Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Redistricting -- October 24th meeting recap

On Thursday afternoon, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission met, primarily to decide what to do about its rapidly dwindling funding (if you wish to view the 75 minute recording, you may do so at the link provided).

Commission staff presented budget status information indicating that if everything goes favorably, currently available funding, net of staff and other operating costs (rent/utilities, etc) could last into December.

In a 3-2 vote, the commission approved a Rick Stertz motion worded like this (paraphrasing):
We do not now authorize counsel to prepare for a special action to sue the legislature, pending a significant event at which time we would make special request of the legislature and governor's office to recognize their constitutional requirement to fund the AIRC to carry out its mission to defend its maps.
In discussion of the motion, prior to the vote, Commissioner Scott Freeman suggested, but did not actually say the motion was unnecessary. He also indicated they should plan now to meet in December to reassess the situation and decide at that time what action they should take. McNulty, speaking more specifically, said that having been a Girl Scout, she understands the value in being prepared. Therefore she believes that motion was not a good idea. Freeman and new Commissioner Cid Kallen voted with Stertz to approve the motion.

Now, what exactly is a "significant event?" Apparently, something that will cause them to spend available funding more quickly. Attorney Joe Kanefield listed a few such possibilities when he gave a status report on the three lawsuits currently pending. They are:

  • Harris v AIRC -- federal trial was completed in March. A decision, which could require reworking the legislative district map, could come down any day.
  • Leach v AIRC -- trial in Maricopa County Superior Court, currently in discovery phase
  • Arizona Legislature v AIRC -- challenging the constitutionality of AIRC drawn Congressional district maps entirely, trial in federal court, dates not scheduled. 
Among discussion, commissioners wondered aloud whether any of the plaintiffs (especially the Legislature) would be willing to delay proceedings to accommodate waiting for a supplemental appropriation to be made. The soonest, barring the legislature convening in a special session, is sometime in mid-January. The answer to that question, for any of the plaintiffs is likely something to the effect of, "hahahahaha!"

Especially since the legislature apparently has filed briefs requesting an injunction to prevent the current Congressional district map from being used for the 2014 election. 

Commissioner Kallen noted that if a significant event occurs, they can call a meeting and make a decision at that time on what to do.

The tone of the discussion by and from the five commissioners was essentially to rollover for the legislature. What they did not consider however, at least not by anything articulated in open session, was how vulnerable this might make the IRC. Oh, McNulty emphatically indicated the need to keep the door open to move quickly in the event of such a significant event. But nobody really discussed any possible scenarios.

To me, this potentially sets up a significant vulnerability. Rather than keeping the door open for legal counsel to prepare after such an event, counsel potentially has its hands tied until the next meeting is called.

And while Commissioners Freeman and Stertz both said things on Thursday to indicate they are on board for having the IRC vigorously defend the current maps, the totality of their words and actions up to this point suggest otherwise. Specifically, Stertz pleaded with Judge Mark Brain to be allowed to remain as a named defendant in the Leach case, apparently to better undermine the Congressional map. Stertz has specified on multiple occasions that he believes the current maps are not to his liking and that counsel defending those maps has acted contrary to HIS interests.

Further complicating this vulnerability, or not, perhaps, is that when Freeman talked about planning to meet again in December, he noted that he would be away for an entire week on a hunting trip right after Thanksgiving. Depending on what kind of significant event might develop, that might work either to Freeman's benefit or detriment in having a vote in a key decision.

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At the beginning of Thursday's meeting, the IRC discussed the break-in that occurred at its office on the weekend of September 13-16. Highlights of the 14-page police report, include the names of three investigative leads, a list of missing items, a list of evidence collected at the scene and the investigating officer's narrative description of the crime and investigation.

Commission staff had requested someone from the Dept. of Public Safety (investigating agency) give a briefing on the situation during the public portion of Thursday's meeting. DPS declined because they cannot comment publicly on ongoing investigations. Commission chair Colleen Mathis mentioned that she had been briefed and found the situation troubling. Stertz tried to get her to disclose specifically what from the briefing she found troubling. 

Stertz seemed particularly hostile toward staff when asking questions about the burglary. However, at one point, he indicated his concern was for staff safety. Executive Director Ray Bladine described how the unknown suspect(s) gained entrance and what has been done ensure the alarm system functions properly and that the offices are kept secured from now on.

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The Yellow Sheet contained a blurb about the meeting, but I haven't seen anything reported by the Arizona Republic or any of the news sites for which Howie Fischer writes. 

Having listened to the entire public meeting, I can say my impression is YS hopes to stir some controversy. But then again, when has (only) a little controversy ever hurt anyone. 

TO SUE OR NOT IS TRULY THE QUESTION The IRC voted 3-2 yesterday on a motion by GOP Commissioner Rick Stertz to instruct its attorneys not to begin work on a possible lawsuit to force lawmakers to provide funding to the IRC unless circumstances – such as a redrawing of maps or increased activity in the pending lawsuits – compel the commission to expend its remaining resources more quickly than expected. That the motion was approved caught some by surprise. While former Commissioner Jose Herrera usually voted with fellow Dem Commissioner Linda McNulty and independent Chairwoman Colleen Mathis, and often fought with his Republican colleagues, Herrera’s replacement, Cid Kallen, joined with the Republicans to pass Stertz’s motion. “My perception as to what was transpiring on the other end of the phone lines was there was surprise on the other side,” said GOP Commissioner Scott Freeman, the only IRC member who didn’t attend via a teleconference. McNulty maintained that she wasn’t surprised, telling our reporter she voted against Stertz’s proposal because the commission should be prepared for a lawsuit, though she doesn’t think any legal action is needed now. “As I said in the hearing, I think you always need to be prepared,” she said. McNulty added that the motion was unnecessary, since the IRC’s attorneys can’t take any legal action without commission authorization anyway. During the meeting, IRC Executive Director Ray Bladine questioned whether the commission’s funding would last until January, and said there’s no guarantee that the Legislature will immediately address the IRC’s funding needs in the 2014 session. If the funding issue isn’t addressed quickly, the IRC might not have enough money to keep its office open or to even send Bladine to the Legislature to request the funding, warned Deputy Executive Director Kristina Gomez. “If we don’t have money, then we have to close down [the] shop,” Gomez said. But Bladine told our reporter today that the IRC’s funds should keep it afloat until the Legislature reconvenes next year – unless something unexpected happens with one of the outstanding lawsuits against the commission that compels the IRC to burn through its remaining cash.

I wouldn't necessarily read too much into Kallen's vote. His voice sounded like he was doing his best to figure out what would be a sound, balanced decision. But he's at a distinct disadvantage since he missed out on more than two and a half years worth of meetings and deliberations.

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