Feathered Bastard

Russell Pearce Sues in Bid To Rig Redistricting

Well that didn't take long. As anticipated, state Senate President-elect Russell Pearce and his so-far compliant wingman state House Speaker Kirk Adams, are taking to court their bid to rig Arizona's Independent Redistricting Commission.

After being shot down yesterday by the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, which showed some backbone and refused to remove three nominees to the IRC as Pearce and Adams had demanded, Pearce and Adams have asked the Arizona Supreme Court to weigh in and force the Commission to do the pair's bidding.

It's a move that has all the subtlety of a South American coup.

The Commission has submitted a list of 25 nominees from which Adams, Pearce and their Democratic counterparts in the state legislature must choose four IRC members. These four will in turn choose a fifth, an Independent, to chair the IRC.

But Republicans Pearce and Adams claim that three nominees are not qualified because they hold "public office," contrary to constitutional dictates.

Two of the GOPers sit on, ahem, irrigation districts. And the third, Independent Paul Bender, the main object of Pearce's ire, is a tribal judge. ("Tribal," as in sovereign Indian lands.)

Bender, you see, has been an outspoken critic of Pearce's legislative babies: SB 1070, and the upcoming effort to gut the 14th Amendment. So for Pearce, it's payback time.

The two Republicans -- cover for the move to oust Bender -- resigned under pressure from Adams and Pearce, but Bender, dean emeritus of ASU's law school, will not bend.

In Wednesday's Commission hearing, the panel, which is currently comprised of a voting majority of eight Republicans, rejected Pearce and Adams' ploy to influence them. They voted to keep all three disputed nominees on the list, declining to accept the resignations of the two Republicans, as they were given under duress.

You can read the entire Pearce-Adams petition, here. But the gist of it is below.

Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch, who chairs the Commission as a non-voting member, has recused herself from the case. Wednesday, she predicted that a legal challenge was "likely."

Indeed, I suspect this lawsuit was ready to go yesterday, and all the Pearce-Adams junta had to do was rewrite a few details.

The state Attorney General's Office is the attorney of record for the Commission, and would defend it against the action. Even if the new Republican AG Tom Horne agrees with Pearce and Adams, his office would still be obliged to represent its client.

All of this should occur very quickly. Adams and Pearce's lawyers have asked for an expedited hearing, and as their picks to the IRC are supposed to be in by January 31, according to the state constitution, they will get it.

The question I have is how long will the public stand for this outright meddling in a process that's meant to exclude such attempts at gerrymandering?

Both Pearce and Adams have plenty of names to choose from. So what if every nominee doesn't meet with their approval? Their selfish, partisan concerns should not be a factor in the makeup of the IRC, which will wield enormous power in establishing the boundaries of Arizona's legislative and congressional districts.

From Pearce, this sort of chicanery is to be expected, but from Adams, it's disappointing. Is the Speaker of the House planning to carry water (or Kool-Aid) for bullyboy Pearce for the next two years? If so, this is merely a prologue to the Andrew Thomas-like chaos that will envelop this state as a result.

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