The Arizona state Senate, acting in a special session that Gov. Jan Brewer (R) called earlier in the day, impeached Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) chair Colleen Mathis, throwing the state’s redistricting process into chaos.
The GOP had long been upset with Mathis, the Independent member among the five commissioners. By law, the IRC is comprised of two Republicans, two Democrats, and the one Independent. Ms. Mathis initially raised the GOP’s ire when she sided with the Democratic members in choosing the Commission legal counsel and special master map drawers, both over intense Republican objections. The GOP leaders uniformly believed that those chosen for these two most important administrative positions were highly partisan Democratic activists.
The timing of the impeachment action will likely prevent the remaining IRC members from approving the draft congressional map. The Commission could not vote on a final map until the public had 30 days to make comments once the draft plan was released into the public domain. That period ends tomorrow, but without Mathis they don’t have the necessary three votes for passage.
Republicans were unhappy with the congressional draw, a plan that would likely give the Democrats a 5-4 delegation majority over the course of the decade. The current split is 5-3 Republican. The state gains one seat in reapportionment.
Democrats countered that the map actually creates four Republican seats while only two are safely in their party’s column. The other three seats are marginal, competitive for either party to claim, they said. The state’s demographic trends, however, and the way in which this map was constructed would likely trend Democratic, if not in the 2012 election, then certainly in subsequent votes.
Previously, Attorney General Tom Horne (R) had filed suit against the Commission, claiming the panel had violated the state’s open meetings law. Late last week, the judge hearing the litigation removed Horne as the lead plaintiff ruling that the Attorney General’s office had advised the IRC about complying with that very set of laws. The Maricopa County Attorney replaced Horne as lead plaintiff, so the lawsuit continues.
Gov. Brewer took the bold action yesterday morning, by summoning the legislature into special session. Under the initiative passed by voters in 2000 creating the Commission, the governor and state Senate has the power to impeach and remove any IRC member for failure to properly perform their duties. The action requires two-thirds of the 30-member Senate to vote in favor of such a legislative maneuver. Republicans control the chamber 21-9, one more than needed so long as virtually very GOP Senator supported the motion to impeach.
For a time, however, it looked like the governor’s move would fail. State Sen. Frank Antenori (R) seemed to have enough votes to stop the impeachment under the reasoning that he believed the people, and not the Senate and governor, should have the power to disband the IRC in a vote during the current election cycle. He claimed to have four other senators following his lead. Things between Antenori and the governor got ugly before the vote was called. The senator was quoted as saying, “I’m not going to let this freaking governor push me around. This is pure, stupid, stubborn Jan Brewer,” he told a liberal blog reporter. But, in the end, Brewer carried the day as Antenori and the entire Republican caucus voted in favor of impeachment, and the motion carried 21-6 with three Democratic members not voting.
Democrats are countering, threatening recall petitions against certain GOP senators, while Mathis and the Democratic Commissioners are filing their own lawsuits against Brewer and the Republicans.
With the process collapsing to this degree, it appears that Arizona congressional redistricting will be on hold for the foreseeable future. It is difficult to predict the final outcome here, but it does appear that the draft Commission map will never again see the light of day. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess as to what happens next.