BY LINDA BENTLEY | MAY 2, 2012
Citizens sue Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission
The selection of Strategic Telemetry ‘proved to be a flashpoint that irreparably damaged public confidence in the AIRC’
PHOENIX – Last Friday, citizens from several congressional districts filed a complaint against the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (AIRC), Chairwoman Colleen Coyle Mathis, Vice Chairman Jose Herrera, commissioners Scott Freeman, Linda McNulty and Richard Sturtz, and Secretary of State Ken Bennett for declaratory, mandamus and injunctive relief on the grounds the AIRC violated the redistricting process mandated by the Arizona Constitution.
The complaint states, “These violations were foreshadowed by, and the result of, an alliance between the commission’s two Democrats and its so-called Independent chair to form a voting bloc to achieve a desired result.”
The three commissioners are accused of manipulating the redistricting process from day one in order to carry out their agenda.
In doing so, the AIRC is accused of casting aside “inconvenient constitutional and statutory requirements.”
While the Arizona Attorney General, legislature and governor attempted to take corrective action, their efforts were met with “full blown resistance from the AIRC and rejected by the courts primarily concerned with protecting the AIRC’s independence during the mapping process.
“As a result, the AIRC’s majority proceeded unchecked in adopting its Final Congressional Map.”
Plaintiffs claim the AIRC majority did not follow mandatory constitutional procedures, rendering the resulting map unconstitutional.
The AIRC was created in 2000 through the passage of Proposition 106, a citizen initiative, which reassigned the authority to draw congressional and state legislative districts from the elected state legislature to the appointed five-member AIRC.
Commissioners, for three years prior to their appointment, are precluded from being appointed to, elected to, or a candidate for any other public office, including precinct committeeman, and shall not have served as an officer of a political party, or served as a registered paid lobbyist or as an officer of a candidate’s campaign committee, although they may serve on a school district board.
The purpose of Proposition 106, described by then Attorney General Janet Napolitano’s publicity pamphlet argument, stated, “Through open meetings throughout the state – not backroom dealing – we will have a process run by the public” and the initiative would be “fair to all Arizonans because it opens up the system to public scrutiny.”
The commission, “to ensure transparency” must also conduct its business “in meetings open to the public, with 48 or more hours public notice provided.”
The commission is tasked with adjusting the map’s grids, as necessary to accommodate, the following six listed goals:
• Districts shall comply with the United States Constitution and the United States voting rights act;
• Congressional districts shall have equal population to the extent practicable, and state legislative districts shall have equal population to the extent practicable;
• Districts shall be geographically compact and contiguous to the extent practicable;
• District boundaries shall respect communities of interest to the extent practicable;
• To the extent practicable, district lines shall use visible geographic features, city, town and county boundaries, and undivided census tracts;
• To the extent practicable, competitive districts should be favored where to do so would create no significant detriment to the other goals.
Party registration and voting history data must be excluded from the initial phase of the mapping process but may be used to test maps for compliance with the stated goals.
The AIRC also may not identify or consider the places of residence of incumbents or candidates at any phase of the mapping process.
The complaint discusses the selection of Mathis for chair of the commission, whereas Mathis stated there was nothing in her background that would limit her ability to be fair “as long as she did not have to make decisions about buying heavy equipment …”
However, in her Oct. 12, 2010 application, Mathis “omitted critical information, which, had it been known, would have identified her as biased in favor of the Democratic Party and not impartial, and would have precluded her inclusion on the list of candidates for chair and most certainly would have prevented her selection as the Independent chair of the AIRC.
Mathis failed to mention her husband Christopher Mathis served as treasurer for the 2010 campaign of Nancy Young Wright, a Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives from Legislative District 26 in Pima County.
The complaint lists a number of donations made by both the Mathises, demonstrating a consistent pattern of support for Democratic candidates and causes and revealing “Mathis at heart is a Democrat, though dressed in Independent clothing.”
It goes on to state, “Although his service as a candidate campaign treasurer in 2010 would have disqualified him from appointment to the AIRC, Mr. Mathis effectively became a ‘sixth commissioner’ by closely counseling Defendant Mathis on every aspect of the redistricting process, including votes taken, and interacting with stakeholders to ascertain their support for various proposals. Mr. Mathis attended virtually every public meeting of the AIRC, often spoke with Democratic operatives during hearings, listened in on many conference calls among the AIRC Defendants, and acted on Defendant Mathis's behalf to round up votes on decisions coming before the commission. Mr. Mathis even went so far as to propose a deal to establish legislative district boundaries in which the Democrat commissioners would draw districts in southern Arizona and the Republican commissioners would draw those in northern Arizona. For someone constitutionally barred from service on the commission, Mr. Mathis was allowed to have unprecedented involvement in and influence on the redistricting process.”
Plaintiffs allege the stage was set early on for an outcome-based redistricting instead of the process-driven redistricting guaranteed by the Arizona Constitution, with the commissioners “polarized along party lines, with the chair, nominally Independent, siding with Democratic members McNulty and Herrera on every decision of any consequence.”
The complaint cites several instances of alleged open meeting law violations along with a problem with the selection of Joseph Kanefield as its Republican legal counsel.
As it turns out, Kanefield only registered as a Republican nine months prior to his response to the request for proposals and was a registered Democrat for at least 17 years prior.
Other problems emerged when it hired Strategic Telemetry, despite its lack of redistricting or mapping experience.
Ken Strasma, president of Strategic Telemetry, is a campaign strategist who specializes in micro targeting. He is considered a pioneer in the use of high-tech statistical modeling in Democratic campaigns.
In fact, because of Strategic Telemetry’s ability to go beyond voter registration to analyze voter behavior, it could carve out districts that might appear neutral but, in fact, would be solid pro-Democrat districts.
Mathis actively lobbied the other commissioners to select Strategic Telemetry, which was awarded the contract by a 3-2 vote with Mathis McNulty and Herrera voting in favor.
According to the complaint, the selection of Strategic Telemetry on the heels of its selection of Kanefield for the commission’s legal counsel “proved to be a flashpoint that irreparably damaged public confidence in the AIRC” with scores of citizens expressing concerns about the ability of Strategic Telemetry to remain impartial.
The adoption of Proposition 106 not only transferred the redistricting task from the legislature to the AIRC, it imposed specific rules and processes the AIRC must follow in performing this task.
After all prior attempts to rectify the AIRC’s failure to follow the constitutionally mandated procedures to draft its Congressional Grid Map failed, citizens were left with no other remedy to invalidate the AIRC’s maps than to sue.