Selection of redistricting commission getting messy - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Selection of redistricting commission getting messy

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Posted: Tuesday, December 28, 2010 4:27 pm | Updated: 12:36 pm, Wed Dec 29, 2010.

Deciding not to fight, two Republicans nominated to serve on the Independent Redistricting Commission have pulled their names from consideration.

But a third has decided to fight.

Mark Schnepf said he disagrees with the contention by House Speaker Kirk Adams and Russell Pearce, the president-elect of the Senate, that his service on an irrigation district board disqualifies him from serving on the panel that will draw the state’s congressional and legislative districts. But Schnepf said in a letter to Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca Berch, who chairs the screening panel that nominated him, that the objection of the two GOP legislators — who will choose from among the nominees — makes his bid “futile.’’

Stephen Sossaman, in his own note to screening panel members, simply withdrew his application after the lawmakers complained about his membership on an irrigation board.

The moves force the screening panel, which meets Wednesday, to select replacements. They are required to nominate 10 Republicans from whom Adams and Pearce must choose.

Both legislators also contend that Paul Bender, former dean of the Arizona State University College of Law, also is unqualified to serve on the commission.

They say the law forbids membership by anyone holding “public office.” Bender serves as an appointed tribal judge, a position he continues to say is not a public office.

That decision will force the screening panel to decide whether to revisit its original decision that Bender, a registered independent, meets the legal test.

But most of the attention at today’s meeting will be focused on whether panel members reconsider their decision not to nominate Christopher Gleason of Tucson. He was one of five Republicans who made the list of finalists not on the list of 10 nominated.

Gleason claims — and Adams and Pearce agree — that the decision to exclude him from the list is directly related to his religion.

In his application, Gleason disclosed his involvement with 4 Tucson. Using the organization’s own description, Gleason said the organization’s aim is “to serve as a catalyst to engage the Christian Community in the needs and dreams of Tucson to bring about spiritual renewal and prosperity to the glory of God” to make Tucson one of the most livable cities in the world.

No one questioned Gleason about the group during his interview. But afterward, Louis Araneta, an attorney and a member of the screening panel, said he was concerned that Gleason might not be able to separate issues of church and state.

That provoked a firestorm, with Adams and Pearce demanding — and eventually getting — Araneta’s resignation from the panel. But it remains unclear whether the remaining panel members will now conclude that Gleason is among the Top 10 finalists.

The outcome of the entire dispute has far-reaching political implications.

By law, the commission is charged every 10 years with redividing the state’s 30 legislative districts to reflect the latest population figures. They also draw the lines for the state’s nine congressional districts, up one since the new Census data was released.

But the decisions are more than pure math and creating districts with an equal population.

The law also requires the commission to consider everything from existing city and county boundaries to protecting “communities of interest.” Federal law also precludes commissioners from doing anything that would dilute minority voting strength.

And the commission also is, to the extent possible, supposed to create as many politically competitive districts as possible, where the registration difference between Republicans and Democrats is so close that neither party has a lock.

All those decisions will affect the number of Republicans and Democrats likely to be elected to the Legislature or Congress through 2020.

The screening panel selects 10 Republicans from which Adams and Pearce must each choose, and 10 Democrats whose names go to the top House and Senate Democratic leaders. The four picks eventually choose the fifth from a list of five independent nominees.

Tribes have previously weighed in when district lines were being drawn. But Bender said while tribal officials appoint him to serve on appellate courts, he is not a tribal official and serves independent of tribal government.

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