The Republican-controlled Arizona Senate voted to accept Governor Jan Brewer’s decision to remove the head of a commission redrawing the state’s Congressional and legislative district boundaries.
Secretary of State Ken Bennett, acting on the Republican governor’s behalf, called lawmakers into special session so the Senate could approve Brewer’s decision to remove Colleen Mathis, a registered independent from Pima County, for “gross misconduct.” Republicans accused Mathis of Democratic bias.
Removing members from the Independent Redistricting Commission requires support of a two-thirds majority of the 30- member Senate. The party-line vote was 21 to 6, with three of the chamber’s nine Democrats not voting.
“I recognize that my decision will not be popular in some quarters,” Brewer said in a statement. “However, the conduct of the IRC -- led by Chairwoman Mathis -- has created a cloud of suspicion that will not lift. A flawed redistricting process has resulted in flawed district maps.”
States are using data from the 2010 Census for the once-a- decade reconfiguration of U.S. House of Representatives and legislative district boundaries, so that they have approximately equal numbers of people. Arizona’s five-member Independent Redistricting Commission last month approved election maps that, while still favoring Republicans, may help Democrats gain seats in the U.S. House.
Mathis, the commission’s lone independent, was selected for the panel by a vote of the other members, two of whom were chosen by legislative Republicans and two by Democrats.
A legislative committee of Republicans that held hearings on the commission’s work issued a report yesterday saying the draft maps are so flawed that they want the panel to start over. The state Legislature today passed a measure urging the commission to begin that process.
Democrats accused Arizona’s dominant party of trying to wrest control of the process that voters took away from lawmakers in 2000.
“Governor Brewer’s power grab is a clear abuse of the powers of her office,” Andrei Cherny, chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party, said in a statement. “The volunteer commissioners have drawn maps with bipartisan support that make small steps in giving independents more of a say. Their only crime is not kowtowing to Republican leaders.”
In a letter to Brewer yesterday, Mathis denied the governor’s allegations of misconduct.
‘Fair and Impartial’
“I have undertaken this responsibility with the utmost care to be honest, fair and impartial, and to ensure that the public as well as each commissioner has a voice,” Mathis said in the letter. “I can assure you that I have endeavored to uphold all of the provisions of the law, and in the loyalty oath I took when I was sworn in.” She wasn’t immediately available for comment on the vote.
On the floor of the Senate, Republicans argued that removing Mathis was their constitutional duty. Democrats countered that it was a partisan attempt to interfere with the redistricting process for their party’s benefit.
“There is no basis for this removal other than pure partisan politics,” said Senate Minority Leader David Schapira of Tempe. There were no findings of fact proving misconduct, Schapira and other Democrats said.
Republican senators accused Mathis of bias.
“What we have is a so-called independent who has leaned heavily to one direction,” Republican Senator Linda Gray of Glendale, said on the chamber’s floor. “This person is not representing independents. She is working only with Democrats on these maps.”
Last week, a state court disqualified Attorney General Tom Horne, a Republican, from pursuing an investigation into alleged open-meetings law violations by the commissioners.
Arizona and three other states -- California, Idaho and Washington -- have independent citizens’ commissions charged with drawing legislative and congressional lines.
“Redistricting creates perhaps the strongest incentive of any public policy for those in office to self-deal, to consider personal or partisan interests, even when it conflicts with the public interest,” said Justin Levitt, a Loyola Law School professor and author of the “All About Redistricting” website. “This is job security.”
Bennett was acting on Brewer’s behalf because the governor was traveling to promote her new book, “Scorpions for Breakfast: My Fight Against Special Interests, Liberal Media and Cynical Politicos to Secure America’s Border.”
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