Russell Pearce Shot Down on Bid To Rig Redistricting

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State Senate President-elect Russell Pearce and state House Speaker Kirk Adams were handed a defeat this morning in their efforts to interfere with the nominees to the Independent Redistricting Commission, the powerful committee of five that will be responsible for re-carving legislative and congressional districts before the 2012 elections.

The Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, which under the Arizona Constitution nominates 25 volunteers to be picked for the IRC by state legislative leaders, unanimously rejected attempts by Republicans Pearce and Adams to have ASU law school dean emeritus Paul Bender removed from the list of nominees.

A majority of the Commission also voted not accept the resignations of GOPers Steve Sossaman and Mark Schnepf, who both stepped aside after Pearce and Adams publicly questioned their qualifications to be IRC members and leaned on them to bow out.

Also, despite Pearce and Adams' complaints that the Republican pool that they will choose from is not geographically diverse, the Commission decided to keep the list as is.

Nevertheless, many of the Commission members, including its chairwoman, Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch, anticipated that Pearce and Adams would sue over the issues they'd raised.

At one point, Berch stated, "Likely there will be a [legal] challenge."

Jane Strain, a Republican from Cochise County, was adamant that the possibility of a lawsuit would not dissuade her in doing what was right.

"In terms of lawsuits, I don't deal well with threats," she said at one point. "I don't deal well with situations that require threats. So in terms of a threat of a lawsuit, it is what it is."

Dewey Schade, a Maricopa County Republican, also took umbrage at the threat of a lawsuit by Adams and Pearce to undermine the Commission's work.

"Those of us in the private sector, if we decide to have a lawsuit, we have to dip into our pockets," he noted. "But if you're a politician, and you can file a lawsuit . . . with taxpayers paying for the lawsuits.

"So I find it quite interesting instead of just taking this list . . . and making your picks, that they're going to spend our money in a very difficult economic times to file lawsuits."

Neither Pearce nor Adams explicitly leveled the threat of a lawsuit when they spoke to the Commission at the beginning of the hearing, although Adams has told reporters that the option's open if he and Pearce receive an identical list of nominees. That, of course, will now happen.

During his remarks, Adams argued that Bender, Sossaman and Schnepf were constitutionally unqualified to be nominees, as Bender works as a tribal judge, and Sossaman and Schnepf sit on irrigation districts.

Pearce called Bender a "high-ranking tribal official," though as many speakers later noted, he clearly is not. And Pearce suggested that one applicant to the IRC, Tucson Republican Christopher Gleason had been discriminated against because of his religious views.

"That would be blatantly unconstitutional," Pearce said.

It would be if that had actually occurred. But it did not. According to the Arizona Capitol Times, retired Judge Louis Araneta made a comment concerning religious statements Gleason put on his application. The judge reportedly opined that there should be a separation of church and state. Araneta later resigned from the Commission, explaining that he did not want controversy over his remark to be a distraction.

Towards the end of the hearing, long after both Pearce and Adams had left, several of the Commission members disagreed with the allegation that Gleason's religious beliefs had been held against him. Berch concurred with this view.

"Since I don't vote, I sit as an observer of the votes," said Berch. "And I can truly say...there was no discussion of [his] religion. There was a comment made, and a vote was taken."

She stated that, "I also interpreted the comment made by Mr. Araneta to go to impartiality, which is a constitutional requirement."

Berch did admit at one point that what constitutes a "public office" in regards to the Constitutional requirements for IRC nominees had yet to be defined, but several members scoffed at the possibility that sitting on an irrigation district would disqualify someone from being on the IRC.

Commission members noted that they had sought and gotten legal advice from the state Attorney General's Office regarding the "public office" issue, and had taken that advice into consideration with their picks.

Potential IRC members cannot be considered if they hold public office, but those who sit on school boards are exempted, and the Constitutional language says nothing about Indian tribes, which are sovereign nations.

One speaker before the Commission observed that Bender might as well have been advising a court in Fiji, for all it mattered.

As I noted in a blog post yesterday, Bender is anathema to Pearce because Bender, an expert in Constitutional law, has opposed Pearce both on SB 1070 and his efforts to nullify parts of the 14th Amendment. As Adams and Pearce left the building, I asked Pearce if that was his real reason for wanting Bender off the list of nominees. He did not respond to my question.

In general, the Commission seemed to resent the pressure placed on them by Adams and Pearce. At least this part of Pearce and Adams' gambit boomeranged on them.

"There is no greater intrusion into this process than to have the two top Republican officials from the state government call and get people to withdraw their names from consideration," observed Pima County Democrat John Leavitt. "That's completely inappropriate."

Lawsuits will be totally inappropriate, too. But if there's one thing you can count on, it's on Pearce and his henchmen doing the totally inappropriate thing. That is, as long as they stand to gain from it.

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