Arizona's Redistricting Commission Should Regard the Tea Party as Disruptive Loons

More than anything, the Tea Party movement in Arizona reminds me of the assorted wackjobs who believed that the 9/11 attacks on America were an "inside job" by the administration of President George W. Bush, a moronic contention now thoroughly debunked and discredited.

Like the so-called 9/11 "truthers," Tea Baggers see conspiracies where there are none, spread misinformation without consequence, and vilify any who do not buy their bald-faced bull.

But where the nearly moribund "truth" movement once offered numerous flavors of idiocy, the Tea Baggers march in lockstep, showing up to public meetings with prepared talking points copied off e-mails and websites, repeating over and over the same soft-headed mush and regurgitated canards.

They also are often armed.

They aim to take over or disrupt public meetings, and there often are warnings either from them or from politicians allied with these noxious hillbillies that veer toward the threat of violence.

In short, this anti-democratic force of bikers, nativists, old white biddies, and crazed, self-styled "patriots" have more in common with pre-Berlin Wall-fall Communists than the fomenters of the American Revolution they purportedly revere.

Recently, the Tea Party's true face has been revealed in its attempts to exercise veto power over the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, the five-member panel charged with redrawing the political map of Sand Land, based on the 2010 census.

The AIRC was created in 2000 by voter approval of Prop 106, which amended Arizona's Constitution, placing the power to redraw legislative and congressional districts in the hands of two Democrats and two Republicans, appointed by leaders of the state House and Senate, as well as one Independent chosen to chair the AIRC by the four partisans.

In the case of the current AIRC, that Independent is Colleen Mathis, a healthcare administrator originally from Peoria, Illinois, who now lives and works in Pima County with her lawyer husband, Chris.

Mathis was unanimously selected to her position by the four appointed commissioners, all of whom are unpaid, as is Mathis. A relevant point considering the amount of abuse that's been heaped upon her by the Tea Party brigade.

Because the Tea Baggers have disagreed with the selection of a mapping consultant with Democratic ties, the D.C. firm Strategic Telemetry, they have focused on Mathis' application and a slight omission they use to claim Mathis "lied" on it.

Supposedly, according to these nudniks, she lied to hide the fact that her husband is a registered Democrat who played the role of treasurer in the unsuccessful 2010 campaign of Democrat Nancy Young Wright for a state House seat from Legislative District 26.

From this original sin flows all Mathis' faults, which include her vote (along with those of the two Dems on the commission) for Strategic Telemetry to be the mapping consultant.

Thing is, Mathis did not lie. In fact, she mentions the name of her husband in the second line of the application.

But question eight on the form asked for her to list all family members who have a profession, and she neglected to list that her spouse is an attorney, an error for which she has apologized.

It's no big secret that her husband is a lawyer. Anyone plugging the guy's name into Google will discover that right quick. As for his status as a Democrat, the application form does not ask for that information, because it is irrelevant.

But since we're dealing with facts that don't matter, here are a few more that the Tea Baggers overlook when pointing their digits at the Mathises: For the better part of his life, Chris Mathis was a Republican.

He actually worked on the staff of former Republican U.S. Senator from Nebraska Chuck Hagel, and on the staff of ex-U.S. Representative Bob Michel of Illinois, onetime Republican minority leader of the House.

Over the years, Chris Mathis has donated money to both Democrats and Republicans. According to federal and state campaign-finance filings, he donated money to Democratic Congresswoman Gabby Giffords in 2010, as well as to current Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican.

In previous election cycles, he donated to Republican U.S. Senator John McCain and to former GOP U.S. Senator from Illinois Peter Fitzgerald. Mathis' grandfather even ran, unsuccessfully, for governor of Illinois in a Republican primary.

Neither Mathis wished to comment on the record for this column, but I know that Chris Mathis has referred to himself in the past as a Jerry Ford-esque Republican and has been shoehorned into the Democratic camp by the extremism of the Arizona GOP.

Indeed, these days, President Gerald R. Ford would be regarded as a raging liberal RiNO (Republican in Name Only) by the far-right Tea Party types here in Cactus Country and elsewhere.

But there are pettier agendas involved than these ideological disputes.

One of the main disseminators of misinformation has been Republican legislator Terri Proud, who won a close election against Nancy Wright in 2010, and is bent (and I do mean "bent") on attacking her opponent's onetime treasurer by smearing his wife, Colleen.

Weird? Oh, yes. But Proud has devoted a lot of time to spreading falsehoods about Mathis and the AIRC, pyrite that the Tea Baggers have willfully mistaken for gold.


Neither Chris Mathis' previous GOP ties, nor the fact that Colleen Mathis and her spouse once visited the George W. Bush White House and attended the 1988 Republican National Convention, have stopped Tea Baggers and certain politicians from calling for her head.

