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

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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.

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