The Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required) reports, Vetting panel chooses 5 finalists for IRC chair:
After the first of two days of interviews for the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments narrowed its list of 11 semi-finalists for the IRC chair down to the final five: Nicole Cullen, a Gilbert teacher; Thomas Loquvam, an EPCOR attorney who used to work for Pinnacle West; Erika Neuberg, a former psychologist who has contributed to several campaigns of both Republicans and Democrats; Gregory Teesdale, a businessman in the tech industry; and Robert Wilson, a gun store owner who held a rally for President Donald Trump in his parking lot in August.
After a thorough discussion about the independent candidates, the Commission immediately approved Cullen, Loquvam, Neuberg and Teesdale, but had to hold a runoff vote to break a tie for the fifth slot. That was between Wilson and Megan Carollo, a small business owner with an economics background in Scottsdale. Wilson won the run-off with nine votes to Carollo’s four. Neuberg received the most votes overall with 14.
Wilson seemingly received the advantage since he brought geographic diversity due to living in Coconino County. He and Teesdale, Pima County, are the only finalists outside of Maricopa County.
Wilson also received the most letters in opposition, something he appeared to take pride in during his roughly 10-minute interview via Zoom.
“I take a little pride in the fact that I set myself apart from my peers already by being the number one negative letter getter,” Wilson said about the 149 letters the Commission received.
This is a red flag for the wrong kind of attitude for an “independent” chair of the Independent Redistricting Commission. This should be disqualifying.
He was the last candidate to move into the interview round when the commission met in September and was considered a “backup” of sorts due to one independent candidate, Mignonne Hollis, potentially being considered a paid lobbyist, which would be grounds for disqualification under the rules of the IRC.
Hollis was viewed by several members of the commission to be a top candidate given how much overwhelming support she received from letters and calls –– and has ties to both Republicans and Democrats, is a Black woman and lives in Cochise County. She claimed to not be a lobbyist, but had to register as one as part of her job.
Ultimately, the Attorney General’s Office determined her job to qualify as a paid lobbyist and she was disqualified from consideration before her allotted interview. Ken Strobeck, the Republican former executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, was also disqualified for the same reason.
One Democrat, Mumtaza Rahi-Loo, later got the axe for serving as a pro tem justice of the peace, which qualifies as a public office – also not allowed on the IRC. But today’s interviews were only for the independents. The 40 partisan candidates will interview on October 9.
Commissioners asked all candidates how they would deal with hostility or disagreement within the commission, what competitive districts and communities of interest meant for the IRC and how they would handle public scrutiny. Some candidates received a fourth question –– either something tailored to what the commissioners found in their due diligence report (a thorough vetting of each candidate) or why they felt they were qualified for the position.
On Oct. 9, 19 Republicans and 19 Democrats will interview with the Commission, which will winnow both down to 10 a piece. Eventually each legislative leader will name a partisan pick to serve for the next decade, and those people will then choose from the group of five independents.
Here are brief bios for the remaining candidates from the Arizona Mirror:
Cullen has been a teacher for 17 years at Perry High School in Gilbert, where she teaches American government, criminal justice and American history. She also coaches basketball, cross country and softball.
“I understand how essential work ethic, time-management, and teamwork is in any position of leadership; I embody these executive attributes every day as a single mother, a teacher, and a former student-athlete at … Arizona State University,” Cullen wrote in her statement of interest. “My judicious ability to be impartial allows for me to be the ideal candidate to Chair the Commission as an Independent striving for fairness among the Arizona electorate.”
Commission member Jonathan Paton spoke with some of Cullen’s references, and said her students adore her and that she doesn’t “indoctrinate her students one way or the other.”
“I think having a teacher as one of our folks might be a really great thing to have,” said Paton, who noted that Cullen teaches her students about redistricting.
Cullen’s applications included two letters from former students, one of whom thanked her for her kindness and understanding as she helped the student understand subjects that she struggled with, saying she was “truly an amazing teacher and not only did you do a great job at teaching about U.S. history but you also helped us see the world in a new light.”
Loquvam, who works as general counsel for the utility company EPCOR [who used to work for Pinnacle West], wrote that he decided to apply for the AIRC because of something his seven-year-old daughter said to him. In response to his complaints about politics, she said, “Dad, you always tell me to take action rather than just complain about something, so why don’t you do something?”
In his statement of interest, Loquvam expressed a desire to create more competitive districts that force candidates to appeal to a broad electorate rather than just the more extreme elements of their parties in the primary election.
“Long and careful consideration has consistently led me to the conclusion that undue partisanship is a major, if not the major, crippling force in our republic,” he wrote.
Loquvam is one of the more controversial applicants to the redistricting commission, especially given that he’s vying to become the independent chair, due to his connections to Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest utility. Prior to joining EPCOR, Loquvam served as general counsel for Pinnacle West, APS’s parent company, and is the brother of Jessica Pacheco, who for years coordinated the company’s political activities, which included a massive dark money campaign in favor of pro-APS Corporation Commission candidates in 2014.
