Political Manipulation of Redistricting in AZ
Governor Brewer (R-AZ) called a special session of the Senate to remove the chair of the independent redistricting commission. She didn't like the districting map that was produced.
Following the recommendation of Ms. Brewer, a Republican, the Republican-controlled Senate voted 21 to 6 on Tuesday night to remove Colleen C. Mathis, chairwoman of the Independent Redistricting Commission. Lawyers raced to court in a long-shot effort to overturn the decision.
Arizona voters decided in 2000 that a citizens’ commission of two Republicans, two Democrats and an independent chairman would draw political lines and that commissioners could be removed by a two-thirds vote of the Senate only for “substantial neglect of duty, gross misconduct in office or inability to discharge the duties of office.”
Ms. Brewer accused Ms. Mathis, who is registered as an independent, of improperly conducting commission business out of public view and of skewing the redistricting process toward Democrats.
Ms. Brewer had sent Ms. Mathis and the other four commissioners stern letters last week setting the stage for the confrontation. The governor had sought also to remove the two Democrats on the panel but did not have the votes, officials said. Infuriating her and other Republicans was the hiring of a mapping consultant with ties to President Obama’s 2008 campaign.
The Arizona Republic has more details of Brewer’s claims:
Brewer, who was in New York promoting her book, directed Secretary of State Ken Bennett to issue a letter on her behalf outlining the causes for Mathis’ removal. When the governor is out of state, the secretary of state is the acting governor.
The letter cited Mathis’ failure to conduct commission meetings publicly, a reference to the ongoing controversy over whether the commission violated the state Open Meeting Law when it voted in June to hire a mapping consultant with Democratic ties.
The governor also cited a failure to properly adjust the “grid map,” the starting point for drawing new maps, to account for all of the criteria required for new maps, as well as an overreliance on competitiveness as a factor in drawing new boundary lines.
I would also note that the optics of directing this type of action whilst on a book tour aren’t exactly stellar, but so it goes.
The question at the center of all of this is whether the actual motivation for this move is that actual “gross misconduct” was present or whether the real motivation is that the Governor did not like the way her party made out in the redistricting process. Back to the Republic:
The draft maps particularly agitated Arizona’s GOP congressmen, who don’t like the fact that districts currently seen as “safe” Republican seats would become more competitive, and who feel lines were manipulated to favor incumbent Democrats. They pressured Brewer to also remove the panel’s two Democratic commissioners. However, the Senate could not muster the votes.
The panel also has two Republican commissioners and Mathis, a registered independent.
“There’s no question that members of the congressional delegation were upset,” said Matthew Benson, the governor’s spokesman, calling it “unfortunate” the governor could not sway the Senate to remove more members.
The fact that there was an attempt to remove the Democrats on the commission certainly enhances the suspicion that the motivation for the vote was more partisan than it was about rooting out misconduct.
Meanwhile, the issue is being examined in court and barring their intervention:
The state Commission on Appellate Court Appointments has 30 days to nominate three people who are registered independents as the new chairperson. The four remaining redistricting commissioners then have 14 days to pick one of the three.
If the four can’t reach agreement, the choice falls to the 16-member appellate-court commission.
And then there is the pesky fact that district lines are still at issue:
Meanwhile, the commission can continue its work, which includes wrapping up work this week on a series of statewide hearings on the draft maps. After that, the commission can adjust the maps but without a chairperson to break what might be 2-2 ties, it could be hard to proceed.
If one looks at Governor Brewer’s October 26, 2011 letter to Mathis (the now ousted chair of the committee) the objections are clearly about not liking the map itself and then inferring misconduct. Further, I find the following passage rather damning in terms of the Governor’s motivations: ”I believe the IRC also violated the Arizona Constitution by elevating ’competiveness’ above the other goals.’ Specifically, she argues that the use of geographic and existing political boundaries were not adequately applied. It seems to me that if there are grounds for accusations of “gross misconduct” then, fine. However, if the argument goes like this: GOP doesn’t like the map—>it is too competitive!—>there must have been gross misconduct, then perhaps this is problematic logic.
As such, Dave Weigel’s headline on his post on this topic appears, at least at the moment, to be on target: If You Don’t Like the Map, Impeach the Map-Maker.
Really, all of this underscores that one of the most fundamental problems in our politics is that we have a widespread situation wherein the power to draw districts is more significant than the actual process of voting. It is more important than who the candidates are or what the prevailing issues of the day happen to be. Every ten years there is a fight to geo-lock certain cadred of partisans within specific lines (not that it always works as intended). This should be considered more of a problem than it is by the general public. Of course, the only true remedy is to substantially reform our election system to one that does not rely so heavily on single member districts (either a full-blown proportional representation system or a mixed system such as Mixed Member Proportional system that combines single member districts and localized representation with a national proportional vote to determine the exact partisan mix of the legislature).
Of course, such reform is a bridge too far for the current (and foreseeable) political climate. Still, I think is it useful to encourage thought on this subject. At a minimum, the fact that geography can be manipulated to determine (or, at least, substantially influence) electoral outcomes ought to be objectionable to anyone who values democratic competition.