This post will be updated as the IRC meeting progresses (1:13pm)
The Zoom of the initial meeting of the Commission started with a brief party-line deadlock on who the temporary chairperson just for the meeting to elect the permanent chairperson. Then they immediately went into an extended executive session just to take legal advice on the requirements for electing a chairperson: one would have hoped they had already been briefed or studies the matter. Not an auspicious start.
First up was the controversial nominee Robert Wilson. I decided that he was not qualified to be the independent chairperson when, in one of the first sentences out of his mouth, he called the Democratic Party, the “Democrat” party. It’s a verbal tell of his deep indoctrination by conservative media, not to mention inaccurate and offensive to Democrats. Mr. Wilson admitted that he had done events and fundraising for Republican candidates, including Trump, but never for a Democratic candidate. He admitted that the reason for that is the Democratic Party’s views on the Second Amendment did not comport with his own, as a gun shop and shooting range operator and owner. Mr. Wilson also suggested that the mission and procedures of the Commission were ill-defined and vague. There is no way Wilson is either qualified or independent in any way. He’s clearly a Republican who happens to be registered as an independent. He admitted that he had discussions with people in political circles about applying for the position, but was not forthcoming about who those figures were. From his reticence, one can fairly infer that they were members of the very Republican power structure here in Arizona seeking to put a thumb on the scale in the next redistricting process. Wilson’s selection would be a travesty, and I feel sure that the Democratic members will block his selection. His selection would be a disaster.
Next to be interviewed was Thomas Loquvam, (pronounced Locum) a utility company general counsel. He has some professional ties to the politically powerful Arizona Public Service Electric, and a is registered lobbyist (which is prohibited by the IRC requirements), which he excused as an abundance of ethical caution on his part, rather than a legal requirement for his work (“even if I was a registered lobbyist, I haven’t done any lobbying, per se…”). One of the big warning signs, for me, was that Loquvam indicated he felt that flood of money in our politics isn’t the most important political problem facing us. This is clear indication of his biases toward the corrupt status-quo and his failure to understand the fundamental corruption infecting our political culture in America. He did seem reasonably well-informed about the legal framework in which the Commission operates, canny about the central importance of who is hired as the legal counsel for the Commission, and operating with future litigation defending the outcome in mind. He charmingly dodged the question of whether he had discussed his application to the Commission with members of any political party by claiming it was his 7 year-old daughter who prompted his interest, and then failed to specify any adults that he consulted with. He then started talking about “both-siderism” in the dysfunction in our politics, which indicates he’s just not paying attention to the real causes of the divisions and anger in our politics — but of course, this could be down to his having to also appeal to the two Republican members of the Commission. He did indicate that he felt success in the IRC’s work would be unanimity on the final result of the Commission’s work, which is a positive note. I came away feeling that Loquvam is well-qualified and temperamentally suited for the job, though I still have some reservations about his possible biases, he would certainly be a superior choice to the clearly partisan activist Mr. Wilson.
(1:22pm) Next up is Greg Teesdale. He was very surprised by his progress in the selection process and indicated that he was not especially politically active. That might be a good thing. Served his country in the armed forces and views himself as an moderate independent who votes on issues. Background is in accounting and finance and supply chain management, so he’s pretty good with data crunching. He’s worked for growth stage startups in the fast paced tech sector. He thinks that part of the job is to be tech-savvy and he’s very comfortable with that at the C-suite level and thus very comfortable with executive leadership. He gives me an impression of being both media literate, credible, and articulate: he would be a confidence building media face of the Commission, in my view. He seems to understand that the fairness and equality of our elections is most important, and suggested the heavily partisan districts are problematic. He would prioritize more competitive districts, therefore. I found that focus important and refreshing. He seems humble that he is facing a great learning curve and open to the experience and learning he will have to do. On a question regarding his understanding of “communities of interest” and “competitive districts”: he indicated that “community of interest” is legally rather vague, but that what is important for the IRC is to respect all opinions as to what members believe and understand how the data teams who doing the candidate districts are viewing the term. He demonstrated a very sophisticated understanding of the demographics of voting and party control in his analysis of recent elections. He views the job of IRC as fundamentally a big-data driven process in which the final product must be able to be logically defended with evidence. He thinks it’s central to follow the constitution