Friday, October 21, 2011

Redistricting -- Joint Lege committee on interfering with the AIRC -- first hearing

This morning, the Joint Legislative Committee on Interfering with Independent Redistricting convened at 10am in a state senate hearing room. A half hour earlier, House and Senate Minority legislative leadership, along with Democratic state Rep. Lynne Pancrazi, held a press conference to tell why they decided to boycott the committee.

Representative Lynne Pancrazi and Senator Robert Meza will not be serving on the Joint Legislative Committee on Redistricting because they believe it is inappropriate to lend the credibility of their participation to a committee whose purpose appears only to be political in nature.

Democrats were never informed about this committee. In fact, President Pearce and Speaker Tobin appointed Sen. Meza and Rep. Pancrazi without consultation from Democratic Leadership, a complete violation of protocol.

Sen. Meza had, at the AIRC hearing on October 11 at Phoenix College, testified about his views on the draft maps. If this hearing had genuinely been what legislative Republicans claim (just a fact finding process to simply make recommendations about the draft maps), Campbell and Schapira would have been happy to appoint members willing and able to actively participate.

This evening, the AIRC conducted a Public Outreach Hearing in Globe. Pancrazi was the first person called for public testimony. She represents Yuma and Yuma County. She requested the commission adjust the legislative draft maps to remove Maricopa County from LD4 and LD13. She went out of her way by -- literally -- hundreds of miles (close to 300 miles) to address the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission tonight. That blows away all claims made by the Joint Committee today about Democrats not wanting to participate in advising the AIRC.

From discussions and observations, I believe the four Republican members of the committee have different views, levels of understanding of the process and personal agendas. Based on my phone conversation yesterday with Sen. Steve Pierce and on how he conducted the meeting today, I give him credit for having an open mind and straightforward manner. He wants to figure out what is appropriate to do.

Former House Speaker Jim Weiers asked plenty of questions today. Some of which one might expect a man of his experience (longest serving lawmaker on the panel, has been in one chamber or the other since 1995) to already have answers. Weiers claims a reputation as pragmatic and willing to work with members from both sides of the aisle. In fact, I still have a clear memory of he and Gabby Giffords sitting on a bench in front of the state Senate talking about (working on) legislation. On the other hand, Weiers was the beneficiary of John Mills' efforts to recruit bogus Green Party candidates to dilute the Democratic vote in his district a few years ago.

One observer reported to me this afternoon that when today's hearing adjourned, in response to one question, posed to him, Weiers launched into a 30 plus minute monologue about him and his legislative exploits. I remember him doing the same thing with me about 15 years ago, when I was still working for the state of Arizona. What does this mean about his agenda? It's possible that he is genuinely interested in the committee's fact finding for the facts themselves. But it's also possible, and given grumblings that have been simmering just below the surface for months, he has been tapped by Speaker Andy Tobin to find justification to undermine the AIRC in any way possible.

Weiers, during the hearing today, addressed one criticism of the committee (that they will try to get Mathis removed from her chairmanship) by claiming that no one on the committee has said anything like that. However, in an op-ed piece dated August 22, posted on Andy Biggs said: 
If Ms. Mathis is unwilling to act in an “independent and impartial fashion”, as required by the Arizona Constitution, she should be removed. The bidding process for Strategic Telemetry needs to be reviewed to see if state laws were broken. Mathis and Herrera need to come clean on whether they violated open meeting laws. Mathis needs to order her attorneys to respond immediately to my request for information. 
It's possible that Weiers just did not know Biggs' threats. 

State Rep. Doris Goodale, from Kingman, today asked a sum total of one question. To John Mills, she asked about a small population of Kaibab Indians along the border with Utah. My hunch is that area holds the about 3,500 Mohave County residents currently, according to the legislative draft map, included in the district with the Navajo Nation to the east. Goodale both at the Bullhead City hearing and today, was straightforward and sincere. If she has any other agenda for her involvement in this committee, I would be surprised.

