OUT OF BOUNDS
Laura Hogan made the journey from Vail to Marana on the evening of Friday, Nov. 4, to let the Independent Redistricting Commission know she was outraged after Gov. Jan Brewer removed Colleen Mathis as chairwoman of the panel that's charged with drawing Arizona's political boundaries for the next decade.
Republican state senators provided Brewer with the two-thirds super-majority necessary to dispatch Mathis during a special session that lasted barely more than an hour on Tuesday, Nov. 1.
"It was a kangaroo court," said Hogan, who has lived in Arizona for most of her 60 years; she's been a Democrat for the majority of that time. "There weren't even specific charges. ... I can't remember ever seeing anything like this before—and I follow politics. Not even Nixon and his dirty tricks. Nothing compares to what Republicans did this last week in the state Legislature."
Based on the testimony at Friday night's IRC public hearing, most of the audience members agreed with Hogan.
But some speakers were on the other side, praising Brewer for taking the unprecedented step of removing Mathis from her position after charging that the independent chairwoman of the commission was guilty of "gross misconduct in office" and a "substantial neglect of duty."
Brewer had a hard time explaining those charges last week while she was off courting the East Coast Media Elite with her new book, Scorpions for Breakfast. Appearing on Alan Colmes' radio show, Brewer offered explanations like: "Well, she acted, uh, inappropriately. Well, it was very, pretty much obvious that she was in communications, and doing things, uh, not in the public." Also: "Well, she wasn't operating in the proper manner." As Colmes pressed for specifics, Brewer finally said: "I wish I had my letter here so I could read from it."
It's a travesty that the other big-time journalists who hosted Brewer last week couldn't be bothered to challenge her on the IRC question.
It's obvious to The Skinny why Brewer did what she did: There was a chance that the district lines might not give Republicans enough of an overwhelming advantage in the state.
Here's why the IRC is important: The commission is deciding the lines for Arizona's congressional and legislative districts. That means it can create districts where Republicans have a big advantage, districts where Democrats have a big advantage, and/or districts that are competitive—and voters have an actual choice when November elections roll around.
Republicans are spitting mad over the maps that have been drawn so far—which is utterly absurd. On the congressional side, Republican candidates would be a lock in four of Arizona's nine districts; Democrats would be a lock in two of the districts; and three of the districts would be competitive. On the legislative side, Republicans would have an advantage in at least 15 of the 30 districts, meaning the worst Republicans could fear, barring a political wipeout on a level never seen in Arizona, is a legislature where they control only half of the seats.
Your mileage may differ, but this does not seem like a bad deal for Republicans.
THE CONSTITUTIONAL QUESTION
When they removed Mathis from the IRC, Brewer and many of the Republican lawmakers complained that the maps simply weren't constitutional.
But when it comes to the constitutionality of district maps, it doesn't really matter what speakers at a redistricting hearing say. It doesn't matter what the governor says, or what state lawmakers say, or what bloggers say, or what journalists say.
The only voices that matter in determining the constitutionality of district maps are those from the courts.
Or at least that's what Paul Charlton, the attorney hired by the IRC to defend Mathis against trumped-up charges that she violated open-meeting laws, told The Skinny when we spoke to him last week.
To begin with, Brewer and the GOP lawmakers were complaining about draft maps that weren't final.
But more importantly, argued Charlton, "Once those lines are final, the way to challenge those lines is in court, not in a legislative body. That is the very reason we have an Independent Redistricting Commission, to take that authority away from the Legislature."
Charlton had plenty of other problems with Brewer's push to knock Mathis off the panel, including the very basic notion that in this country—even in Arizona under Brewer's rule—Mathis deserved some kind of due process.
"Due process requires more than hearsay," Charlton said. "It requires more than politics. ... This had nothing to do with the law; it had nothing to with the Constitution. It had to do with political intimidation. ... It's wrong; it's unconstitutional; and it's wholly inconsistent with what the voters put in place with (2000's) Prop 106.""
Of course, Brewer doesn't want Charlton—a former U.S. attorney for Arizona under the Bush administration—to argue those points in court. That's why she had staffers tell Independent Redistricting Commission executive director Ray Bladine last week that, because Mathis has been removed from the commission, the state will not pay any of Charlton's bills.
Bladine told the Tucson Weekly on Friday that Charlton was hired by a vote of the commission and that the IRC intends to continue to submit his bills to the state.
That said, it appears that Charlton won't be able to handle this particular part of the fight. That's not because Charlton is worried about a paycheck; he's going to continue to defend Mathis during the investigation of the alleged violations of the open-meeting law.
But Charlton's firm, Gallagher and Kennedy, has a contract with the state, so the state would need to grant Charlton a waiver to take on this new job. And if Brewer is already trying to stiff him on legal bills, there's little chance she's going to grant him a waiver.
BRING ON THE LAWYERS
Blocking Charlton from fighting against Mathis' removal doesn't mean she's without counsel. Thomas Zlaket, a former Arizona Supreme Court chief justice, is stepping up to take the case.
Zlaket has already filed a petition on Mathis' behalf before the Arizona Supreme Court. Space does not permit us to get into the details, but here's Zlaket's written argument, in a nutshell: "Due process demands, at a minimum, that Ms. Mathis must have been informed by written notice, and in definite terms, of the allegations against her."
Zlaket's argument came after IRC attorney Mary O'Grady filed a special action before the Arizona Supreme Court.
O'Grady's 38-page petition asks the court to rule that Mathis was illegally removed from her chairmanship, arguing that Brewer had "usurped the legislative power of the commission to draw congressional and legislative districts and arrogated to herself the judicial power to pass on the legality of draft, unfinished maps," and that "the written notice and stated reasons for removal failed to meet the constitutional requirements" in the proposition that created the IRC.
You can expect a flurry of legal filings in the next week. We'll follow them on The Range, our daily dispatch.
The Arizona Supreme Court has set a deadline of Monday, Nov. 14, for all responses in the case to be filed. Oral arguments—with each side given 25 minutes to argue its case—have been set for 2 p.m., next Thursday, Nov. 17.