Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission resumes work following political fracas

Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission resumed work yesterday, a month after the Commission was thrown into disarray when Gov. Jan Brewer and State Senate Republicans launched a full frontal assault against the commission, temporarily removing its Chairwoman, Colleen Mathis, the lone Independent on the Commission.

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Mathis was ordered removed from her position as Chairwoman of the Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) in early November, after Republican Governor Jan Brewer accused her of “gross misconduct” and “neglect of duty.”  The governor’s order was approved by a majority vote of the Republican-led State Senate.

Lawyers for the IRC and Chairwoman Mathis brought the matter to the courts, and on November 17th, the State Supreme Court ruled that Gov. Brewer’s office failed to demonstrate “substantial neglect of duty, gross misconduct in office, or inability to discharge the duties of office” by Mathis as required under the Arizona Constitution.  Seeking clarification of the court’s ruling, Gov. Brewer filed a motion for the court to reconsider its order, asking whether the ruling was based on the substance of the governor’s allegations or the format of the letter detailing those allegations.  The court responded on November 23rd by reaffirming the order and providing a more detailed explanation of its finding.

In its clarifying order, the court stated that its conclusion “is based on the letter’s substance, not its format.”  It continued, “The letter does not, as a matter of law, identify conduct that provides a constitutional basis for removal.”

Brewer had accused Mathis of violating state open meetings laws in conversations with other commissioners and of privileging the creation of competitive districts over maintaining communities of interest in the creation of maps.  The court stated that the governor provided no evidence of any violation of the public meetings law.

“There is, however, no allegation of any non-public meeting of a quorum of the commission in the Governor’s October 26th, 2011 letter or in the responses thereto.  Nor does the Governor’s November 1, 2011 letter find that a non-public meeting of a quorum of the commission occurred.”

The court further stated that it was essentially impossible to determine if any misconduct in the drawing of maps had taken place because the maps had not even been completed at the time the governor sought to remove Mathis from her position.

“The governor’s disagreement with commissioners over whether they have properly considered constitutional criteria for adjusting the grid map before they have completed final maps is not, as a matter of law, a constitutional basis for removal.”

Given that there was no lawful or constitutional basis for Mathis’s removal from the IRC, the only conclusion observers may be left to draw is that her removal by the  governor and the Republican-led State Senate was purely political.  Arguing that the court’s action disregarded the will of the people of Arizona, Republican legislators sought to instate a measure that would trash the Independent Commission and return control of the process to the Republican-dominated legislature.  Governor Brewer, however, came out against any such plan in a statement released yesterday.

“Arizona voters created the Independent Redistricting Commission with their approval in 2000 of Proposition 106.  I’ve seen no evidence to date that indicates voters are ready or willing to throw out the Commission structure,” wrote the governor.

The IRC has five members:  two Republicans, two Democrats and an Independent chairperson.  The draft maps drawn up by the IRC would create nine congressional districts, four of which are safe for Republicans, two of which are safe Democratic seats, and three of which are considered competitive.  Currently, the state has eight congressional districts, four of which are represented by Republicans and three of which are represented by Democrats.

The Commission resumed work on Tuesday, following the month long delay and controversy.