Keep in mind that not line one has been drawn in the redistricting process. In anticipation of drawing these lines, the AIRC has been holding meetings around the state to take comments from the public.

Clueless Tea Baggers have shown up wondering, "Where are the maps?" This, while ignoring information on the AIRC's website letting folks know that the so-called grid maps are yet to come. The public will get to comment on whatever lines are drawn when the proposed maps are ready.

At a recent AIRC meeting, Kelly Townsend of the Greater Phoenix Tea Party Patriots gave a confusing speech wherein she asked Mathis to step down, as if she was in attendance.

She was not, a fact that was humorously pointed out by Steve Muratore of the Arizona Eagletarian blog. Not all commissioners can go to all the meetings, though usually two or three attend at a time.

Townsend's address drew boos and applause. Initially, it seemed as if she had actually called for the resignation of Vice Chairman Jose Herrera, a Democrat. Only after a couple of reporters asked her about this did Townsend realize how badly she'd bollixed it. She later apologized to Herrera.

One Tea Bagger type referred to the commissioners as "cockroaches" at the same meeting. Others charged that the commission was operating in secret, that it had violated the state procurement code and open-meetings law in picking Strategic Telemetry, and that this "progressive" outfit was data-mining voter-registration information.

Actually, the information that Strategic Telemetry will use to help the commission comes from two sources, the Arizona Secretary of State's Office, and the 2010 census. All public record.

So much for data mining.

Interestingly, Strategic Telemetry has never hidden its work for the 2008 Obama campaign or for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, now an Independent.

What of the commission operating in "secret" and violating the state procurement code?

Well, early on, before the commission had hired its lawyers — one for the Dems and one for the GOPers — lawyers from the Arizona Attorney General's Office advised the commission.

Though the AIRC, does not have to follow the state procurement code, Assistant Attorney General James Barton suggested that the commissioners in their role as "good stewards" follow procurement guidelines nonetheless.

As laid out in the Arizona Revised Statutes, there are certain aspects of the bidding process that are kept confidential.

To discuss such matters, the AIRC had to go into executive session, though the actual voting on bids was done in public. As one of the AIRC's current lawyers explained to me, this was as it should be.

"All of these pre-awarding bid documents are confidential," AIRC attorney Joe Kanefield observed. "So when [the commission] was discussing these bids, they had to [go into executive session] because they were discussing confidential documents."

Since the AIRC voted to award the contract to Strategic Telemetry, all the documents associated with the bids have been placed on the commission's website.

The Democrats and the chairman gave Strategic Telemetry the highest bids, but the Repubs on the commission gave ST relatively high marks, as well, a factoid ignored by the Tea Baggers.

Ultimately, the State Procurement Office, which had been advising the AIRC, delegated its authority to the commission, leading to further charges that the SPO was alleging wrongdoing.

But no wrongdoing is alleged in the SPO's letter to the commission delegating authority. The AIRC's executive director, Ray Bladine, told me that the commissioners wanted to speed up the process and make it more open.

If all this AIRC stuff sounds about as exciting as watching concrete harden, it has led to ominous calls for abolishment of the AIRC (which would have to be done via a statewide ballot). If this happened, the whole process would revert back to our far-right wing, supermajority Republican Legislature.

Some GOPs, such as state Senator Frank Antenori, are ready to go postal on the commission and its chairwoman, telling the Capitol Times' Yellow Sheet, "The gun is loaded, and it's just figuring out what target to point it at and when to pull the trigger."

Metaphorically speaking, I hope — particularly in light of the recent bloodbath in Norway perpetuated by a right-wing loon, not to mention January's Tucson tragedy, in which a federal judge was slain and Congresswoman Giffords almost was.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne recently announced that his office will be doing a "probe" of the issues surrounding AIRC procurement and open meetings. This, despite the fact that his attorneys — from jump — advised the AIRC on these very issues.

Horne told me that he was responding to the concerns of the public, that his office had researched the matter and concluded it could investigate without running afoul of ethical rules.

Nevertheless, Horne's approach has emboldened the witless Tea Baggers into thinking they're onto something.

And it's just a little too similar to the antics of Horne's erstwhile rival, former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas. Remember, it was Thomas' office that investigated county Supervisors over matters his office had advised them on.

That's one reason Thomas currently is facing disbarment proceedings, BTW.

Fortunately, there are some normal people who've been attending the AIRC meetings, voicing support for the commission, and offering some pushback to the Tea Baggers, who are about as obvious as the cause of singer Amy Winehouse's recent demise.

The Republicans on the commission have stated that they support Chairman Mathis and want to move on.

But the Tea Baggers have nothing better to do than raise Cain over candy corn. And 'til they are dismissed — as the 9/11 "truthers" are today — you can expect their threats and hysterical nonsense to continue.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons