Republicans in the Legislature continued their shameless attack on the Independent Redistricting Commission last week, this time asking a federal court to take away the commission’s power to redraw congressional districts just in time for the 2014 elections.
The commission is already fighting three lawsuits — including one by the Legislature — that seek to have the 2010 redistricting maps thrown out on the grounds that … well, things didn’t go as well for Republican candidates as they’d hoped.
Before 2012, Republicans held 21 of 30 Senate seats and 40 out of 60 in the House. Those leads narrowed after the elections to 17-13 and 36-24, respectively. The reason for those losses, according to Republicans, is unfair redistricting that gave an advantage to Democrats.
Not chastened by the Arizona Supreme Court’s rebuke of their last political stunt, their attempted removal of commission Chairwoman Colleen Mathis, Republicans are willing to keep pushing the issue to slant the playing field in their favor.
It is time they stopped fighting the will of the people in court and concentrate on winning elections the old-fashioned way: by offering up ideas and proposals voters will support.
The Independent Redistricting Commission, established through a ballot measure in 2000 that amended the state constitution and took away redistricting power from the Legislature, is a victim of its own success.
Its goals — to draw districts without regard to political parties, following geographic and common-sense boundaries and taking into account community interests — have clearly irked the party in power.
The lawsuit backed by GOP lawmakers argues voters had no legal authority to take their power to redraw legislative district lines because the U.S. Constitution states that authority rests with the Legislature. Their new effort on congressional districts makes a similar argument.
As reported in the Star, lawyers for the commission said the U.S. Supreme Court has been clear that the power to redraw districts is not the exclusive domain of the Legislature. Redistricting commissions in other states have faced similar legal challenges and won.
Republican efforts are not only a waste of time and energy — they also are a waste of money. The commission spent more than $2 million last fiscal year defending itself against suits. That’s $2 million in taxpayer money the Legislature approved to fight itself.
While districts can never be completely equal, the redistricting commission has done a good job of balancing the requirements it must work under (see box). A quick look at the latest Arizona voter registration report, which notes voters’ party affiliation, shows no district has an insurmountable advantage for either party.
Looking at congressional races since the commission was established, the balance of power has fluctuated between Republicans and Democrats. These shifts are as it should be. There should be no “safe district” for any party if we hope to have lawmakers compromise for the good of all.
If Republicans look to their recent loses and want to reverse the trend, they should seek to change themselves, not the system.