A few months ago I argued that the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission has an impossible task – there is no way to redistrict the state without getting sued.
That argument still holds but a strange thing is happening on the way to the courthouse – Republicans are panicking that they might lose power and are trying to win their case through sheer political thuggery before the maps are drawn.
The law that created the commission requires it to draw congressional and legislative districts that are roughly equal in population, compact and contiguous, respect “communities of interest” and that are competitive politically without harming the other goals all while adhering to the federal Voting Rights Act protecting minority voting power.
Evidence of the difficulty in drawing such maps can be found, ironically, via the commission’s biggest champion, the Arizona Competitive Districts Coalition. This nonpartisan group is trying to educate Arizonans that the state can live up to the intent of the redistricting law and create competitive districts that bring some balance back to the state’s politics.
For the past two months it has been conducting an online mapping contest with $500 to the person who draws the most competitive map that also adheres to the other requirements of the law.
But it’s had to extend the contest deadline twice because none of the maps submitted have met all the criteria. The goal of the contest is to have maps on hand that can be used to challenge any maps drawn by the commission’s contractor and statements that the commission’s map is the only way it can be done.
But while the coalition attempts to reasonably guide the commission to competitiveness, Republicans are trying to intimidate it into keeping things as they are – Republican.
Not only do Republicans hold all statewide offices (which has nothing to do with redistricting) but they control two thirds of the seats in both legislative chambers.
When the commission in April and May didn’t hire the same cast of Republican-leaning contractors that it used in 2001 to be its lawyer or mapping consultant and instead hired Democratic-leaning contractors, alarm bells went off in the GOP.
Conservative blog fear mongerers have whipped up hysterical and conspiratorial claims that liberal boogeymen Moveon.org and George Soros are trying to steal Arizona from the Republicans.
A Tea Party group even sent out an email with instructions to Tea Partiers about how to show up to the commission public forums and scare the commission into seeing things the Republican way.
Meanwhile, new Speaker of the House Andy Tobin sent a letter to the commission saying that Republicans are watching it closely and an Oro Valley Republican House member has asked for a special legislative session to remove the commission’s independent chairwoman whose husband worked on a Democratic House campaign last year.
That’s been followed this week by Attorney General Tom Horne saying he’s conducting a “preliminary investigation” – whatever that means – into allegations of open meeting law violations even though there’s no evidence of any such violations.
And all this before the commission has even released the first map.
There is no way the commission can draft a map that doesn’t cost Republicans because their members have deserted them the past decade almost as fast as voters have deserted the Democratic Party. Two thirds of Arizona voters are not Republicans so any map that has even a semblance of competitiveness will cost Republicans. That’s reason for concern, but not panic.
Let’s see a map first and have the hysterics after.