Man, this drama is getting moldier than a rerun of 21 Jump Street.
This afternoon, the Arizona Supreme Court -- for the second time -- handed Governor Jan Brewer a big fat loss on her attempt to remove Colleen Mathis, chairwoman of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, the panel charged by the Arizona Constitution with rewriting Sand Land's political map.
See, after legal filings galore and oral arguments before the Supremes on November 17, the high court (for the first time) shot down Brewer's dictatorial attempt to quash the commission's independence.
It declared Brewer had not demonstrated that Mathis had committed "gross misconduct" or was guilty of "neglect of duty." And it reinstated Mathis as the commission's unpaid, volunteer chairwoman. (You read that right, Mathis is weathering all this unearned abuse, free of charge.)
This, after Brewer had called a last-minute special session of the state Legislature on November 1, so that the state Senate, still under the iron heel of now ex-Senate President Russell Pearce, could rubber-stamp her booting of Mathis with its supermajority.
But the Supreme Court refused to kowtow to Empress Jan, and the GOPers, incensed, were left looking like empty-handed, power-mad goobers.
So, Brewer hit the court with several motions on November 21, including a whiny "motion to reconsider," which kvetched that the Supremes didn't have the authority to tell the Governor what to do, and that the court had "effectively paralyzed" the Governor and the Senate, while allowing Mathis and the AIRC to go about its work unhindered.
Even state House Speaker Andy Tobin tried to get into the act, filing a motion to intervene, and making some truly asinine arguments, such as: the Governor and the state Senate can do whatever they want, no matter how capricious.
Take the following bit of pettifoggery from Tobin's counsel as an example of same,
"At argument, the Court tested the Governor's position by posing the purple dress question. That is, can the Governor remove a member of the IRC because she wore a purple dress? Yet that question cannot be asked in isolation. The key question is whether this Court can review such a decision. The answer to the second question is no, regardless of the answer to the first question. As demonstrated above, the Constitution vests the power of review in the Senate and only the Senate. The Court's intervention completely disrespects and eviscerates the collective judgment constitutionally entrusted to two-thirds of duly elected Senators."
If such childish arguments seem doomed to laypersons like you and me, you've got to wonder what was going through the noggins of these highfalutin' legal beagles as they committed them to print and posterity.
In any case, the Supremes, as one would expect, were not moved by this verbal flatulence, and for the second time knocked Brewer to the mat so hard that whatever teeth she has left must be dangling in her cranium like loose piano keys.
"The Governor's November 1, 2011 letter constitutes her findings of grounds for the removal of Mathis. The Court's conclusion that the letter does not demonstrate "substantial neglect of duty, gross misconduct in office, or inability to discharge the duties of office" is based on the letter's substance, not its format. The letter does not, as a matter of law, identify conduct that provides a constitutional basis for removal."
The court also attacks unproven claims made against Mathis of open-meetings law violations, as well as the Governor's disapproval of the draft maps on the table.
"One ground identified in the Governor's letter is a failure to conduct the commission's business in meetings open to the public. The Constitution directs that "[w]here a quorum is present, the independent redistricting commission shall conduct business in meetings open to the public, with 48 or more hours public notice provided." Ariz. Const., Art. IV, Pt. 2, § 1(12). The statutory Open Meeting Law defines "meeting" in terms of a gathering of a quorum, A.R.S. § 38-431(4), and it directs that all meetings of public bodies shall be public meetings and that legal action of public bodies shall occur in public meetings. Id. § 38-431.01(A).
"A failure to conduct the business of the commission in meetings open to the public must at least involve violations of these laws for it to constitute "substantial neglect of duty" or "gross misconduct." (We do not decide whether the constitutional provision preempts any statutory Open Meeting Law requirements, an issue that is being litigated in another forum.) There is, however, no allegation of any non-public meeting of a quorum of the commission in the Governor's October 26, 2011 letter or in the responses thereto. Nor does the Governor's November 1, 2011 letter find that a non-public meeting of a quorum of the commission occurred."