As with Hollis, there are questions surrounding Loquvam’s status as a lobbyist. He’s registered to lobby on behalf of EPCOR at the Corporation Commission. He wrote in his application that he is still eligible because he’s not compensated for the primary purpose of lobbying. He said he had to register as a lobbyist in order to speak with a commissioner on virtually any issue.
Neuberg is a Chandler psychologist with a practice in Scottsdale, but is far more well known in Arizona’s political world for her work with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, an influential pro-Israel organizationm, for which Neuberg serves as a national board member.
Democrats originally included Neuberg on a list of applicants it considered problematic thanks to past campaign contributions to Gov. Doug Ducey. But Neuberg has given tens of thousands of dollars over the past decade to both Democrats and Republicans, including numerous members of Congress and others from Arizona, where she is active in pro-Israel advocacy.
Neuberg wrote in her application that her bipartisan advocacy over the past 25 years has given her a solid idea of when both citizen advocacy and government work, as well as when they don’t.
“True representation rests on creating a map of districts that balances majority and minority interests while also ensuring a functioning government capable of consensus. Our collective interests and well-being depend on the integrity and competency of this process,” she wrote.
Oliver Schwab, a former chief of staff to Congressman David Schweikert, a Republican, said Neuberg would have bipartisan gatherings with congressional staff, and said some of his greatest bipartisan connections were with people she connected him with.
Teesdale’s application included an extensive resume but no statement of interest to shed any light on why he applied for the IRC.
The Oro Valley resident’s résumé describes him as a “seasoned executive with 37 years experience at successful venture backed technology companies and various consulting assignments.” He lists about a dozen companies on his resume, many of which he served as chief financial officer or in other executive positions, the most recent of which was Tempronics, a solid-state thermoelectric systems company.
Teesdale was the founder and executive director of the 10 West Festival, an annual technology and entrepreneurship event in Tucson. He’s a member of the Desert Angels, a nonprofit organization that invests in startup companies, and Startup Tucson, an economic development and business accelerator organization.
Wilson owns a business consulting firm and a gun store in Flagstaff. He’s served as an election observer for the Coconino County GOP, but touts his independence, and noted that he’s been a member of liberal or progressive groups as well, such as Moms Demand Action, peak Up Flagstaff and Friends of Flagstaff’s Future.
Nabours said he had a positive impression of Wilson from the interactions he had with him while services as mayor. Others, however, didn’t have the same experience. Four people submitted comments to the appellate commission regarding Wilson, all of them negative. Wilson, along with Lundin, is one of two independent candidates whom public commenters warned had publicly expressed support for Republican candidates.
On Aug. 20, after applying for the IRC, Wilson hosted a rally supporting President Donald Trump in the parking lot of his gun store, Timberline Firearms and Training. He told the Arizona Daily Sun that he only hosted it to help inform the public, not to support the president, and he told the Mirror that he would host any candidate. The day before the 2018 election, he hosted two Republican legislative candidates and Gov. Doug Ducey at his store, and a year ago he hosted two GOP legislative candidates.
One board member from Friends of Flagstaff’s Future, a “grassroots, multi-issue organization whose mission is to achieve a sustainable just and thriving Flagstaff,” wrote to the appellate commission, alleging that Wilson was overtly conservative and seemed to have joined the organization with the intent of undermining its efforts, such as its push to ban plastic bags. The board member, Marilyn Weissman, called Wilson’s participation “divisive and an impediment to achieving our goals,” and said “dealing with his ongoing efforts to thwart us were exhausting.”
As the Arizona Mirror notes, Five finalists to lead Independent Redistricting Committee chosen:
In choosing those five, the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments chose two candidates who are likely to draw significant opposition from Democrats, one for possible partisan leanings toward the GOP [Robert Wilson] and one for his ties to Arizona Public Service [Thomas Loquvam, who also has the registered lobbyist issue]. The appellate commission rejected two other candidates whom Democrats alleged were essentially Republicans in disguise.
Remember that Governor Doug Ducey stacked the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments with Republicans and only belatedly added a few Democrats after getting called out, and they will be in the minority in any partisan vote.
It appears to me that Erika Neuberg is likely the candidate to receive Republican support. Nicole Cullen appears the likely candidate to be supported by Democrats and Independents.
UPDATE: The political parties have selected their 10 finalists for their seats on the Independent Redistricitng Commission:
The Commission on Appellate Court Appointments has selected 10 Dem finalists for the redistricting commission:
— Jeremy Duda (@jeremyduda) October 9, 2020
The Commission on Appellate Court Appointments has selected 10 GOP finalists for the redistricting commission:
Walter Randy Schoch
— Jeremy Duda (@jeremyduda) October 9, 2020