and legal precedents in doing the work and creating the districts. He thinks it is more important to have your ears open than your mouth, and to be tolerant of differing views. He casts himself as very logical and data-driven and tries to be humble and open to criticism, and it seems plausible that he knows himself well enough that this could be true. He believes he has the leadership skills and experience needed for the job: that also strikes me as possessing a credible self-awareness. He addressed a question on compactness of districts, and he noted he lives in one in which people 350 miles away are in his district. He explained that he’s studied past redistricting and that he’s given deep consideration of the difficulties of keeping compactness with our state’s combination of highly urbanized and rural areas. He indicated that the challenge of the IRC is to evaluate the result of the mapping team to determine fairness and fit with the goals and criteria the IRC strives for. As to his involvement and consultation with political actors, he says he’s contributed to both parties and was quite forthcoming and granular in his response. He admits his donations may have leaned more Republican, as he knew personally several candidates who ran as Republicans. As to personal right or left political lean, he maintains that he determines his preference based on his own evaluation of the particular issue. A board member characterized him as a serial entrepreneur and asked him how that would impact his reaction to conflict. He said he loves change and being results oriented. Startups entail the need to pivot quickly to new solutions and redefining problems and goals quickly. Conflict is natural in that environment and he’s had a lot of experience with that. He’s had some doubts about whether he wants the job in the current political environment and decided that he is the right sort of person to ensure the Commissions difficult work, which needs people who are committed despite the deep personal challenges, including political pressures. My evaluation of Mr. Teesdale is that he is the best and most thoughtful candidate thus far. I would feel very comfortable with Teesdale leading the Commission.
(1:48pm) Ericka Schupack Neuberg was the next applicant interviewed. She wants to make a difference and committed to being part of something greater and of use to her country. She noted her Jewish heritage and he skills at bringing political opponents together. She wants to advance personal freedom and claims to be agnostic as to party, yet denigrates ‘identity politics’ as something she’s strongly opposed to, despite being deeply involved in politics of Israeli/US relations (which is very much identity politics?). She was a registered Republican until 2016 and a significant donor to Ducey and all the members of the Arizona GOP congressional caucus. She noted her understanding of people as a psychologist and her strong listening skills developed professionally. She was asked about her donation history. She explained her involvement in AIPAC and the need to donate in order to get access to politicians in order to have the opportunities to educate lawmakers and their staffs. She claims that all her donations have been primarily to advance the US/Israel relationship. Asked about her leadership skills, she claimed a great deal of flexibility and experience with diverse teams. She claims to be an authentic person and to lead by example and building trust on the Commission. She claims to be very optimistic about the potential of the members of the commission as a team. Asked about the criteria for drawing districts for the IRC, she indicated that there was a natural hierarchy of criteria and that minorities must have representation. She thinks the last IRC got tripped up by prioritizing competitive districts. She felt competitive district came at the expense of some of the other criteria. Asked again about her donations to Ducey and how they related to US/Israel relations, she said Ducey used to be a member of AIPAC and considered that he was an up and coming figure who would be a position to make decisions in the future impacting AIPAC’s interests. She says she has disentangled herself from pro-Israel politics in preparation for the position she seeks and has spoken with political figures on both sides of the aisle, but didn’t specify persons or preponderance. She claimed she got equal encouragement from both sides of the aisle, as well as criticism from both sides. In dealing with conflict and controversy as part of the job, she said that any significant endeavor includes conflict and she’s wholly prepared for it by her professional experiences and her focus on vision and mission. To me, she came across as a bit too slogan-driven and full of buzz words and platitudes. She claims high ideals, yet her political work would indicate that she understands and operates in the corrupt and cynical politics of the US in a way that she is a bit too comfortable with. I think her therapy-based view of leadership of the Commission is unrealistic and poor fit for the purpose and mission of the IRC. This comes down to data and goals. Her understanding of the data and the process seems weak, and her attitude toward competitive districts is problematic. Arizona is a closely divided state with independents holding the balance of power. We SHOULD be very politically competitive everywhere it is possible and I don’t think she will lead to that goal. The fact that she has donated to insurrectionist Reps. Mo Brooks, Andy Biggs, and Paul Gosar in the past is deeply problematic, in my view. I also don’t think that her involvement with AIPAC is without ethical and political problems.
