Embattled panel to continue as Arizona's political mapmaker
Jul. 15, 2017
PHOENIX (AP) — The commission tasked with drawing Arizona's political boundaries has been the target of criticism, protests and repeated lawsuits for the past six years. But it has ensured it will continue as the state's political mapmaker after triumphing in the key legal and policy battles it faced while shaping the state's political landscape for the past three elections.
The prospect of a new Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission being seated after the 2020 U.S. census appears to be a lock, despite public skepticism, The Arizona Republic reported (http://bit.ly/2te24Mr ).
The commission, which retired at the end of June, had spent $7.3 million of taxpayer money on legal and travel costs to defend the legislative and congressional lines it drew in 2011.
The Legislature, governor and attorney general are among those who have questioned the commission's work. But aside from the legal battles, debate continues on whether to tweak the commission's composition and procedures.
Republicans, especially those in the GOP-controlled Legislature, oppose the very notion of a commission drawing political boundaries. That's a duty that traditionally belonged to the Legislature until voters in 2000 approved giving the job to a five-member panel of volunteers.
Democrats largely defend the commission, although many believe the commission could do a better job of drawing more competitive districts.
There have been repeated suggestions to expand the five-member commission, perhaps by adding more members who are registered independents, or designating a seat for a rural resident.
But Dennis Michael Burke, a political organizer and one of the authors of the ballot measure, said a larger commission will only lead to more problems.
"The larger you get, the more political you get," he said. "It's easier to form cliques as the group gets larger."
Scott Freeman, a Republican and one of the five commission members recently retired, said the commission would benefit from tighter definitions of the criteria the commission must consider as it draws lines.
Freeman said, for example, one goal is to create "compact" districts, but it was never clear what that meant. The commission was left to interpret that meaning, he said.
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, conceded that the panel is here to stay, but he said some changes are possible.
Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com