Sparks flew Thursday night, during a public comment meeting, over whether or not the Independent Redistricting Commission assigned to redraw congressional and legislative districts in Arizona is being truly transparent.
The July 21 meeting at South Mountain Community College began at 6 p.m. with a short presentation about the redistricting process followed by more than two hours of public comment.
Many who commented brought up the issue of transparency. Colleen Mathis, chair of the commission, must be an Independent by law but made a mistake on her application when she did not disclose that her husband is a registered Democrat.
"I understand you apologized. You explained that it was a mistake," said Kelly Townsend, representing the Greater Phoenix Tea Party. "Whether it was a frivolous mistake or one you did intentionally, that's an attention to detail issue and I am concerned. I believe if you had marked that it would have created a big change on the consideration of your position."
Townsend also mentioned in her comment that the commission has chosen Strategic Telemetry to help with the mapping process, a company which has helped many Democrat causes over the years. She quoted an Arizona Capitol Times article that said one member of the commission, Jose Herrera, said he had to give Strategic Telemetry a perfect score even though he preferred another company.
Townsend received many cheers and boos when she called for Mathis to step down, after which the crowd was reminded of the police presence.
Sen. John McComish, who attended the meeting and thanked the commission for the voluntary job it is doing, said he is concerned with the number of executive meetings the commission is having.
"We don't know what goes on behind closed doors," McComish said. "They are justified in what they're doing. An executive session is perfectly OK, but they've had an inordinate number of executive sessions, more so than the group in the past. I think what they should be doing is telling us, without going into specifics, what the executive session was about, whether it was personnel or whatever. I'd like a broad description so we understand what they're doing."
During his comments at the meeting McComish asked the commission to keep Ahwatukee Foothills together as a community of interest.
"At one time Ahwatukee Foothills was divided and we never thought that was very fair," McComish said at the beginning of the meeting. "We ask that it be preserved as a community of interest and in District 20. Ahwatukee has its own chamber of commerce, its own newspaper, its own library, swimming pool and Village Planning Committee. It also has natural boundaries with the South Mountain range and the reservation on the south. It clearly fits the definition of a community of interest and I hope that's something you people will consider."
While some from Districts 15 and 17 complained about a lack of competitiveness in their current districts, residents of Ahwatukee asked that District 20 be kept intact because of the competitive nature.
"I've lived in the Chandler-Ahwatukee area for almost 20 years and during this time we've had the benefit of living in a district that has grown more competitive over time," said resident Sean Bowie. "Since 2008, there have only been two districts in all of Maricopa County that have elected both Democrats and Republicans and my district is one of them. Over the years we have received more attention, better candidates and higher voter turnout because we have evolved into a competitive district."
Bowie and McComish both recognized that Legislative District 20 would need to gain more than 30,000 voters during this redistricting, but they urged the commission to keep LD 20 competitive.
Because of population growth over the past decade Arizona has need for another congressional district, going from eight to nine. The lines must be redrawn every 10 years to accommodate population changes. The new districts must comply with the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act, have equal populations, be compact and contiguous, respect communities of interest, use visible geographic features, city, town and county boundaries and undivided Census Tracks, and create competitive districts.
A five-member commission has been chosen to draw the new lines. The commission must have two Republicans, two Democrats and one Independent who chairs the commission.
Attorney General Tom Horne has authorized his office to conduct an initial investigation of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission to determine if any violations were made.
For more information on the process and the next public comment meetings, visit azredistricting.org.
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