Funny enough, neither the Governor nor the Legislature provided the public with 48 hours advance notice of its special session. Though some might argue the Legislature is exempt from such constraints, it should still stick in the public's craw that the Governor and the Legislature were not interested in informing the public or doing the public's business under any sort if scrutiny.
Rather, they were interested in overriding the will of the people by thwarting the AIRC's work, and achieving this end before the public or the press had a chance to act.
As to Brewer's disapproval of the AIRC's proposed political lines, the court pointed out that it doesn't matter if Brewer likes the proposed maps or not. She's not a dictator, much as she might long to be.
"With regard to preparing maps, the commissioners perform legislative tasks in which they must "balance competing concerns" and "exercise discretion in choosing among potential adjustments to the grid map," Ariz. Minority Coalition for Fair Redistricting v. Arizona Indep. Redistricting Comm'n, 220 Ariz. 587, 597 ¶ 28, 208 P.3d 676, 686 (2009), and the commission's adoption of final maps is subject to judicial review for compliance with the Constitution's procedural and substantive requirements. Id. at 596 ¶ 24, 208 P.3d at 685.
"The Governor's disagreement with commissioners over whether they have properly considered constitutional criteria for adjusting the grid map before they have completed final maps is not, as a matter of law, a constitutional basis for removal."
So why is the state GOP acting like a pack of kindergartners denied their nappy time?
Well, first and foremost, since Rs retain a supermajority in the Legislature, they want to return to a system of party-run gerrymandering. Ultimately, they'd like to see Prop 106, which made the AIRC part of the state's constitution, repealed. Or at least that's what they think they'd like to see.
The other reason is even pettier: They object to the fact that Republican Congressmen "Baby Ben" Quayle and David Schweikert could share a primary under proposed new congressional lines.
As Steve Muratore of the Arizona Eagletarian blog has noted, Republicans have not been shy about this complaint, though the commission, in coming up with new maps, is obviously not supposed to sit around, wondering, "Gee, how will this hurt Ben Quayle and David Schweikert?"
The GOP is betting that all of this redistricting stuff makes people's brains hurt, so they won't care as Republicans run roughshod over the constitution, getting called to the carpet every other week by the Arizona Supreme Court.
This, my friends, is the essence of corruption wrought by overweening power. Just as former state Senate President Russell Pearce's campaign overreached in its attacks and dirty tricks aimed at challenger and ultimate victor Jerry Lewis, so too are the Governor and the Legislature overreaching in the AIRC affair.
Pearce's overreach helped lead to his downfall. The Governor and the Legislature are of a mind that they are above the people, and are not beholden to them. Thus they tempt their own comeuppance in the manner of their former generalissimo Pearce.
The average person may not know the ins and outs of redistricting. Hell, even the "experts" on the subject are often left scrambling for explanations. But the public does have a sense of what is just and what is unjust. And the shenanigans of the GOPers in the AIRC affair are about as obviously self-serving as you can get.
All the Dems need do is exploit the truth like a weapon of asymmetrical warfare, and damn state Republicans with their own canards. This should be easy enough. Even for Arizona Ds.
Addendum: Arizona Republic reporter Ginger Rough posted a blog item today on a new survey from Public Policy Polling showing that Governor Brewer's approval ratings have taken a hit over her redistricting overreach.
The poll reportedly shows a 49 percent disapproval rating for Brewer, with 43 percent disapproving of her ham-fisted decision to remove Mathis. Interestingly, 32 percent say they would support a recall of Brewer.
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Here's an interesting tidbit from the poll Rough neglected to mention in her post:
"Joe Arpaio is more popular than Brewer, McCain, or Kyl but his poll numbers are on the decline too: 47% of voters express a favorable opinion of him to 45% with a negative one. That's down a little bit from 49/42 when we polled about him in May and even more from 53/38 when we polled him last April."
Arpaio enters 2012 with almost as many people who despise him as approve of him, in the state at least. Would be nice to see that poll confined to Maricopa County electors, who actually can vote for or against the guy.