Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

More on Redistricting Commission shut down

Apparently, the only publication other than the Arizona Eagletarian that thinks the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission needs to be covered at this stage is the Yellow Sheet Report (published by Arizona News Service/Arizona Capitol Times).

From the May 1 YS,
The plaintiffs in the last remaining case against the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission will not appeal as part of an agreement with the IRC, bringing an end to the lawsuit. That also likely brings to a close the current incarnation of the commission. The commission voted unanimously on Friday to accept an agreement with the plaintiffs in Leach v. AIRC, under which the plaintiffs will not appeal Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Roger Brodman’s ruling against them, and in exchange, the IRC will abandon its quest to recover legal fees in the case. The IRC had been seeking $18,000 in legal costs.
“That will effectively end the case, assuming the judge accepts that settlement, which I’m sure he will, and pretty much ends this chapter in redistricting for this decade,” IRC attorney Joe Kanefield told our reporter. Under the Arizona Constitution, the commissioners’ duties don’t technically expire until the appointment of the next IRC, which will take place in 2021. But the commission may not meet or incur expenses past the completion of its legislative and congressional maps, except to deal with pending litigation or government approval of a redistricting plan, or to revise the districts if ordered to do so by a court.
Commission members and staff said Friday’s meeting will almost certainly be the current commission’s last. “There will be a definite sort of withdrawal, I guess,” Republican Commissioner Scott Freeman told our reporter. Freeman noted that Friday marked the 80th business meeting of the current IRC, not counting the many public comment meetings the commission held for its maps. IRC Executive Director Ray Bladine said the unanimous vote was an appropriate end to the commission’s business. “I guess it’s fitting that the last vote they take, they finally can agree with each other,” he said. Bladine said the commission will have 30 days to shut down its office at 4000 N. Central Ave after the judge accepts the agreement. Presuming the agreement to avert an appeal in Leach brings the case to an end, the 2011 IRC will wrap two years earlier than its predecessor, which didn’t conclude its final lawsuit against it until May 2009.
Though Freeman made the motion to accept the agreement with the plaintiffs, it was somewhat bittersweet for him because he wanted to see an appeal move forward in Leach in order to settle the legal issues from the case. Freeman, one of the IRC’s two Republican members, has been a vociferous critic on his colleagues’ conduct throughout the redistricting process and shared some of the concerns that led the plaintiffs in the case to sue the commission. Freeman, an attorney, noted that Brodman’s ruling doesn’t set a precedent, but said it could influence the next commission. And by ruling that the IRC can essentially abandon the grid map, Freeman said future commissions may be free to draw whatever maps they want, regardless of the constraints imposed by the Arizona Constitution, parts of which were rendered “sort of superfluous and just fluff” by the commission’s arguments. “The public can’t have confidence that the map is something the commission developed pursuant to the constitutional process, versus just taking an outside map or a district drawn in Commissioner McNulty’s living room and inserting it into a hole in the map,” Freeman told our reporter. Had the plaintiffs appealed, Freeman acknowledged that the case likely wouldn’t have been settled in time to affect the current maps. But an appeal could have set important precedents for the next commission.
The May 1 YS also noted that the Leach win makes the AIRC 3-0 on lawsuits brought against it. From my vantage point, all three lawsuits were frivolous on the face of them... but as Commissioner Freeman noted, there was the matter of precedents. However, had there been any measure of common sense on the part of the sour grapes-tainted GOP interests that brought each of the three lawsuits (one actually brought BY the GOP-controlled state legislature) millions of taxpayer dollars WOULD have been saved.

Further, Freeman's remarks to the YS reporter reaked of deep-seated bitterness. The YS treatment of Freeman, obviously with kid gloves (i.e. "bittersweet" vs deep-seated bitterness) was emphatically euphemistic. For example, the excerpt emphasized in BOLD print above.

Freeman talks to YS staff but doesn't return my phone calls. Because he won't return my calls, I can only surmise that he knows I wouldn't buy his bullshit at face value and would ask follow up questions to get to the heart of the matter.

Judge Brodman did no such thing as Freeman claimed. The AIRC record is exhaustive and explicit that the commission complied with ALL requirements of the Arizona Constitution and related statutes, including by starting with a "grid map." Further, Freeman betrayed the trust he swore an oath to uphold when he suggested the Constitutional requirements were rendered "sort of superfluous and just fluff," and when he demeaned his colleague, Commissioner McNulty.

It's difficult to believe how anyone could take Freeman's remarks as anything but inflammatory, derogatory and disparaging. In that regard, as a commissioner, Freeman frequently demonstrated a lack of professionalism.

I find Scott Freeman's demeanor toward AIRC staff and colleagues disheartening.

Otherwise, the commissioners overall and staff, especially executive director Ray Bladine and deputy ex. dir. Kristina Gomez conducted themselves with an outstanding level of professionalism and integrity in the face of high levels of acrimony from GOP interests. And I would be remiss to leave out the excellence Commission Chair Colleen Coyle Mathis demonstrated throughout the process (from 2011 until now).

There are still issues to be resolved -- hopefully before 2021 -- by addressing the matter of having only one person serve as the fulcrum on which IRC decisions swing. That situation caused Mathis to be subjected to extraordinary abuse from lawmakers, political party activists and many everyday citizens.

Far be it from me to claim to have all the answers but right now the only solution I can see is for the legislature to put forward a ballot measure to expand the membership of the commission (possibly to three Dems, three GOP, and three non-affiliated). The commissioners do not receive compensation for their time but the state general fund (taxpayer money) does reimburse them for associated costs like mileage traveling throughout the state for meetings. Therefore, it is likely that the legislature will do nothing about this problem for two significant reasons. First, more commissioners means the process will cost more in reimbursements. Second, if the pressure is taken off of the chair (the one political party non-affiliated commissioner), it gives those politicians who will continue to want to undermine the concept of independent redistricting less to bitch about.

Last but not least, I can say from the depths of my heart that it has been a tremendous honor for me to have had the time and as much understanding of the process as I've had so that I could bring you insight on Arizona redistricting that you have otherwise not been able to get (nearly as much) from corporate media in our state.

Thank you dear readers.

God willing and the creek don't rise, I'll be back on the redistricting beat in 2020 when applications are screened for the next "incarnation" of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission.


Today it is a case of the grasshopper pitted against the elephant. But tomorrow the elephant will have its guts ripped out. Le Loi, Vietnamese emperor, 15th Century

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