Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers did not even wait for election results before pulling the trigger on the Independent Redistricting Commission in a blatant power play (a clear indication he has internal polling showing Republicans will lose control of the Arizona House). Yeah, no good faith here. The first pick should go to the new HouseSpeaker selected in January.
The Arizona Mirror reports, Bowers picks Tucson developer as first redistricting commissioner:
House Speaker Rusty Bowers has selected the first member of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, choosing David Mehl, a southern Arizona developer, as the first of two Republican commissioners.
Bowers’s decision comes far earlier than usual and starts the clock for the remaining legislative leaders, who will choose the next three redistricting commissioners. House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, has seven days to make the next pick to the AIRC, which will draw the congressional and legislative districts that Arizona will use for the next decade.
The speaker, a Mesa Republican, said he met over the past week with each of the 10 GOP finalists, calling the group an “impressive slate of individuals.”
“David will bring remarkable experience and leadership to the commission, as well as a profound appreciation for the monumental importance of this duty. I have immense confidence that he will apply the skill and standards that have been a hallmark of his professional success so that he will fulfill this crucial constitutional responsibility to achieve a fair result that reflects our great state,” Bowers said in a press statement.
Mehl was viewed by many insiders as a top choice for the Republicans. He’s the owner and president of Cottonwood Properties, a residential and commercial development company in Tucson, and was a founding member of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, an influential Tucson-based civic and economic advocacy organization. He was one of the top vote-getters at the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, which vets IRC candidates and the selected 25 finalists for the panel.
“I am honored to be selected by Speaker Bowers to serve on the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission,” Mehl said in a press statement. “I look forward to the important work ahead and pledge to carry out my responsibilities as a member of the commission with integrity and fairness for the good of all Arizonans.
The Democratic and Republican leaders in both legislative chambers each select one commissioner, and those four partisan commissioners select a fifth person, an independent, to serve as chair. The AIRC can’t have more than two members of any political party.
The Arizona Constitution also requires that no more than two of the four partisan commissioners be from the same county. Mehl is from Pima County; seven of the remaining Republicans are from Maricopa County, one is from Apache County and one is from Pinal County.
Five Democratic finalists are from Maricopa. Two others are from Pima County, and there are one each from Apache, Coconino and Yavapai counties.
Bowers’s selection of a Pima County resident means there’s no pressure on Fernandez to pick a commissioner from outside Maricopa County. It also ensures Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, will be able to pick someone from Maricopa County when she selects the third commissioner.
Fernandez and Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, D-Tucson, began interviewing the Democratic redistricting finalists on Wednesday and expect to finish on Friday, according to Robbie Sherwood, a spokesman for the House Democrats. Sherwood said he didn’t know when Fernandez would make her selection.
During his interview with the appellate commission, Mehl touted his 45 years in business and his work in the nonprofit sector. In addition to his work with SALC, he’s been a member of the Urban Land Institute since 1982. He was a board member at Tucson’s Pusch Ridge Christian Academy for 19 years, much of that time serving as chairman. He’s spent nearly 30 years as a board member at Good News Communications, a Christian marketing agency in Tucson, and is an elder at Catalina Foothills Church.
He said his work on nonprofit and school boards, where he had to learn to get along with people who represent different interests, would translate well to serving on the AIRC.
Mehl said his goal as a redistricting commissioner would be to represent the state and to come up with fairly drawn district boundaries.
“I’ve applied as a Republican, but I’m an Arizonan foremost,” Mehl told the screening panel.
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Bowers didn’t have to make a selection until Jan. 31, and in previous iterations of the IRC, speakers waited until the deadline, or close to it. By making a selection when he did, Bowers significantly sped up the timeline.
By picking Mehl before the election, Bowers also might have changed who makes the selections, and the order in which they pick. Democrats need to gain only two seats to take over the Arizona House of Representatives and are optimistic about their chances. If Bowers waited until after the election, the first pick could have gone to Fernandez or to Rep. Diego Espinoza, D-Tolleson, who is challenging her for House Democratic leader. Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, also plans to challenge Bowers for speaker.
