Appropriations chairman Don Shooter uttered the following:
- "What the heck does a bunch of attorneys have to do with preparing the maps?"
- "This commission has used the courts to do its dirty work."
- Regarding the racially polarized voting analysis, "we spent $50,000 to talk to a Harvard professor on the phone?!"
- Regarding the DOJ Voting Rights Act consultant, "How much did this Adelson guy cost us?"
Sen. Ron Gould, R-NRA, who is running for Congress in the new CD4, used aggressive, harsh language declaring that the courts have overstepped their bounds (by reinstating Mathis to the IRC and regarding the Open Meeting Law ruling by Judge Fink). After the vote had been taken to recommend the supplemental appropriation bill be passed by the senate, Gould said the courts violated the state constitution and the AIRC violated the constitution. He said the only power he has left is that of pursestrings and he intends to use it.
Sen. Lori Klein, R-Pink Handgun, asked,"What in the world are you using lawyers for if the work has already been done?" Klein also made it a point to complain that Flagstaff Mayor Sara Presler being responsible for Anthem not being listened to by the AIRC.
Captain Al Melvin declared that "a cruel hoax has been played on the voters of Arizona." And that he is convinced a legitimate DOJ review would NOT preclear the maps that the IRC approved.
Andy Biggs(hot) erroneously insisted, in banter with his fellow Republicans, that Colleen Mathis' attorney in the removal action, Thomas Zlaket, had NOT been Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court. In what can reasonably be inferred to be a cheap shot, Biggs asked Bladine if the attorneys had been retained on a "value billing" basis.
The House Appropriations committee did hear HB 2862 this afternoon. Bladine testified prior to the vote and faced more aggressive questioning yesterday in the senate. Yet the questions today took a more intellectual and less flippant tone than yesterday's senate committee hearing.
Chandler Republican Rep. Tom Forese chastised Bladine for using colored paper given the terrible economic condition state government faces these days. Really, he did that and did cite the need to sacrifice and save money.
I don't know this fellow's background, but really? Colored paper is more material in magnitude for saving money than partisan attacks by the governor and GOP supermajority in the legislature? Forese also strongly implied that Strategic Telemetry should be willing to work for free, or for dramatically lowered costs because of the current budget situation facing state government. Give me a break.
House Approps chair John Kavanagh's questioning was a very clear effort to micro-manage the AIRC, pointedly demanding to know why four community outreach specialists were still on staff and trying to get Bladine to contradict himself in questioning about attorneys retained to defend individual commission members.
Eventually, Minority Leader Chad Campbell spoke up, challenging Kavanagh's questioning and citing that individual members facing legal action in the course of carrying out their duties lawfully warrants legal representation being provided out of state funds.
In the end, the bill received a "Do Pass as Amended" recommendation from the committee by an 11-0 vote. Kavanagh said that, unlike Sen. Gould, he IS comfortable moving the bill out of committee with a blank amount, indicating the final dollar figure will be worked out in conference committee anyway. Conference committee being the mechanism for reconciling the differences between versions passed in each chamber.
My impression, from the tone of Kavanagh's questioning, is that the House and Senate will agree on a number that they figure will represent the lowest amount that will prevent them from losing in court, should the AIRC decide to sue.