Since Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Dean Fink issued his six-page ruling slapping down Tom Horne's witch hunt against the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, the peanut gallery of voices claiming the mapping panel is now allowed to operate in secret has grown dramatically. Sadly.
Given the consistency with which Arizona Capitol Times axe grinder Christian Palmer has attacked the AIRC throughout 2011, his deceptive screed came as no surprise.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Dean’s Fink’s Dec. 9 ruling is being described as a victory for the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. Still, it’s not clear what Arizona residents, whom the commission is supposed to represent, have won.
Fink also ruled that the commission can go into closed-door executive sessions, even though such sessions are not addressed in the Constitution. Without being bound by open meeting laws, commission members are now free to deliberate their tasks in private, free to meet privately with each other to discuss commission business and free to corral votes outside the view of the public. All that is needed for the commission is to hold actual votes in public, and its members aren’t under any obligation to explain themselves.
I am not sure that this is a good thing, although arguably the ruling can be said to have the effect of leaving the commission truly independent from the Legislature (which Fink said could “harass and hamstring” the IRC with open meeting law legislation) and state and county prosecutors who could “intimidate” the IRC with investigations into potential violations of state open meeting laws. It is not clear to me how the Legislature would “harass” the IRC with open meeting laws, which, until July, when Attorney General Tom Horne began investigating the panel, IRC attorneys believed applied to the commission just like they apply to any other agency.
It was Capitol Times Christian Palmer who first broke the open meeting law story. Mathis for her part came up with this "defense".However, in a somewhat contradictory rebuttal, Mathis said she spoke with Freeman and Stertz in an attempt to “pursue consensus among the commissioners” in her dual role as both chairwoman and the IRC’s chief procurement officer.Why did the reporter characterize the rebuttal as "somewhat contradictory"? Because it's an admission! She doesn't claim that she called the commissioners to inform them, or get their opinions. She admits that she called them to "pursue consensus." That's exactly what the open meeting law prohibits.An alternate reading of "why did the "reporter" characterize the rebuttal as 'somewhat contradictory'..." is that said axe grinder was trying to stir up the controversy. Besides market development for his employer, perhaps Palmer's trying to make a name for himself as an investigative reporter. Maybe he wants to be the Arizona version of John Stossel.
The bottom line is that we DO or at least CAN know what Fink's ruling means for Arizona's voters.
It means that Colleen Mathis was NOT lying to anyone about her intent and did not believe she needed to deceive anyone. It means that, pursuant to the legislative privilege under which the AIRC operates, the members can conduct their business much the same way the state legislature does. OOPS!? But wait, don't state lawmakers (Frank Antenori) trade their votes among themselves and with Gov. Brewer? Well, yes they do. I've previously written about the practice of logrolling.
Then there was the Arizona Republic. You might recall that its editorial board previously invoked a false equivalency argument, equating legitimate (but what they viewed as puzzling) decisions Colleen Mathis made as IRC chair with the brazenly self-serving actions taken by elected Republicans (i.e. Tom Horne's witch hunt and Jan Brewer's attempted decapitation of the AIRC) to subvert the intent of voters who passed Prop 106.
Mathis emphatically demonstrated her independence with votes for hiring Joe Kanefield instead of Lisa Hauser for legal counsel and the even more controversial hiring of Strategic Telemetry. The partisan pressure seeking to compromise Mathis' independence has come exclusively from Republicans.
On the other hand, pandering by the Arizona Republic to tea partiers and GOP activists has been incredibly blatant.
This week, the Republic's editorial board doubled down on it's willfully wrong claims (innuendo?) about the IRC.
But was it really the intent of voters to sever the public from oversight of the commission? Could it be that voters wanted a commission that could make crucial decisions on the alignment of legislative and congressional districts behind closed doors? (emphasis in the original)Neither the voters, nor Judge Fink, either intended or claimed that the public was or would be precluded from oversight of the AIRC. IF the writer of that editorial had read the ruling instead of Mr. Palmer's deceptive screed, he would know that any and all citizens of Arizona have standing to bring a Special Action to compel compliance with the Open Meeting Clause. If that seems difficult, I would offer that only under very serious circumstances should such a course of action be undertaken.
Besides logrolling, state and Congressional lawmakers also engage in the the fine art of lobbyists buying favor. Excuse me, they buy ACCESS to lawmakers. Be it the Fiesta Bowl or the 1990s AZSCAM* scandal, to lawmakers, campaign finance and gifts from lobbyists, are thought to be (sometimes but not always subtle) forms of bribery. Since AIRC commissioners are precluded from running for office for a LONG time, their own self-interest in drawing lines is in large part preempted.
Judge Fink made it clear that ANY Arizona citizen has standing to compel compliance with the Open Meeting Clause of the Arizona Constitution. So, claims made by Mr. Palmer, Greg Patterson, and others who have been following this year's redistricting are simply disingenuous.
Another irony with the opponents of this year's independent redistricting crying foul is in that the 2001 AIRC actually (reportedly) DID deliberate on district lines in executive session. Because the subject of executive session disclosure came up on Monday, discussion and a possible vote has been placed on the agenda for tomorrow's meeting (which starts at 1pm at the Fiesta Resort in Tempe). While Mr. Palmer is probably salivating at the idea of getting access to this year's executive session transcripts, I'm figuring that those from the 2001 AIRC will be more instructive, and other than that they are now a decade old, also more intriguing.
I suppose that, in concept, if you have commissioners who all conspire together to draw maps in secret, something unseemly could happen in the future. Maybe. But even in such a case, if there are people watching closely enough to understand the dynamics of the interactions as well as the demographic data being used -- and figure that technological advances in the next ten years will likely make it even easier to communication quickly and widely -- I still think it's a long shot.
Apparently today Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, during his weekly press briefing, reiterated his intent to appeal Fink's ruling, now specifically saying he intended to take it to the Arizona Supreme Court.
* This online reference to AZSCAM is a sociology case study in the role of mass communications in "social control" (aka public accountability). This captured my attention because of something state Rep. John Kavanagh said to me a couple of months ago. Of course, he went around for some time trying to stir up the controversy against independent redistricting, speaking publicly and playing up the alleged violations of public trust by the members of the AIRC. He was among those who claimed, in an argument for repealing Prop 106, that there was no mechanism for holding the commissioners accountable to the voters of Arizona. He said to me, "what are you going to do, write something to embarrass them?" Or some very close expression to that effect.
Well, as the cited article on the AZSCAM case study suggests, mass communications (newspapers and broadcast media, the study was published in 1993, well before the proliferation of citizen journalists, bloggers and easy access to online news) -- can and do influence public behavior (just ask Frank Luntz). By the way, Kavanagh has been conspicuously silent lately. The last time I recall hearing anything from or about him was when Sen. David Schapira faced-off with him on Channel 12's Sunday Square Off sometime in November.
The Occupy Wall Street movement has spread throughout the US (and other countries). Together with the Arab Spring, citizen journalists, by way of social media, blogs and independent online news sites, have changed what people talk about and are -- perhaps slowly at first -- influencing what lawmakers and office seekers say and do.