GOP state lawmaker wants Arizona voters to pick district boundaries - East Valley Tribune: Politics

GOP state lawmaker wants Arizona voters to pick district boundaries

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Posted: Monday, October 31, 2011 8:28 am | Updated: 1:23 pm, Fri Nov 11, 2011.

A Republican lawmaker is proposing to amend the Arizona Constitution to give voters the final say on lines for the state's 30 legislative and nine congressional districts.

Sen. Frank Antenori of Tucson envisions a plan where Republican and Democratic legislators would each craft a map, as would the Independent Redistricting Commission. Then all six maps -- three congressional and three legislative -- would be presented to voters who would select which ones they want in place for the coming decade.

And Antenori wants a special legislative session before the end of the year to put his plan -- and all three maps -- on the ballot early next year, in time for the new system to be in place for the 2012 election.

The proposal is an alternative to other ideas being floated by Republicans unhappy with the maps crafted by the commission, maps they contend were unfairly drawn.

They specifically have problems with how the panel divided up the state into what will now be nine congressional districts, saying the lines appear designed to give Democrats a leg up. But they even are grumbling about the 30 legislative districts even though an analysis shows the map is likely to guarantee GOP control for the next decade.

Gov. Jan Brewer already is laying the groundwork for one alternative: replacing one or more of the five commissioners. She has sketched out allegations that Colleen Mathis, who chairs the panel, violated the Open Meeting Law and that the commission's maps themselves run afoul of constitutional requirements. And she has given the commissioners until 8 a.m. today (eds: Monday) to respond, telling them that refusal to answer her questions will be "taken as an admission'' they broke the law.

Antenori, however, said he's not sure that simply replacing some commissioners with new ones -- two of whom would still have to be appointed by legislative Democrats -- would make a difference.

Brewer won't take a position on what Antenori wants. Press aide Matthew Benson said his boss first wants to review those responses due today.

"There are a range of potential next steps,'' Benson said. "But that determination will depend on whether the governor can be persuaded that the redistricting process has been conducted in a lawful and constitutionally sound manner.''

Aside from providing an option other than replacing commissioners, Antenori's plan also would be an alternative to a proposal floated by Rep. Terri Proud, another Tucson Republican.

She wants to ask voters to repeal the 2000 constitutional amendment that created the commission. That would once again give the task of drawing lines back to lawmakers.

But that has failed to gain much backing. Even House Speaker Andy Tobin saying he doubts voters would support that.

Antenori argued that his plan stands a better chance at the ballot, at least in part because it is the only one to give voters a say.

The 2000 constitutional amendment created a five-member commission, with two chosen by top elected Republican legislators and two selected by Democratic lawmakers. Those four then select a political independent to chair the panel.

But the lawmakers can choose only from a list approved by the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments whose members are chosen by the governor and the State Bar of Arizona. Similarly, the four redistricting commissioners can pick a chairman only from a similarly approved list.

"You have appointees appointed by appointees,'' he said of the commission. "When do voters get a say?'' Antenori asked.

The idea drew an icy reception from Senate Minority Leader David Schapira.

"I don't think the Legislature, which has self interests in self-preservation should have any role in the direct drawing of maps,'' the Tempe Democrat said.

He rejected Antenori's contention that the current system leaves the Independent Redistricting Commission unaccountable. Schapira said any maps not only have to be approved by the Department of Justice, at least for fairness to minorities, but also can be challenged by anyone who believes that the panel did not follow all of the requirements.

Aside from the mandate to create districts of equal population, the law requires commissioners, to the extent possible, to protect communities of interest, create compact districts and respect both political and geographic boundaries. It also says that commissioners should try to create politically competitive districts, where a candidate of either party has a chance of getting elected, as long as that does not significantly interfere with those other goals.

Arizona courts, however, are likely to be loath to intercede.

A decade ago the prior commission -- new members are named every 10 years -- created maps that some Democrats contended did not pay sufficient attention to that mandate to create competitive districts where possible. They filed suit.

But the Arizona Supreme Court concluded, in essence, that just because it is possible that a "better'' map could have been drawn, one with more competitive districts, does not give judges the right to substitute their judgment for that of the commission. Justice Ruth McGregor said as long as an argument could be made that any "reasonable'' commission could have crafted these lines, then they were legally acceptable.

Antenori figures his system has other advantages.

One of the criticisms of the proposed maps is that they potentially leave rural areas without congressional representation. That's because seven of the nine districts have at least one toe in Maricopa County, an eighth includes populated areas just south and east in Pinal County, with the ninth focused in Tucson.

He argued that there are enough lawmakers from outside of Maricopa County to ensure that any maps advanced by the Legislature protect their interest, if for no other reason than it protects the interests of lawmakers who do not call the Phoenix area home.

Senate Majority Whip Steve Pierce said the idea of sending maps to the ballot may have some merit. But the Prescott Republican, who co-chairs a special legislative panel that is reviewing the commission's actions, said he remains convinced that some of them acted illegally and that it may be necessary to try to remove them from office.

His six-member committee has its final meeting this afternoon to make recommendations. But so far only the four Republicans on the committee have participated in the hearings, with the two Democrats boycotting.

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