(2:19pm) Megan Carollo was the final interview. She is the owner/operator/lead designer of an Arizona small business (a flower shop). She has some experience in statistical data analysis and worked for business consulting firms and holds an MBA. She is not politically involved much and wants to learn and encourage participation in politics. She calls herself a “numbers nerd” which might be surprising given her chosen trade. Asked about her qualifications to communicate with a wide rage of Arizona communities, she pointed to her consulting work in the health care industry communicating with people of all walks of life. Asked about dealing with conflict and public criticism, she claimed that her experience with the wedding industry and the high emotions and family dynamics was experience that would be useful. Weddings are a one-shot, high-stakes event industry where execution under pressure is key. Asked about her leadership skills, she indicate humility and listening to others is important. She knows what she doesn’t know and doesn’t have ego getting in the way of being open to help and advice. She indicates the servant leadership in helping the team is key. Asked about the importance and ranking of the elements or criteria applied to IRC’s work, she felt there was no hierarchy, they are together a guide through the process, and guardrails for the process. The guidelines can be “vague” and have “wiggle room” so they must all be balanced. Asked about her political contacts in preparation for her application, she indicated she wasn’t even in AZ when she applied and has not consulted with anyone. She wanted to make a difference and made the decision to apply by herself. Asked about “communities of interest” and “competitive districts”, she indicated that she was learning about the “buzz words” and vaguely sketched out what the terms meant to her, but did not reflect on how she would prioritize these criteria. She strikes me as wholly unprepared for the job. I would hire her to do my event, but not to guide the next ten years of Arizona’s political development. She simply completely unprepared and unqualified. She does have some experience, but she lacks leadership skills and any serious knowledge of the legal and demographic issues that face the Commission. Asked what success for the Commission would look like, she claims that setting a “better example” and having “less contention” and an “outcome that is well received” are most important. Her answer is not insightful and very vague. Asked about her skills strengths and weaknesses for role, she claimed that “creative solutions” and switching between “right and left brain” and “open-mindedness” are important strengths. As to her weaknesses, she claimed to be “nice to a fault”. She demonstrated no insight in to the real work and challenges facing the IRC, and what qualities and skills would be needed. She lacks awareness and humility regarding her own complete lack of the sort of leadership skills and expertise she would need for the role. She may be neutral, but she too weak in her skills and experience to lead the IRC. She would be a disastrous and wholly unqualified choice to lead the Commission in my view. Her entire interview consisted of buzz-words and airy concepts that indicated she had not thought deeply enough about the role to be a serious candidate for it.
(2:58pm) After viewing the interviews of all the candidates and reviewing their applications and the public information about their online activities and statements that can be used to evaluate their political biases, I think the clearly superior candidate is Gregory Teesdale. His professionalism, preparation, leadership and technical skills, and his thoughtful and rational humility as to the challenge he’s undertaken, and his understanding of where he needs to grow to meet the challenge, are the most impressive simply from a hiring standpoint. I would want him on my team for the sort of high-profile, data-driven, complex and public-facing task the IRC is charged with. I find his claim of political neutrality to be credible and honest. He may have some pro-business biases that has tended to make him lean toward politics that are “business friendly”, but his clear and honest commitment to make competitiveness his key focus is important and fair to everyone in Arizona. He has given serious thought and study to the mission and the subject matter prior to sitting in the interview chair. He is prepared, day one, to take a real leadership position on the Commission and actually provide leadership and direction that is data-driven and fair to all the stakeholders. Any other choice would be sub-optimal.
Wilson is disqualified by his obvious partisanship. Loquvam would be acceptable, but his experience and background are not an ideal fit for the mission and daily work of the Commission. Shupak Neuberg has ample people skills, but no experience or skills related to the actual work of the commission and demonstrates no awareness of her deficiencies in that regard. I also find the hypocrisy of denigrating “identity politics” combines with her deep involvement in AIPAC to be revelatory of a decided ideological bent, demonstrated by her Republican membership until 2016. Megan Carillo is wholly unqualified and unprepared for the role, and seems utter unaware of just how inadequate her skills and experience are for the task at hand. She would be weak and ineffective, which might just be exactly what the Republican members of the Commission are looking for.
I hope the Commission makes the obviously right call and selects the most professional experienced, skilled, knowledgable, thoughtful, neutral and qualified candidate: Gregory Teesdale.
(3:30pm) Next update coming when the Commission reconvenes and votes on the new Chair and fifth member of the Commission. The selection must be made in the next 15 days. They are deciding whether to vote now, or postpone the decision.
(3:43) They seem to be inclined to reconvene next week to discuss and vote on the Chair. They got over 300 public comments, including my own. Open floor discussion of the process: expressions of thanks and declarations that members are not ready to decide, want to absorb public comments, and do more background investigation of the candidates. They set a new meeting for next week: Thursday, 9am, January 21st, 2021. Meeting will be same format with public virtual attendance. Adjourned.