Arizona Governor Fires Head of Independent Redistricting Panel

Arizona Republican Governor Jan Brewer fired the head of a commission redrawing the state’s Congressional and legislative district boundaries, calling the panel’s work “flawed.”

The Republican-dominated Senate approved Brewer’s decision to remove Colleen Mathis, a registered independent from Pima County, for “gross misconduct” in a special session called by Secretary of State Ken Bennett yesterday. Republicans accused Mathis of Democratic bias.

States are using 2010 Census data for the once-a-decade reconfiguration of district boundaries for the U.S. House of Representatives and the Legislature. Arizona’s five-member Independent Redistricting Commission last month approved election maps that, while favoring Republicans, may help Democrats gain seats in the U.S. House.

“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.”

Mathis denied misconduct in a letter to Brewer on Oct. 31.

“I have undertaken this responsibility with the utmost care to be honest, fair and impartial,” Mathis said in the letter. “I have endeavored to uphold all of the provisions of the law and in the loyalty oath I took.” She wasn’t available for comment on the vote.

The commission’s lone independent, Mathis was selected for the panel by a vote of the other members, two of whom were chosen by legislative Republicans and two by Democrats.

Democratic Abstentions

Removing a commission member requires a two-thirds vote in the 30-member Senate. The party-line decision was 21 to 6, with three of the chamber’s nine Democrats not voting.

A legislative committee of Republicans that held hearings on the commission’s work issued a report Oct. 31 saying the draft maps are so flawed that they want the panel to start over. The state Legislature yesterday 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.”

‘Fair and Impartial’

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.

“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," Senator Linda Gray, a Glendale Republican, 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.

‘Strongest Incentive’

Arizona and three other states -- California, Idaho and Washington -- have independent citizens’ commissions charged with drawing legislative and congressional lines, according to Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

"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 Levitt, author of the “All About Redistricting” website. “This is job security.”

Bennett called the special session 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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