Democrats Gaming 'Bipartisan' Redictricting Efforts
If Ronald Reagan were alive today, he would be uttering his famous words -- "there you go again" -- to the Democratic re-districting commissioners in Arizona and California. American Thinker interviewed experts to hear the ways the Democrats are trying to hijack the re-districting commissions in these two states. Both states passed propositions that were supposed to make the re-districting a bipartisan effort, taking the configuration of the district maps out of the hands of the legislature.
The commission in Arizona is made up of two Democrats and two Republicans, chosen by the respective party legislative leaders, and an Independent, chosen by the appellate court. California's commission consists of five Democrats, five Republicans, and four Independents, vetted by the state auditor. Unfortunately, the state auditor cited in its own report that the background checks done to ensure that those chosen were not political operatives were very brief and questionable at best. The California commissioners were not to have a paid affiliation with a candidate, lobby group, or political party and for the most part would be chosen by a lottery.
For the Arizona chairperson, the appellate court chose five non-party-affiliated candidates, after which the current commissioners would then choose one. Colleen Mathis, who was appointed the chairperson, appears to be the "best of the worst."
The appellate court had stacked the deck, giving the Republicans no choices. If the Democrats and Republicans were unable to agree, the appellate court would then choose the chair. Imagine if they chose as the supposed Independent Paul Bender, who was described by Senator Orin Hatch (R) in 2002 as "an extremist by even the most liberal standards[.]" The other four choices were far worse in their Democratic biases than Mathis, who is a questionable independent. She did not disclose that her husband was the treasurer for the campaign of a Democrat. Was it an honest mistake or, as State Senator Gail Griffin felt, a "fraud committed by the Chairperson on her application, the lack of disclosure"?
California Republicans have not fared much better with their commissioners. According to Tom Del Beccaro, chairman of the California Republican Party, the Democrats and supposed Independents are dominating the process because they are extremely partisan. John Hrabe of CalWatchDog.com told American Thinker that the independent commissioners are nothing but "left-oriented political activists; Commissioner Jeanne Raya failed to disclose financial contributions, and Commissioner Dr. Gabino Aguirre failed to disclose three campaign contributions to Democratic candidates; has a long history of political activism in support of Latino causes such as Mecha and La Raza; and is connected to a special interest group, CAUSE, that has submitted its own redistricting proposals." Charles Bell, a renowned constitutional lawyer, also pointed out that Commissioner Cynthia Dei is very influential in making sure the Democrats have a voice by redrawing the districts more favorably for the Democrats.
Regarding legal representation, both states decided to have two lawyers, a Republican and a Democrat. Sounds fair; yet, in Arizona it was actually a charade by the Democrats and chairwoman. Richard Stertz, one of the Republican commissioners, put forth a motion that both the Democrats and Republicans retain as counsel their first choice. This was voted down 3 to 2. The charade occurred when Democratic commissioner Jose Herrera gave the Democratic choice, Mary O'Grady, a perfect score and low-balled the Republican first choice, Lisa Hauser, so she actually came in third place, despite exemplary skills and experience. In this June 15th meeting, the scoring sheets, at the request of Mathis, were destroyed. Stertz commented, "I could not conceive in my wildest imagination why you would vote down someone with as much experience as the Republican choice, Lisa Hauser. The bottom line is that the Republicans were not allowed to choose who they wanted while the Democrats did get their choice." The lawyer chosen for the Republicans is Joe Kanefield, who became a registered Republican only last year, and whose boss was Mary O'Grady. However, to be fair, he was the legal counsel for Jan Brewer while she was secretary of state and governor.
California also has two lawyers consulting the commission, although one of the lawyers, Republican Dan Kolkey is a persona non grata. Bell speculated that the sub-commission that determines the agenda and handles the invitations to the meetings "effectively fired him from the process, forcing him onto the sidelines with his voice stifled." The public record supports this since the last meeting he attended was June 7th, before the preliminary maps of the commission were released.
The mapping consulting firms chosen are also partisan. In Arizona, Strategic Telemetry was chosen after Mathis once again voted with the Democrats. President, Ken Strasma, commented to American Thinker that Strategic Telemetry never worked for any pure Republican candidate, the party, or group; yet, he was the national target director for Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. He knows there is a lot of criticism about his firm but emphatically stated that "we were entirely up front in the application process," which was confirmed by the two Republican commissioners.
Would his firm be neutral in the forming of maps? His reply was that "I see our role as technical, not anything subjective. The decision-making will be done by the commission who will give us the direction. We will be neutral because we will not be making the policy decisions. Maps drawn will be based on the decisions of the commission where they will spell out an entire goal to achieve and then we would work out different scenarios to try to achieve those goals." Scott Freeman, a Republican commissioner, is concerned that "the commissioners have never done this before and we might need to lean on the mapping consultant and the lawyers for options. Hopefully, this firm will be fair and neutral."
Regarding the California mapping firm, Q2 Data & Research, Bell emphasized, "Berkeley line drawing expert Karin Macdonald has a leftist background and has associations with Ana Henderson, an adjunct law professor and former Justice Department attorney advisor with a decidedly leftist background. This firm made partisan adjustments that favored the Democratic incumbents."
Transparency seems to be a problem with both state commissions where decisions were made in executive session. Hauser regards this as an affront to the Arizona citizens who "took the process out of the legislature's hands to allow the citizens to have a strong say. The commission tackles issues behind closed doors: picking counsel, an independent chairperson, and the re-districting mapping company." Congressman Brian Bilbray (R) echoed the same sentiment for California: "the voters intent was not followed and appears to be a violation of the public trust. A whole lot was being done behind the scenes by people that manipulated and subverted the process, threatening to destroy a very important part of our system." Recently, Commissioner Michael Ward (R) was prevented from making public a dissenting minority report.
Since the districting outcomes have yet to be determined, Commissioner Freeman is hoping that "Chairwoman Mathis will be objective, fair, and neutral in generating the districts, but given what has happened so far, I have genuine concern," while Commissioner Stertz wants the Constitution followed to its letter, with maps laid out that make sense to Arizona. The commissioners in both states should remember that a flawed process will bring flawed results, and a tainted system will just add to the skepticism of the American people.