Feathered Bastard

Russell Pearce Wants To Rig Redistricting (Surprise, Surprise)

Arizona's Independent Redistricting Commission won't be independent if state Senate President-elect Russell Pearce has anything to do with it.

Already, Pearce, with the assistance of state House Speaker Kirk Adams, has effectively bulldozed two of the Republican nominees for the IRC off the list created by the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, which makes the nominations.

GOPers Steve Sossaman and Mark Schnepf have taken a powder, but the nominee Pearce and Adams are really after, Independent Paul Bender, professor and dean emeritus of ASU's law school, has so far refused to, um, bend to Pearce's will.

As many of you likely know, according to the Arizona Constitution, Democratic legislative leaders get to pick two Dems from the list of nominees, Pearce and Adams get to pick two Republicans, and the four persons so chosen pick an Independent to chair the IRC. Bender is one of five Indy nominees, and there's no guarantee he would be the choice of the four partisans.

What's Pearce's problem with Bender? Could it be that Pearce is ticked that Bender has been critical of Arizona's breathing-while-brown law SB 1070 as well as Pearce's efforts to curtail the birthright citizenship provision of the Fourteenth Amendment?

You see, Bender has been very outspoken on both of these issues. In July, Bender told the Arizona Republic that immigration law was the purview of the federal government, and that, as a result, SB 1070 would likely not withstand the challenge of a federal lawsuit.

In June, he told the Rep that the language of the 14th Amendment was "very clear," and that a state legislative attempt to challenge it would be unconstitutional.

"I understand why legislators are doing this," Bender said. "And I understand why it would seem counterintuitive to people that someone could come here illegally, have a child here, and that child becomes a full-fledged citizen. But that is what the Constitution has provided since the 14th Amendment was passed."

Pearce and Adams claim Bender is unqualified to be a nominee for an unpaid post on the IRC because he's a tribal judge. Bender, the constitutional expert, disagrees. Indeed, the Arizona Constitution does not disqualify nominees on the grounds of holding such a position for an Indian tribe.

Indian tribes are not mentioned in the language of that section of the Arizona Constitution. But they are mentioned in another, Article 20, Section 4, which acknowledges that tribal lands are "subject to the disposition and under the absolute jurisdiction and control of the Congress of the United States,"

Thus, Pearce's real reasons for wanting to disqualify Bender are as plain as the squint in the Senator's beady eyes. Adams is just along for the ride, to give Pearce cover.

The pair are also throwing out other objections to the list of Republican nominees. Almost all come from Maricopa County, they complain. And they allege religious discrimination against one potential nominee who didn't make the cut.

Don't buy it. The Commission on Appellate Court Appointments had to work with the pool of folks who put their names in the pot. And the Commission had to be sure that those applying could work with others of differing opinions and were committed to the thousands of unpaid hours they would have to kick in.

(Along these lines, the Arizona Constitution states that, members of the IRC must be "committed to applying the provisions of this section in an honest, independent and impartial fashion and to upholding public confidence in the integrity of the redistricting process.")

Wednesday morning, the Commission has a public meeting scheduled to discuss the matter. It remains to be seen if they will allow themselves to be bullied by Pearce and his weak-kneed enabler Adams.

What's at stake is the competitiveness of Arizona's legislative and Congressional races. And, more importantly for Pearce, who sees himself in Congress someday, the new legislative district that the IRC will have to carve out as a result of the 2010 Census.

Pearce wants a Congressional district he can win in. So expect the bullying to continue. One wonders what exactly Pearce has to do to overreach and draw the outrage of the public at large. He would appear to have overreached already.

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