Gov. Jan Brewer, Arizona panel battle over redistricting
If you’re not a political junkie, the redistricting process can be about as thrilling as an afternoon of C-SPAN.
Unless you're paying attention to Arizona. This year, the state's redistricting efforts are rife with personality clashes and political intrigue.
In 2000, Arizona voters approved a ballot measure that made redistricting the responsibility of a panel comprised of two Democrats, two Republicans and an independent chair, which was supposed to tamp down the partisan warfare that retooling political boundaries invites. (This year, California’s political lines were drawn for the first time by a similar independent panel.)
But Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission has recently come under fire from Republicans, who dominate state politics and who say the panel's congressional draft map favors Democrats. The GOP also criticized the commission's chairwoman, Colleen Mathis, for picking a mapping firm with Democratic ties, and said the panel’s maps ignored various constitutional requirements, the Associated Press reported.
Last week, the political sniping turned into a legal showdown.
Only Arizona's governor, with the backing of two-thirds of the state Senate, can remove redistricting panel members for “gross misconduct” or “substantial neglect of duties.” So Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, with the backing of state lawmakers, ousted Mathis. Brewer also wanted to remove the panel's two Democrats, but couldn't round up the votes, Arizona Public Media reported.
The commission responded with a lawsuit, saying the move exceeded Brewer’s authority. It also asked for Mathis to be reinstated while the legal system sorted things out. On Monday, the Arizona Supreme Court agreed to fast-track the case, meaning justices will probably rule this week on whether Mathis can temporarily rejoin the commission, the Associated Press said. The court scheduled oral arguments for later this month.
As for the redistricting process? With Mathis gone as the panel's tiebreaking vote, it will probably grind to a halt. Jennifer Steen of Arizona State University told USA Today that the 2012 election will probably unfold under court-drawn maps.
-- Ashley Powers in Las Vegas
Photo: Elizabeth Bernstein of Bisbee, Ariz., outside the state Capitol in Phoenix, objects to how Republicans have fought with Arizona's Independent Redistricting Commission. Credit: Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press