by Mary Jo Pitzl – Oct. 22, 2011 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
Legislative leaders on Friday suggested they may call all lawmakers back to the Capitol to take action on the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission’s preliminary maps.
A newly formed legislative panel heard both criticism and support for the legislative and congressional maps during the panel’s first meeting.
But Democrats boycotted the meeting, protesting what they said was a power grab by Republicans unhappy they no longer get to draw political boundaries.
GOP leaders created the Joint Legislative Committee on Redistricting to help formulate a response to the draft maps that are the topic of statewide public hearings.
“There are real concerns that have been brought forward about the constitutionality of these proposed maps from the IRC,” said Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, a committee co-chairman. “Fortunately, there is something we can do.”
Pierce indicated that lawmakers are particularly worried that the commissioners have ignored requirements to respect “communities of interest” and to keep districts as compact as possible.
The state is required to redraw political boundaries for Congress and the Legislature after every decennial census.
When voters approved a constitutional amendment creating the independent redistricting panel in 2000, they took the duty of drawing new political lines out of lawmakers’ hands and gave it to an independent five-member panel.
The amendment also gave lawmakers the right to make recommendations to the commission. Those recommendations will come from the committee and may result in House and Senate members being summoned to the Capitol in the next week or so for a vote on a final recommendation.
Legislative attorneys say the state Constitution does not require a special session for this task; each chamber could act on the eventual recommendations.
House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, called the effort a waste of time and money. He questioned why the lawmakers feel compelled to speak up, since the draft maps give Republicans a decided edge over Democrats.
“Is it that Republicans want just one-party rule in this state?” he asked.
Rep. Lynne Pancrazi, D-Yuma, said she suspects some of her colleagues don’t want to be drawn into competitive districts.
“Some lawmakers want to play these partisan games because they’re not used to competition,” said Pancrazi, who represents one of the few competitive legislative districts in the state.
She said the proper place for lawmakers to speak out is at the redistricting commission’s public hearings, as she did Thursday night in Phoenix.
Friday’s hearing resembled one of the commission’s many sessions.
There was a presentation from legislative staffer John Mills on the map-making process, complete with detail down to census blocks.
There was some controversy when Sen. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, requested that blogger Steve Muratore be removed from the hearing room because Biggs said he was swearing at him.
And there was public testimony, which fell along two broad lines: people who supported the commission’s work and those who want changes to the draft maps, especially in Yavapai and Pinal counties. The comments echoed testimony the commission has heard since statewide hearings started earlier this month.
Terry Nolan, mayor of Dewey-Humboldt, said what many of his Yavapai County colleagues are requesting: Keep the county whole. The draft legislative map splits the Verde Valley from the county and puts it with Flagstaff in Coconino County.
“I know you don’t have any control over what’s going on, but you do have some influence,” Nolan said.
Others, such as Tempe resident Jana Granillo, said they support the work of the redistricting panel. Granillo noted the commission is not done with its work and has indicated it will make changes to the maps after a 30-day comment period ends in early November.
The legislative committee, conscious of that deadline, will resume its work Monday at 1 p.m.