Brewer, Senate removes Mathis from commission

PHOENIX - The process of redistricting the state's congressional and legislative is now up in the air after the removal of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission's chairwoman by the Arizona Senate and a recommendation to restart the process from both houses of the Legislature Tuesday afternoon.

Gov. Jan Brewer sent letters to the Redistricting Commission Oct. 26 accusing them of neglect of duty and misconduct and pointing out that she could remove any of them with a two-thirds vote from the Senate. She demanded that the commissioners respond to her letters by Monday morning.

The Redistricting Commission has been responding to accusations of wrongdoing since it was formed last year. Chairwoman Colleen Mathis left her husband's ties to the Democratic Party off of her application for the commission. Republicans have accused Mathis and the two Democratic members of the commission of trying to rig the selection process for the consultant firm that helped draw the maps and breaking state open meetings laws in the process.

In a letter to Commission Chairwoman Colleen Mathis Tuesday, Brewer stated she had considered each letter from the commission members carefully and was removing Mathis from the commission, which would be effective immediately after approval from the Senate.

At the same time, the Legislature created a special joint committee to make a recommendation on the commission's proposed maps. The committee submitted its recommendation that the maps be redone to the full Legislature Tuesday.

Since Gov. Jan Brewer was out of state Tuesday promoting her new book in New York City, Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett called the Legislature into session as acting governor to vote on the issues. The Senate voted 21 to 6 to remove Mathis Tuesday.

Both houses approved the joint committee's recommendation to re-do the maps.

According to Arizona Revised Statutes a state judicial appointment panel will nominate three people for Mathis' seat to the IRC. The commission will choose the new chairman from the three nominees.

It is unknown if the commission will change the proposed congressional and legislative district maps or not. The Legislature cannot force the commission to change the maps.

Sen. Ron Gould said the IRC is challenging Mathis' removal in court and the Legislature may sue to prevent the commission from sending the proposed maps to the U.S. Department of Justice for approval. However, he feels that it would be unlikely that the maps would be sent to the DOJ. The commission would need three out of the four remaining members to approve in order to send the maps and two of the remaining members don't approve of the current maps.

"We may have to start over," Gould said. "It's a big political crap shoot. We don't know what will happen."

The restructured commission may approve the maps, they may start the whole process over or the courts may get involved, he said. At the same time they have to get things done in time to fix any concerns the DOJ might have with the maps before the Presidential Preference Election in February.

Although many people may disagree with the removal of Mathis from the commission, it is important that the Legislature keep an eye on the process, Goodale said. "This isn't a partisan issue. They're spending millions of dollars. We should be asking questions."

Gould agreed. Legislators are being accused of stomping on the rights of the IRC, but if people look at the voter initiative that put the commission in place they'll see that the removal process the governor used was included in that initiative.