Fernandez castigated Bowers for making his pick before the new legislature is elected, calling it “one last power grab” by the speaker.
“Historically these IRC picks have occurred with the new legislature, not while voters are still picking their lawmakers. The Speaker must know something about who is going to be in control. It’s underhanded moves like this that contribute to the frustration voters are feeling with Republican leaders,” Fernandez said in a statement provided to the Arizona Mirror.
Bradley is termed out and will be replaced as the Senate Democratic leader after the election, as well. Democrats also hope to take control of the Senate, which would require them to gain at least three seats in the November election.
Fernandez will choose from the following Democratic redistricting applicants:
- Grant Buma, a retired hydrology engineer from Prescott
- Ernest Calderón, a Phoenix attorney and former Arizona Board of Regents Chairman
- Bryan Cooperrider, a surveyor with the United States Geological Survey in Flagstaff
- Donald Evans, a retired Veterans’ Affairs service representative and former nursing services director who lives in Scottsdale.
- Robert Kovitz, a Tucson businessman and Army veteran who served at NATO Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe
- Shereen Lerner, a Mesa Community College anthropology professor and former state historic preservation officer
- James Robbins, chief administrative officer at Catholic Charities in Phoenix
- Derrick Watchman, who runs a banking and financial services company in Window Rock, is the former CEO of Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprises and a former chief of staff to the Navajo Nation executive branch
- Maxine White, a retired Bank of America employee relations consultant who lives in Phoenix
- Teresa Wyatt, a former Arizona Department of Health Services employee who retired in 2014 as director of rehabilitation services at Children’s Clinics for Rehabilitative Services in Tucson
Once Fernandez makes her choice, Fann will have a week to select from among the nine other Republican finalists:
- Jonathan Allred, a Mesa resident and head of legal at the microschool services provider Prenda
- Scott Crouch, a businessman and real estate broker from Phoenix
- Lisa Davis, a Tempe resident who owns an architecture, interior and urban design firm
- Paul Djurisic, a Scottsdale attorney
- Kevin Kopp, a Phoenix resident and partner in a commercial real estate investment firm
- Brandi Oveson, a high school history teacher in St. Johns
- Walter “Randy” Schoch, a restaurant management company owner who lives in Paradise Valley
- Michael Striplin, a Tucson resident and 27-year Army veteran who retired after years in business development at Boeing
- Douglas York, the president and CEO of an irrigation and landscape supply company who lives in Phoenix.
Once the four partisan commissioners are chosen, they’ll elect a chair from among the five independent finalists:
- Megan Carollo, the owner of a luxury floral boutique in Scottsdale
- Thomas Loquvam, general counsel and vice president of corporate services at the utility company EPCOR. He previously served as general counsel at Pinnacle West, the parent company of Arizona Public Service.
- Erika Schupak Neuberg, a psychologist with a practice in Scottsdale who serves as a national board member for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
- Gregory Teesdale, an Oro Valley resident and former executive at venture capital companies
- Robert Wilson, who owns a business consulting practice and gun store in Flagstaff
UPDATE: Speaker Bower’s power play has already triggered the first redistricting litigation. The Arizona Mirror reports, Democrats sue to remove two independents from list of AIRC finalists:
Legislative Democrats are suing to remove two applicants from the list of independent finalists for the next redistricting commission, arguing that one is disqualified because he’s registered as a lobbyist while the other should be removed because he’s not a true independent.
House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, and Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, D-Tucson, who filed the suit Friday morning in Maricopa County Superior Court, are also asking that the court temporarily block the appointment of new redistricting commissioners on the grounds that the nominating panel that vets them hasn’t complied with the requirement in the Arizona Constitution that it send the legislature a list of 25 qualified finalists.
Democrats have voiced objections to three of the five independent finalists, possibly leaving only two they would find acceptable. The independent chair serves as a tiebreaker if the IRC’s two Democrats and two Republicans deadlock on a 2-2 vote.
