AZ Senate approves evil GOP plan to undermine the AIRC

Last month I warned you the Evil GOP bastards are trying to negate the AIRC so the legislature does redistricting maps again.

Yesterday the evil GOP bastards in the Senate approved their amended but still flawed plan on a party-line vote. The Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required) reports Senate passes redistricting overhaul on party-line vote:

On a 17-13 party line vote, the Senate advanced an amended version of Senate President Steve Yarbrough’s proposal to alter the structure of the Independent Redistricting Commission, an effort Democrats charged was politically motivated.

Voters would have to approve the plan, though.

As amended, SCR 1034 (.pdf) increases the size of the commission from a five- to nine-member body, with an equal split among Republican, Democrat and independent commissioners. Yarbrough, R-Chandler, argued that the effort will better represent the roughly one-third of Arizona voters who aren’t registered with a political party and will dilute efforts by either party to “hijack” the redistricting process in their favor.

Senate Democrats voiced their appreciation for some of Yarbrough amendments, which address many of the concerns voiced by progressive organizations and voting rights groups in a previous committee hearing.

The amendments include:

Yarbrough’s amendment would propose eliminating the legislative-referral provision and increasing the IRC to a nine-member commission, rather than eight.

Yarbrough still wants to bypass the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments and allow Republican and Democratic legislative leaders to choose six IRC commissioners, three for each party. And each party would select an independent commissioner to serve as well.

His amendment would have the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments nominate five candidates to be the ninth commissioner, also an independent, who would also be the IRC chair.

The other eight commissioners would then select from among the five nominees, and if they couldn’t reach an agreement, one of the five would be chosen at random.

Yeah, that doesn’t solve the flaws in this bill, discussed below.

Yarbrough vowed to further address their concerns, such as the continued role of the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments to vet potential commissioners.

But an initially civil debate soon turned sour, with Republicans griping that the last redistricting process was anything but independent and favored Democrats. Democratic senators reminded their colleagues that the maps survived multiple GOP-led court challenges, and noted that Republicans are still the representative majority in Arizona even after the last redistricting process nearly a decade ago.

SCR 1034 must still be voted on in the House of Representatives. If approved in both chambers, the resolution will then head to the ballot in November, when voters will get the final say over changing or maintaining the IRC as is.

Even Tim Steller of the Arizona Daily Star could see the obvious flaws in the GOP’s evil plan in his column today. Steller’s Friday Notebook: Republican legislators seek more control over districts:

Under the current [AIRC] system, the commission consists of two Democrats, two Republicans and one independent. As a result, that one independent gets immense power, because he or she can essentially decide, by voting with one party’s members, which party will draw the lines.

Under Yarbrough’s proposal, the commission would have three Democrats, three Republicans and three independents. This is a good thing, because it gives more representation to independents, who are 34 percent of the electorate. In fact, Democrats should feel pretty pleased by their over-representation: They make up 30 percent of Arizona voters, and Republicans are 35 percent.

But of course, it’s not as simple as that.

Previously, the Commission on Appellate Court nominations vetted and selected all the candidates for the commission — 10 Democrats, 10 Republicans and five independent. From those party members, the Democratic and Republican leaders of the state House and Senate each picked one. Then those four picked the independent member.

Under the new system, the Republican and Democratic leaders of the two legislative chambers pick all the members except one — even two of the independents. The appellate court commission only picks the five candidates for that last independent seat. And the previous eight selections pick that ninth member, who becomes the chair.

So, in essence the same problem with the previous commission would be repeated. The Republicans would pick an independent who leans right, and the Democrats would pick an independent who leans left, and the ninth commissioner would have all the power.

The changes would also put more power in the hands of the legislators, who would not be forced to pick from a pre-selected pool of candidates. They could appoint virtual stand-ins for themselves if they wish, which they undoubtedly would.

For those of you playing along at home, this is in violation of the Voter Protection Act (Prop. 105 1998), because it is not consistent with or in furtherance of the goals of the citizens initiative which created the AIRC (Prop. 106 2000). In fact, it is diametrically the opposite of what voters intended: taking redistricting out of the hands of the Arizona legislature and giving it to an independent commission.

The former independent chair of the redistricting commission, Tucsonan Colleen Coyle Mathis, told me “It should be the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments choosing 10 Democrats, 10 Republicans and 10 independent candidates.”

She added, “I don’t think the Legislature should be picking the independents.”

It’s too bad Yarbrough’s proposal isn’t closer to what Mathis is suggesting. That could actually work.

I fully expect our authoritarian Tea-Publican legislature to vote to approve putting their partisan measure on the ballot. It will be up to the voters of Arizona to defeat their evil GOP plan.

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