Crossing the Lines

Republicans coordinate a PR blitz as a step toward dismantling the Independent Redistricting Commission

The Independent Redistricting Commission last week released a draft map of Arizona's nine congressional districts—and the Republican response was swift, scathing and coordinated.

Gov. Jan Brewer said the map was "simply gerrymandering at its worst" that had produced "a congressional map that is every Democrat's dream." U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl released a joint statement saying they'd "hoped the work of the Independent Redistricting Commission would be a fair process. It is clear that instead it has been political." Congressman Jeff Flake, who wants to take Kyl's seat next year, said the map "is not in the best interests of the state of Arizona." State Rep. Andy Tobin, speaker of the House, said the "spirit of the voters' intent in developing fair and independent maps has been hijacked."

It's a loud outcry over a map that gives Republicans an overwhelming advantage in four of the proposed districts, gives Democrats an overwhelming advantage in two of the districts, and leaves three districts competitive.

Given that they're talking about a map that gives the GOP seven of the nine seats in a good year, and four of the nine in a bad year, the complaints from Republicans were difficult to square with reality, says Andrei Cherny, chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party.

"You wonder why they are waging World War III on this issue," says Cherny. "It seems to me that they are really trying to intimidate the commission as they go to work on a map of legislative districts." (For more on the draft legislative map, see The Skinny.)

As Cherny points out, the barrage of press releases was coordinated, as a leaked e-mail from the governor's office revealed.

"Aprylmarie, here's the Governor's draft statement," Ryan Serote of Brewer's office wrote to Apryl Marie Fogel, the communications director for Congressman Paul Gosar. "We've got the rest of our AZ Republicans sending something out and continue to feel that a united front from our state Republicans will be best for all of us."

The e-mail chain shows that Fogel sent Serote a proposed statement by Gosar condemning the map. Serote replied: "Excellent. Thanks!"

The key comments against the IRC came in Brewer's statement, when she said that the commission's work represented "nothing less than neglect of duty and gross misconduct."

Those are the "magic words," as one IRC observer put it at a Monday, Oct. 10, meeting of the commission. Under the Arizona Constitution, Brewer has the power to ask the Arizona Legislature to remove a member of the commission for "substantial neglect of duty, gross misconduct in office, or the inability to discharge the duties of office."

If Brewer did seek the removal of members of the commission, two-thirds of the Arizona Senate would need to support the move—and Republicans happen to hold a two-thirds majority in the Senate.

The ongoing GOP assault against the IRC is the culmination of a campaign started by Tea Party activists almost as soon as the IRC started meeting. Their complaints led to Attorney General Tom Horne launching an investigation into whether members of the commission violated Arizona's open-meeting law.

In September, Horne told a meeting of Republicans that a violation of the open-meeting law would open the door to allowing him to remove members of the current commission.

Last week, Horne was in Maricopa County Superior Court, asking Judge Dean Fink to compel commissioners Colleen Mathis, Linda McNulty and Jose Herrera to submit to his questioning on the matter.

But the commission's legal team, Democratic lawyer Mary O'Grady and Republican lawyer Joe Kanefield, have filed a counter-claim, asking the court to rule that the commission, as a body created under specific constitutional authority, is not required to follow the open-meeting law. (State lawmakers, who fall under the same section of the Arizona Constitution as the IRC, are not bound by many of the requirements of the open-meeting law.) The IRC filing argues that the state Constitution does not "explicitly empower, or even mention, the attorney general with respect to any enforcement or investigative power over the acts of the IRC or its commissioners."

Meanwhile, the Arizona Democratic Party is doing some investigating of its own. It filed a public-records request with the Attorney General's Office to discover what kind of communications Horne and his staff have had with the GOP operatives who are pushing for GOP advantages in the new maps.

"It's clear there's a pattern of extreme partisanship coming out of Tom Horne's office, including his showing up at Republican meetings and laying out his assault on the commission and not even pretending that it's an investigation," Cherny says. "What he's doing is part of a larger pattern shared by all of the powers-that-be in the Republican Party in the state. They're trying to intimidate the commission."

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