Arizona

Nov 29, 2011 1:54 PM

Arizona redistricting panel resumes work Tuesday

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) - Arizona's embattled redistricting commission meets Tuesday for the first time in a month as it resumes its politically charged mapping work that was interrupted by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer's failed attempt to remove the commission's chair.

The five-member commission spent October holding public hearings on its draft maps of new congressional and legislative districts but halted its work when Brewer on Nov. 1 removed Chair Colleen Mathis, a Tucson independent, with consent of the Republican-led Senate.

The removal of Mathis left the commission without its chair and with two Democrats and two Republicans who sometimes split along partisan lines on key votes.

However, the Supreme Court reinstated Mathis on Nov. 17, ruling that Brewer's stated grounds for ousting the Tucson independent lacked a constitutional basis.

"I hope they do their job according to the Constitution and according to what DOJ requires them to do," Brewer told reporters Tuesday when asked about the commission resuming work. The U.S. Department of Justice enforces voting rights protections for minorities.

The commission Tuesday is to discuss a process and schedule for changing the draft maps to produce final versions, a step that Mathis has said she hopes is done by Christmas.

The commission's lengthy agenda also includes briefings on input on the draft maps - including public hearing comment, a legislative report and a letter by Brewer - and how the draft maps shape up against standards on voting rights protections for minorities.

The draft maps drew criticism from Brewer and Republican members of the state's congressional delegation who said the congressional map favored Democrats. Brewer and state legislators also said the legislative map gave short shrift to constitutional mapping criteria such as protecting communities of interest.

Mathis and other commissions who voted for the draft maps said they heeded the constitutional criteria, while Democrats and commission supporters said the Republican politicians were trying to protect GOP incumbents and hinder creation of additional competitive districts.

Redistricting is important - and often controversial - because how districts are drawn influences whether a party and its candidates have realistic shots at winning races in particular districts.

Arizona voters amended the Constitution in 2000 to take redistricting out of the hands of the governor and lawmakers. Supporters of the change said it would remove lawmakers' self-interest as a map-drawing factor and foster creation of additional competitive districts.

The path for the commission to resume its mapping work was cleared by the Supreme Court's Nov. 17 order and one on Nov. 23 that provided clarification requested by Brewer.

Brewer said the commission violated the open meeting law and constitutional mandates on mapping criteria and processes. But the court said there was no allegation involving a nonpublic meeting by a quorum of the commission and that Brewer's contention that the draft maps don't follow constitutional criteria isn't a legal basis for removal before final versions have been approved.

Brewer had said after the Nov. 17 order that trying again to fire Mathis was a possibility, but she has given no indication since receiving the Nov. 23 order that such a move is afoot.

Republican legislative leaders asked Brewer to call another special session to consider redistricting matters but she said she wasn't aware of any consensus behind any particular proposals.

Some legislative proposals on redistricting would require submitting constitutional changes to voters. Piggybacking a special election on the state's Feb. 28 Republicans-only presidential preference primary has been proposed, but lawmakers would have to act by Wednesday in order for legislation on that to take in time.

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