Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Redistricting -- fireworks or just sparks?

Well, today was not the first time friction generated heat in deliberations over Arizona's redistricting process and potential new maps. But testiness seemed to reach new levels today when Redistricting Commissioners Scott Freeman and Rick Stertz engaged in some baiting to get Commissioner Herrera's goat.

The bickering today appeared at the time to be frustration on the part of the Republican commissioners. Of course they all have personal lives and personal stresses, what with new babies and other young children, possibly lowered earnings at regular jobs because of the time they've had to sacrifice in order to participate as citizen volunteers, and extended families that may provide any number of difficult situations. These commissioners do not conduct the redistricting process or the deliberations in a vacuum.

Throw in the partisan pressures coming from all angles, and the recent court rulings -- both in Maricopa County Superior Court and in the Arizona Supreme Court -- and it is really no wonder tensions run high in AIRC meetings and discussions. Look at it this way, Arizona Republicans have approached the process, as far back as fall of 2010, as if they are behind the 8-ball. And court rulings as far back as they go for this redistricting cycle, have frustrated all (or at least MOST) of what they've hoped to do or even try.

What happens when someone is frustrated and feels powerless to control a situation? The first thing that comes to mind is the emotional "lashing out." There's all sorts of ways that can be expanded upon and scenarios drawn out. But that's not what I want to do with this space. But frankly, I think that the bickering today can fairly be characterized as verbal "lashing out."

When it was going on, it was sometimes jaw dropping and sometimes almost amusing. But the entire time it was riveting as I wanted to follow the verbal volleys, mainly to understand the interpersonal dynamics. As I described yesterday in putting Stertz' whistle-blowing to Atty Gen Horne in perspective, I see genuine positive aspects to the potentially indiscreet disclosures he made when he gave his deposition. So too in Monday's deliberation, I see genuine positives that can come from the seemingly childish verbal barbs exchanged between Stertz/Freeman and Herrera.

The blog cited above Deliberative IDEAS, in the post entitled Powerless and Frustrated says, in pertinent part,
An email exchange today focused my attention on some statements that have become too familiar: “It’s already been decided.” I’ve been moderating a series of community conversations on California water priorities across the five Delta counties. Several people have voiced the same opinion…“It’s already been decided.” And the email writer today…she seemed at first to be totally beside herself as an angry and frustrated and powerless citizen. When important civic issues are technically still open for public conversation and input…but it’s obvious to the participants that the decisions have already been made, no one can plan well, nor can they respond well. All they can do is watch in horror as decisions that totally change their lives move closer and closer.
Today, Rick Stertz lashed out -- and offered a motion to just adopt the working maps as of December 8 (which motion Freeman seconded, but the motion failed 1-3 as Freeman voted with Mathis and Herrera) because (he told me) he did not want to waste his time if it was all a done deal anyway. As the AP recounted, Stertz was comforted that the motion failed. Regardless, the situation still sounded most of the day like frustrated people trying to figure out ways to effectively deliberate.

Now, ONE source of frustration Stertz spelled out is that he believes Herrera has shot down or dismissed every idea he (Stertz) has presented for making adjustments to the draft maps. I'm not sure that's a fair assessment for Stertz to have made. I do know that a motion he made to have his proposed changes to the Congressional draft map was defeated 2-3, with both Herrera and McNulty (who attended part of the meeting by phone) emphatically opposing.

Mathis, however, was clear in saying that she wanted to see the data/change reports or some other kind of backup documentation showing how his proposed changes would impact the rest of the Congressional districts. At NO time today did Stertz give any indication that he had any of that data available or even prepared for anyone to review. But Mathis said she was willing to revisit that motion when the data was available. And she listed a few aspects of Stertz' proposed changes that she likes already, notably the way he addressed the concept of having three border Congressional districts.

I don't know how much more independent the INDEPENDENT chair can reasonably be expected to be in that kind of situation. Really!


Apart from my assessment of the overall dynamics of Monday's meeting, I wanted to note one specific observation about Stertz' comments. First, some perspective.

Since the day Andy Biggs(hot) had me thrown out of the hearing of the Joint Legislative Committee on Interfering with Independent Redistricting, he and I have been in the same room a handful of times. At not ONE of those events/meetings/hearings has Biggs(hot) demonstrated the capacity to look me in the eye.

Stertz, on the other hand, doesn't present himself as a bigshot and has shown, MANY times, intellectual consistency and honesty in advocating for the perspective he represents. And he has no problem, even though he knows I criticize him on this blog, shaking hands, making eye contact or engaging in discussions, asking me questions or assertively telling me what he thinks. And while I disagree with him on many things, I heartily respect him.

On Monday, while making one of his points and expressing his frustration, he consciously decided to invoke the expression "hyper-packing of Republicans." You know, for the purpose of establishing competitive districts. When he did so, he looked me straight in the eye. We exchanged raised eyebrows and smirks. He clearly is not intimidated by being criticized. And I think that's a very good thing. It makes him, among other things, capable of successfully deliberating. He's capable of give and take, even if he has not yet indicated anything on which he's been willing to give ground.

By the way, another point of contention today was when my good friend Mr. Stertz defined gerrymandering as drawing lines to achieve any given outcome. On that, I believe he is dead wrong.

Look long and hard enough and one can find a very broad range of definitions for the word. However, the most common aspects of the differing definitions are: unfairness or manipulating for one's own advantage. Now, I'm quite confident that Stertz can argue forcefully that drawing lines to increase the number of competitive districts, or to increase the competitiveness of one or more given districts is for "one's own advantage." But really, the key aspect of competitiveness is that it REDUCES any one person or group's advantage.

I know, there have been people citing, in public testimony before the IRC, that competitiveness is "code" for advantage to the Democratic Party. But really, is that a legitimate argument?

Realistically, only in the mind of frustrated partisans who feel powerless to persuade the voting public of the merits of their positions.


  1. I've tried twice to watch the live feed from Mon. and it hasn't worked yet. I'll try again a few times. Also planning to come up on Thurs.

  2. Hi Pete,

    As of Tuesday morning, 7am, the recording for Monday's meeting has not been posted to the AIRC webpage yet.

  3. I, too, was frustrated by Stertz's willful misunderstanding of the term "gerrymandering." I believe he knows the actual meaning, but is blustering to gain advantage. Gerrymandered districts create advantage for one particular party or candidate. Competitiveness is the antidote for gerrymandering, Mr Stertz.

  4. Well, Republicans ARE behind the 8-ball, but it's a situation of their own making.

    As far back as 2005, I can recall discussions with in the Democratic party about the 2010 redistricting, and Justin and the rest of the staff did a great job of preparing in advance, getting people involved from all parts of the state and doing all the things that the state GOP never did because they were always focused only on the next election cycle.

    Having slept through 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009, the GOP finally started talking about this in late 2010 and have become the proverbial hare, trying to catch the tortoise who is already just about to cross the finish line.

    So yeah, they are behind an 8-ball, but if they want to blame somebody then it should be Randy Pullen for neglecting to do anything about redistricting during the time when he should have been collecting information, finding people who might want to serve on the commission, and otherwise preparing the groundwork for the commission to work off of.