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Wednesday, July 24, 2024 | Back issues
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Political War Over Arizona Redistricting

PHOENIX (CN) - The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission sued Gov. Jan Brewer, claiming she unconstitutionally asked the state Senate to "concur in her decision to remove commissioners from office," as political payback for its hiring of a mapping consultant who had worked with Democrats. The state Senate approved Brewer's action in a 21-6 party-line vote.

Brewer's decision to yank Chairwoman Colleen Coyle Mathis from the commission came Tuesday, the same day the agency sued the governor in Maricopa County Court to try to stop Brewer from taking that very action.

The commission claims that Brewer threatens its "ability to perform its constitutional responsibilities and violates separation of powers principles and requirements of Proposition 106."

Arizona voters passed Prop. 106 in November 2000. It removes the redistricting processes from the Legislature created the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, to "draw Arizona's congressional and legislative districts in a fair, open, and transparent manner" after each decennial census, according to the complaint.

The Redistricting Commission says Brewer has "unlawfully, and in excess of her constitutional authority, asked the Senate to concur in her decision to remove commissioners from office."

The commission has five members: Mathis, an independent, two Republicans and two Democrats. It can have "no more than two members of the same political party," according to the complaint.

Brewer aids in a statement: "The Arizona Constitution provides that the governor has direct oversight of the Independent Redistricting Commission, as well as the ability to remove any member due to 'substantial neglect of duty' or 'gross misconduct in office.'"

The Redistricting Commission claims an "organized campaign of attacks" against it began after its 3-2 vote on June 29 to select Strategic Telemetry as its mapping consultant.

The attacks came "exclusively from one side of the political spectrum - those, for example, who opposed the mapping consultant because it previously worked for Barack Obama and other 'progressive' candidates and feared that the company would inject a political bias into the mapping process," according to the complaint.

On July 21, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne announced "an investigation of the IRC for alleged violations of Arizona's procurement rules and open meeting law," the complaint states.

The Redistricting Commission says it has always conducted its business in public, and "held 23 public hearings throughout the state and developed a comprehensive public input program" before the redistricting mapping began.

It claims that on Oct. 26, during a 30-day public comment period on its "draft maps and summary judgment briefing on the open meeting law dispute pending," Brewer, a Republican, sent a letter to the commission to provide notice "of allegations that the commissioners committed substantial neglect of duty and gross misconduct in office" and "'refused to cooperate with the Arizona Attorney General's investigation' of the Open Meeting Law."

Brewer's letter "blankly" alleged that the commission "violated constitutional requirements during the initial process of drawing the draft congressional districts," according to the complaint.

The commission says it responded to the letter, explaining "why nothing in her letter justified removing any commissioner and urged the governor not to participate in 'further efforts to prevent the commission from completing its work and to end any consideration of removing any commissioners from office.'"

It claims Brewer's "attempts to use her removal authority to usurp the role of the judiciary" are unconstitutional because she does not have legal authority to "declare what the open meeting requirements are that apply to members of the IRC and, therefore, the governor cannot remove a commissioner for 'substantial neglect' or 'gross misconduct' based on open meeting violations until a court resolves that issue."

The commission adds: "The notice to all five commissioners without identifying who allegedly committed what misconduct and providing less than three business days to respond does not satisfy the purposes of the notice requirement in the [Arizona] Constitution.

"The notice requirement does not satisfy constitutional requirements because it fails to include any allegations that support the removal of any commissioner under Proposition 106. The issues raised in the governor's letter either usurp judicial

review or are simply wrong."

The commission seeks declaratory judgment and injunctive relief "to invalidate the governor's unprecedented and improper political interference in the conduct of the IRC."

The commission sued Brewer, the state Senate and Senate President Russell Pearce.

It is represented by Mary O'Grady with Osborn Maledon.

Follow @jamierossCNS
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