That leaves Sen. Andy Biggs (R-Publisher's Clearinghouse). Biggs has astoundingly good lipreading skills. The Yellow Sheet accounts the events that follow thus:
Liberal blogger Steve Muratore has attended and written about nearly every IRC meeting, but he didn’t get to stay for long at this morning’s legislative committee hearing. During an argument between Biggs and Phoenix resident Tonya Norwood-Pearson over what constituted inflammatory rhetoric, Biggs motioned to a person in the audience who was swearing at him as an example of what was inflammatory, before asking that the person in question be expelled from the hearing. “He’s sitting here swearing at me. That’s beautiful. I would like him removed,” Biggs said. Muratore left quietly and went upstairs to Schapira’s office, where the two presumably watched the rest of the hearing. Both were tweeting throughout the rest of the meeting, with Muratore vowing that he’d have a lot more to say about his ejection. “Biggs being argumentative. I mouth some words to him and he had me kicked out. MORE to come!” he tweeted. After the meeting, Biggs explained exactly what Muratore did that got him kicked out of the meeting. “He was mouthing repeatedly a certain bovine excrement type of swear word,” he told reporters. “For the first two or three minutes, I thought, ‘He’ll get tired of saying it to me. … He’ll get it out of his system.’” But apparently, he didn’t: “At some point I said, ‘Okay, enough’s enough.’” 
Of course, the Yellow Sheet characterization of the situation leaves a lot out and gives Biggs the benefit of the doubt by quoting him. Fact of the matter is that he only looked at me once and the entire lipreading episode lasted MAYBE 15 seconds. But really, ejecting someone reporting on the committee for simply MOUTHING but not saying anything out loud?

We learned a LOT about Mr. BIGgs(hot) from this, however.

If YS wasn't such a slanted gossip sheet, the pejorative label "Liberal blogger" probably wouldn't have been the way to begin the blurb. While the term doesn't offend me, there's no question that the Arizona capitol lobbying "community" (the YS market base) is largely the corporate interests* that work to influence state lawmakers for personal and professional gain. YS saying, "Biggs explained exactly what Muratore did that got him kicked out..." is a subtle but definite way to legitimize Biggs' way of conducting himself as a lawmaker. I'm obviously no more biased than Arizona News Service (which publishes both the Yellow Sheet Report and the Arizona Capitol Times). They are, perhaps, more subtle in their bias, but are still very biased.

Elected officials are, conceptually at least, servants to the citizens. Some (from either or both or neither political party) approach their job as such. What about Andy Biggs?

Biggs was first elected to the Arizona House in 2002, when I was working in the Arizona Capitol Times newsroom. Even prior to taking the oath of office, Biggs appeared at events at the capitol wearing a nametag that said, "Andy Biggs, State Representative." He was, at that time, the ONLY one wearing such a tag.

Various senate observers I spoke with today all described Mr. BIGgs(hot) as TYPICALLY being "graciously impolite" to people who dare to disagree with him, especially those testifying in committee hearings, especially women. Is a servant-leader so insecure and sensitive? Or is that more typical of someone with power issues?

Now, what was going on between Ms. Norwood-Pearson and Mr. BIGgs(hot)? The Arizona Capitol Times described it thus:

The first speaker of the public comment period, a Phoenix resident named Tonya Norwood-Pearson, echoed some of the Democrats’ sentiments. She accused the Republicans of acting with a “mob-like mentality” and trying to undermine the IRC’s independence for partisan political gain, and said they should testify at the IRC instead.
“You are pushing your partisan agenda to forward your own political interests for political gain. It kind feels a little bit like bullying,” she said.
Sen. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, said the committee was nothing more than a fact-finding mission formed to craft the Legislature’s official response to the IRC’s draft maps. He accused Norwood-Pearson of using the kind of inflammatory rhetoric that she alleged the committee was using.
“Demagogic language would be to say this is mob-like,” Biggs said, shortly before he had a liberal blogger ejected from the meeting for allegedly mouthing swear words at him.
Now, the main thing that occurred to me was that somebody needed to call BULLSHIT on Biggs.

By the way, it was only the $250/month subscribers (to the YS) who were graced with disclosure of the name of that "Liberal blogger."

BIGgs(hot) has been out in front of legislative GOP in criticizing the AIRC. How arrogant is it that he sent forth the August 22 op-ed -- accusing them of refusing to comply with a public records request -- AFTER the commission had notified him that the documents he wanted to review were available for him to do so?