The Arizona Constitution lays out several qualifications for redistricting commissioners. One of those prohibits anyone who has been a “registered paid lobbyist” in the past three years from serving on the IRC, though it doesn’t define precisely what that means. Another requires commissioners to have been registered with the same political party — or, for independents, registered under no party — for at least three years.
Fernandez and Bradley alleged in their lawsuit that Thomas Loquvam runs afoul of the lobbyist prohibition. Loquvam, the general counsel at the utility company EPCOR, is registered to lobby on behalf of his employer at the Arizona Corporation Commission, though he’s not registered with the Secretary of State’s Office as a lobbyist at the legislature.
Loquvam previously worked as counsel at Pinnacle West, parent company of Arizona Public Service, which has made him controversial among Democrats, who are highly critical of the utility giant for the millions of dollars it has spent — much of it secretly — on behalf of Republicans in recent elections.
Loquvam wrote in his application to the AIRC that he had to register as a lobbyist in order to speak with members of the Corporation Commission about issues affecting his company, but that he doesn’t believe he violates the lobbyist criteria because he’s not compensated primarily for the purpose of lobbying.
Attorney Jim Barton, who represents Bradley and Fernandez, wrote in the lawsuit that that’s immaterial.
“Mr. Loquvam is indeed registered as an active lobbyist with the Arizona Corporation Commission,” Barton wrote. “He also admits that he is required to register by virtue of his employment, thus conceding he is a paid lobbyist. His claim that lobbying is not the ‘primary purpose’ for his compensation is irrelevant.”
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The legal case against Robert Wilson is a bit murkier.
Democrats argue that Wilson, who owns a gun store and a business consulting firm in Flagstaff, isn’t a true independent and that he favors the Republican Party. They pointed to the fact that Wilson hosted a Trump campaign event in the parking lot of his gun store in August, and held other events at his store in 2018 and 2019 in which he hosted Republican candidates for the legislature and Congress.
Wilson voted in Republican primaries in 2010, 2014 and 2018, switching to the Democratic primary this year. Independent voters are able to choose which primary to vote in.
The appellate commission’s selection of Wilson as one of the five independent finalists “violates the spirit and the intent” of the constitutional criteria, the lawsuit read.
“Although Wilson is and has been registered as an Independent since 2005, his voting history and political activities clearly show he is not an unbiased independent voter with no party affiliation,” Barton wrote.
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Though Wilson appears to be qualified as an independent under the letter of the law, Barton said he believes there’s a case to be made that he should be removed. He said the purpose of the AIRC, which replaced the old system in which the legislature drew congressional and legislative districts, was to remove partisanship from the process. Allowing an independent with such overt partisan leanings would undermine that system, Barton said.
“This is really showing the willingness to push the lines here,” Barton said. “I’m not going to write off a court’s willingness to say, ‘No, at some point, if you’re faking the system, if you’re basically engaged in a fraud, we’re going to block that.’ So, we’ll see what the court says.”
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Bradley and Fernandez attributed Loquvam and Wilson’s inclusion on the list of finalists to Ducey’s “stacking” of the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments. The commission, whose primary job is vetting and nominating applicants for the Arizona Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, has only three Democratic members. Until just a couple months ago, it consisted of only Republicans and independents, some of whom had clear leanings toward the GOP.
“Our Constitution prohibits lobbyists from serving on the commission, so that strikes Mr. Loquvam, whose name never should have been brought forward as a finalist by a Gov. Ducey’s stacked Commission on Appellate Court Appointments. And what part of hosting a Trump rally, and Republican campaign events, makes anyone think Mr. Wilson will be impartial or fair?” Fernandez said in a press release.
Bradley said, “The Commission on Appellate Court Appointments’ entire nominating process has been corrupted ever since Governor Ducey stacked the Commission with Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. It’s been a blatant power grab from Republicans who know that the political tide is turning in Arizona.”
If this goes anything like a decade go, this is just the first of many lawsuits to come … and we don’t even have a commission yet. Let the games begin!