Between the Lines: Arizona Governor Seeks to Impeach Redistricting Panel

Posted October 26, 2011 at 6:37pm

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has taken the first step Wednesday in what had been previously called “the nuclear option” in seeking a more Republican-friendly redistricting map.

The GOP governor began the impeachment process for removing members from the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission by submitting a letter outlining her grievances to commission Chairwoman Colleen Mathis.

“I have issued to each member of the IRC a letter with a detailed set of allegations that rise to the level of substantial neglect of duty and gross misconduct,” Brewer said in a news release.

Arizona Democratic Party Executive Director Luis Heredia described the governor as “drunk with power,” calling the move “a brazen power grab that would rival any in Arizona history.”

“She is moving toward impeachment of citizens on the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission simply because these volunteers have fulfilled their duty to draw fair and competitive districts,” he said.

Commission Executive Director Ray Bladine said the commission’s legal counsel will offer a response to Brewer’s “serious allegations against all five commissioners.”

“Hopefully, that will resolve the matter, because continuing down this precarious path could end up sticking the taxpayers with substantial legal expenses,” Bladine said in a statement. The commission “certainly is interested in improving upon the draft maps,” he added, pointing to public hearings that are being held around the state to solicit Arizonans’ ideas.

Brewer has the authority to remove members of the commission, with the consent of two-thirds of the Arizona state Senate, if there is a finding of “substantial neglect of duty, gross misconduct of office, or an inability to discharge the duties of office.”

Republicans hold 21 of the 30 state Senate seats, and at least one Republican is using similar language to describe the commission’s efforts. State Senate Majority Whip Steve Pierce called the commission’s work “egregious.”

“Right now, I don’t think we have the votes,” Pierce told Roll Call on Tuesday. “But we could have the votes.”

Under a proposed redistricting map, there is a possibility that Democrats could gain seats in Republican-controlled Arizona, and unhappy national and Arizona Republicans have been livid.

The redistricting commission comprises two Democrats, two Republicans and one registered Independent. The map is currently in a monthlong “public comment” period, in which the commission seeks voter feedback on the map.

A panel of legislators called the Joint Legislative Committee on Redistricting is reviewing the commission’s work. Originally, four Republicans and two Democrats were to have been included in the group, but the two Democrats boycotted the hearings.

The Joint Legislative Committee will submit its recommendations to the redistricting commission. If those recommendations are not heeded, Republicans are seriously considering the removal effort, and Brewer’s move Wednesday night is a first step in that direction.

“The commission looks forward to receiving the Legislature’s comments and will consider its input as required by the Constitution,” a spokesman for the Independent Redistricting Commission said.

When the map was released earlier this month, Brewer issued a statement calling the draft “simply gerrymandering at its worst.” She described the commission as “unaccountable” and said it “has misused its authority.”

Mathis has been the primary target of conservative ire. Should she be removed from the commission, her replacement would have to be selected from a pool of preapproved registered Independents, and there are no guarantees that he or she would support a map more inclined to Republican interests.

Before Brewer’s action Wednesday night, an Arizona Democrat dismissed the Republican talk as “saber rattling.”

If no moves are made related to the commission, the map will finish its 30-day feedback tour of the state at the beginning of next month. At that point, the commission will consider feedback and make adjustments to the map. It will then be submitted to the Justice Department for preclearance approval.

Parties Sign Off on Independent Map in Nevada

In court filings this week, neither party objected to new Nevada Congressional district lines drawn recently by court-appointed special masters, the Las Vegas Sun reported.

The bipartisan agreement on the map indicates the situation could be resolved soon, though the map has a couple of more hurdles to clear. The next step in the process is a Thursday hearing before Nevada District Judge Todd Russell, who will approve or reject the plan. No matter his decision, the redistricting process still must go before the state Supreme Court on Nov. 14.

The proposed map includes one safe Republican district (now held by GOP Rep. Mark Amodei), two solidly Democratic districts (both open seats next year) and one competitive district, which is currently represented by Rep. Joe Heck (R).

The Democratic-controlled Legislature previously approved two maps that were more advantageous for the party than the special masters’ map, but Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) vetoed both and let the process play out in the courts.

Republicans wanted one majority-minority district to account for the Latino population now making up a quarter of the state’s population, but Democrats argued against that and the special masters did not include such a district in their plan.

Judge Rejects Request for Special Master in N.M.

Unlike Nevada, there will not be a special master drawing new Congressional district lines in New Mexico.

Republicans in the state, including Gov. Susana Martinez, had requested that the court appoint an independent special master to draw new Congressional and state legislative maps.

But, as the Associated Press reported, District Judge James Hall rejected their proposal, citing the added time and expense that would require. Democrats and American Indian tribes also had argued against a special master.

“In reality, delegating certain responsibilities to a special master inserts additional procedural steps to already complex litigation,” Hall wrote, according to the AP.

Hall will hold separate hearings on each map, with a four-day trial on the Congressional district lines scheduled to begin Dec. 5.

Democrats hold two of the three districts, with the Albuquerque-based 1st district being the most competitive.

Editor’s Note:

This article updates the print version to include information on Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s initiation of the impeachment process against the state’s redistricting commission Wednesday night.