How arrogant is it that Biggs conducts himself as THE arbiter of what's right and appropriate for the AIRC to do and where they should draw district lines?

How arrogant is it that Biggs refuses to hear when everyday citizens criticize his conduct as a lawmaker?

The Associated Press reported this afternoon:
Arizona Senate Majority Leader Andy Biggs says the Legislature will likely have a special session so lawmakers can make recommendations on a state commission's proposed maps of new congressional and legislative districts.
How arrogant is it that Biggs thinks he can continue to pull the wool over the eyes of Arizona citizens AND his colleagues. Some other Arizona lawmakers may know what he's been up to since last spring, but not necessarily very many of them. Whether or not Sen. Steve Pierce has any designs on removing Mathis from the AIRC, there can be no question that is very much Biggs' aim.


Arizona Capitol Times reporter Jeremy Duda reported this evening:
Republican lawmakers got a lot of blowback over their new redistricting committee from legislative Democrats and sympathetic members of the public, but they got what they wanted when a parade of speakers stepped forward to air grievances against the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission.

Blowback is a fair characterization.  And it's clear they do not want to be seen as subverting the voice of voters. I think Duda nailed this one, in the lede anyway.

Duda also addressed the elephant in the room, so to speak:

An unanswered question hovering over the meeting was whether there would be a special session of the Legislature to remove IRC Chairwoman Colleen Mathis, an independent whom Republicans accuse of being in league with the commission’s Democrats. Mathis can be removed with a two-thirds vote of the Senate, meaning at least 20 of the Senate’s 21 Republican members must vote to remove her.
It is unknown if Senate Republicans have enough votes to oust Mathis. And even if they do, it would be largely dependent on Gov. Jan Brewer calling a special session, something she has been hesitant to do.
Biggs said there has been vote counting and conversations between lawmakers and the Governor’s Office. But he acknowledged that there were a lot of unanswered questions, such as how long it would take to replace Mathis and whether the new chair would have enough time to redraw the maps.

A reporter recently asked AIRC exec. dir. Ray Bladine about the issue, suggesting scuttlebutt has him being appointed chair (since he was on the short list of eligible Independent candidates) if Mathis is removed. Bladine told me he replied, "they'd be crazy to think they could find an independent who would take the job considering the way they've treated the current chair."

They'd have to be REALLY crazy if they thought they could get Bladine to resign his PAYING job with the AIRC to become the volunteer (non-paid) chair.


Speaking of bullshit, the Arizona Republic's Mary Jo Pitzl fact checked Russell Pearce's claim:

“The primary responsibility of the IRC is to protect communities of interest and they have failed to do that,” said Senate President Russell Pearce. “In far too many places neighborhoods that have nothing in common have been drawn into the same district.”
This is from the joint press release by Pearce and Speaker Andy Tobin announcing the Joint Committee. For Pitzl, this one was as easy shooting fish in a barrel. (It is not posted in the press release section of the AZ Leg website).


AGAIN speaking of bullshit, the press release issued by the Senate Republican caucus after today's hearing veers a LONG way from a fair description of the hearing. THIS release undermines the benefit of the doubt I gave to Sen. Steve Pierce. THIS release puts him in league with Biggs and gives credence to the concerns Tonya Norwood-Pearson spelled out at the beginning of the public comment.

And THIS press release underscores the dramatic lengths to which GOP leaders will go to deceive Arizona citizens about the nature of the Joint Committee.

This committee reconvenes on Monday at 1pm. I will be there.

I called Sen. Steve Pierce's office about whether I will be allowed in on Monday. I was told that I would, but I must adhere to the rules of proper decorum.

I think that means they'd rather I not tell them the truth.


*think #OccupyWallStreet


  1. You messed up their carefully-rehearsed choreography! The whole goal was to get the AIRC and Colleen Mathis, and you had the temerity to... mouth?... the truth!

  2. Steve, Thanks for the full report of what is going on with this committee. We certainly need an independent view of the ledge committee. Keep up the good work!

  3. So you can be ejected because Biggs doesn't like the way your lips are moving? This state renders satire redundant.