Brewer rejects special session over redistricting

2011-11-30T00:00:00Z Brewer rejects special session over redistrictingHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
November 30, 2011 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - Saying she won't be rushed into action, Gov. Jan Brewer said Tuesday that she will not call lawmakers back to the Capitol today to ask voters to modify or repeal the Independent Redistricting Commission.

Brewer said she still believes the process of drawing lines for the state's 30 legislative and nine congressional districts has not been done openly and in compliance with constitutional mandates, which she said is why she tried to fire Colleen Mathis as chairwoman, an action voided by the state Supreme Court.

But Brewer said she has seen "no evidence" voters are ready to scrap the commission they created in 2000.

Because the commission was approved by Arizona voters, press aide Matthew Benson said, it would take another vote to eliminate it. But putting that question on the Feb. 28 ballot would require a special legislative session no later than today.

And Benson noted, "Polling that we have seen doesn't show willingness right now to throw out the commission."

Brewer's reliance on polling annoyed Senate Majority Whip Frank Antenori, R-Tucson.

"If you believe in something and you think it's the right way to remedy the problem, you should do it and you shouldn't wait for a poll," he said. Anyway, he said, if politicians relied on polls there would be no need for elections.

"A lot of times polls are wrong," he said.

Benson said his boss would be willing to call a special session to ask voters for something less radical than repeal.

"But, of course, it's going to depend on what those reforms are," Benson said. And he said there is no consensus in the Legislature - at least among the Republicans who dominate both chambers - exactly what form that should take.

Senate President-elect Steve Pierce said that's not entirely true.

He said leadership already had a bill drafted and ready to go that expanded the commission to nine, with three Republicans, three Democrats and three not affiliated with either party. The same measure would have required at least two of the nine to come from rural areas; currently all five commissioners are from Maricopa or Pima counties.

But Pierce said he won't waste time trying to change Brewer's mind. "She's made it very clear she's not going to rethink this," he said.

Today was the deadline for adding items to the Feb. 28 ballot for the Republican presidential primary. There is no contest on the Democratic side.

What that leaves, Pierce said, is lawmakers crafting changes to the commission when they return in January.

But anything they propose at that point could not go to voters for ratification before next year's election. That means no chance to have a reformed commission redraw new maps that Republicans believe are less biased toward Democrats in time for the 2012 race.

Brewer said that isn't an important enough reason to act now.

"We cannot act in haste - or in anger - when it comes to something as critical as the way in which Arizona draws its congressional and legislative districts," the governor said in her prepared statement. "Our action must be reasoned and rational, and there must be a defined path to victory with voters."

Pierce said he expects legal challenges to be filed against the commission's new maps.

The governor's decision came as the commission met for the first time since Brewer's ill-fated attempt to fire Mathis.

Much of Tuesday's meeting focused on what has to happen now to create final maps that are ready to present to the U.S. Department of Justice for approval.

How quickly the commission can act depends on what changes they are willing to make.

At more than two dozen public hearings, many speakers complained about lines that split "communities of interest."

One in particular relates to the draft plan splitting Cochise County into two congressional districts.

Another involves splitting Yuma between two legislative districts. Undoing that split is complicated because any change affects the percentage of minorities in each. And federal law precludes states from drawing political lines in ways that dilute minority-voting strength.

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