Tea Party Calls for Redistricting Chair's Head: Republican and Democratic Commissioners Support Her (w/Addendum)

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Despite calls from Tea Party activists and some Republicans for the resignation of Colleen Mathis, chairwoman of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, both Republican commissioner Scott Freeman and Democratic commissioner Jose Herrera expressed support for the embattled Mathis Thursday night.

After a nearly-three hour public hearing at Phoenix's South Mountain Community College soliciting comments on Arizona's yet-to-be-redrawn political map, I buttonholed Freeman and Herrera, asking them about the controversy drummed up by Tea Party-types regarding Mathis' omission of her spouse's career as a lawyer on her application. 

"I support her," Freeman said of Mathis, who along with Republican Richard Stertz was not present at the meeting. "I'm confident she's trying to do the right thing. And I want to try to help her as much as I can."

Herrera stated that he has not agreed with Mathis on all issues, but he thinks there's no reason she should step down or be removed.

"If you do something egregious, there are reasons why [you] would be able to be removed," he explained. "But she's done none of that."

He added, "She's a true Independent, and she has the toughest job on the commission. Tougher than mine, that's for sure."

Mathis, a registered Independent, was chosen unanimously to be the chair by the four appointees to the commission, two GOPers and two Dems. 

Her husband Chris has worked for and donated to Democrats, though he has also worked for and given money to Republicans. His most recent bio on the Martindale.com directory of lawyers notes that he was once a legislative assistant to former U.S. Senator from Nebraska Chuck Hagel, a Republican.

Mathis listed her husband's name on her application, but failed to mention his occupation as required, an oversight that's been exploited to question her vote with the majority in a three-two decision hiring the DC firm Strategic Telemetry as consultant on the mapping process.

Tea Partiers and Republicans such as state Senator Frank Antenori have called the choice of Strategic Telemetry inappropriate as the company has worked for Democrats, as well as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, currently an Independent.

During Thursday's open forum, several in attendance raised these issues, objecting to the hiring of Strategic Telemetry, and offering the choice as evidence of corruption.

Also yesterday, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne announced a probe of Strategic Telemetry's selection. This, in a vaguely-worded statement that could be interpreted as a sop to the Tea Partiers or a form of intimidation, depending on your point of view. 

The two Republicans on the commission voted against the choice of Strategic Telemetry, but nevertheless gave the company high marks. When I asked Freeman if he believed the commission needed to revisit the selection, he downplayed the idea.

"We're never going to make everyone happy," Freeman told me. "Even if we had picked a different mapping consultant, we'd have a whole different slew of people complaining or raising concerns."

Freeman also stated that the commission had asked Strategic Telemetry to do its work in Arizona, rather than DC, which was one kvetch critics of the choice had.

Asked about the AAG's investigation, Freeman simply said that he would cooperate with it. 

Herrera said he welcomed the AAG's probe and believed it would vindicate the commission's actions.

Overall, the meeting was not the Tea Party takeover hoped for by right-wingers. The majority of commenters didn't mention the controversy at all, instead voicing concerns about the need for competitive districts and why certain districts should change or remain the same.

Kelly Townsend of the Greater Phoenix Tea Party Patriots was one of those who demanded Mathis' resignation, but her demand was met with a large chorus of boos mixed with a smattering of applause.

Which may indicate that South Phoenix, with its large minority population, is not the best place to hold an impromptu Tea Party rally.

Addendum: I should point out that Townsend sounded like she was calling for Herrera's resignation last night, but when I spoke with her afterward, she stated that this was not the case, and that she in fact wanted Mathis to resign. She later went up to Herrera and apologized if she gave the wrong impression.

You can watch the video of last night's meeting, here. Townsend was definitely booed, and from where I was standing toward the back, it sounded like there were more boos than applause. But in the recording, you can even hear some cheering from the Tea Party faction along with the applause. 

When Steve Muratore addressed the commissioners, he made light of the fact that Townsend seemed confused, and seemed to believe Chairman Mathis was seated at the table with the others. But Mathis was not present that night.

Speaking with Townsend later, I found her to be a very pleasant and friendly woman, who in profile bears a resemblance to Jodie Foster. I mentioned this to her in passing, and she said she used to get that a lot when she was younger. Apropos of nothing, I know, but I could not help but like her, despite the ideological chasm between us.

Note: For detailed coverage of the AZIRC, I highly recommend Steve Muratore's Arizona Eagletarian blog, at stevemuratore.blogspot.com.

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