Last week the Senate confirmed the governor’s removal of the Independent Redistricting Commission Chair Colleen Mathis. This action should have been taken back in June, but it was taken now because the maps produced by the IRC under the direction of the chair are unconstitutional in all six criteria that must be considered: the U.S. Voting Rights Act, equal population, geographical compactness, respect for communities of interest, use of visible geographic features and competitiveness.
We believe that Ms. Mathis has presided over a dysfunctional process riddled with incompetence and that she has failed in her one, overriding goal: to produce constitutional maps.
The chair prevented Republican commission members from hiring their own counsel, and she engineered the awarding of a mapping consultant contract to a partisan firm that clearly was in over its head. The awarding of the contract to Strategic Telemetry was done under a cloud of open meeting violations and alleged bid-rigging. Those evaluations were then put through a paper shredder so that nothing can be verified.
She has refused to cooperate with the attorney general’s open meeting law investigation of the IRC.
The IRC abandoned the use of grid maps, contrary to the Arizona Constitution.
Dramatic changes were made to the draft maps over the weekend of Sept. 24, in private and without the full commission. The following Monday, commissioners were asked to view and approve the entirely new maps.
After seven days of testimony in front of the Joint Legislative Committee on Redistricting, there is overwhelming evidence that the IRC has produced unconstitutional congressional and legislative draft maps.
The law provides for the actions that the governor and the Legislature took Tuesday. When Proposition 106 was passed by the people, provisions were included for removal of any commissioner if they did not function properly and within the law.
I heard a consistent complaint over and over from many in my district who attended the IRC meeting. They felt strongly that the commissioners did not listen or care about the testimony given concerning their proposed maps. Early in the process, maps from my district had been drawn and submitted to the commission. These maps had strong support of the vast majority of my district. These maps met the constitutional criteria and would have kept eastern rural Arizona together. In my district alone, 15 cities and towns passed resolutions in support of our maps and against the IRC maps. The five eastern counties all testified that we would lose rural representation under the new maps and that the four new districts drawn out of the original District 5 did not meet the constitutional criteria.
More than 10 years ago, Prop. 106 (the creation of an Independent Redistricting Commission) was sold to the public by persuading them that it would be “independent” — that is, free from all partisanship. Please understand that nothing is ever free from politics or partisanship, but if it is held accountable to the people through their vote and voice, then we have a better check on the process.
Before the IRC (Prop. 106), the state Constitution put the responsibility for redistricting in the hands of the Legislature, approved by the governor. This constitutional process held the Legislature/governor accountable to the people who, through their vote and voice, could express their desires and concerns. Through this process, my 15 cities and towns and five counties’ resolutions would have had more of an impact on the Legislature than on an “independent” commission composed of people who feel no responsibility to or consequences from the voters.
By creating an “independent” commission that is totally unaccountable to the people, the people’s voice has been lost, and all that matters is the individual partisanship pressure the commissioners feel from special interests. We need to repeal the law that created the IRC and put this process back in the hands of the people, as it was originally constitutionally designed.