Concerns of redistricting lawsuit loom

Butch Meriwether/Courtesy<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->Ken Bennett points to the proposed location of two gun barrels from the USS Arizona and the USS Missouri  that his office wants to get from the Navy and install in a park near the capitol building in Phoenix.   <br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->

Butch Meriwether/Courtesy<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->Ken Bennett points to the proposed location of two gun barrels from the USS Arizona and the USS Missouri that his office wants to get from the Navy and install in a park near the capitol building in Phoenix. <br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->

KINGMAN - Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett is concerned the state may end up in another lawsuit over redistricting congressional and legislative voting districts.

Bennett gave the Kingman Republican Men's Club a brief synopsis of events at the state capitol Monday including his efforts to secure two gun barrels, one from the USS Arizona and the other from the USS Missouri; redistricting efforts and the one-cent sales tax.

Bennett said he was concerned not about what the Arizona Independent Redistrict Commission is doing but how it is going about doing it.

The commission is made up of two republicans and two democrats picked by the Legislature from the public, the final member, an independent, is chosen by the commission, he said.

The commission was created by the voters of Arizona and first met in 2000. Bennett said the commission did a good job of creating the new voting maps, even though the state ended up in court for several years over the maps.

"The commission is trying to take the politics out of a very political action. No matter what you do, no one is going to be happy with the results," he said.

But this year's commission has been embroiled in controversy from the start with accusations that chairwoman, Colleen Mathis (I-Pima County), left off her husband's ties to the Democratic Party on her application, Bennett said. There have also been accusations of commissioners meeting behind closed doors. The most recent complaint alleged Mathis of taking the proposed legislature district maps home over a weekend and returning on Monday with a few adjustments to the districts that moved some incumbents into the same district, making it more difficult to run for office.

The commission isn't supposed to know where candidates or incumbents live and is not suppose to take it into consideration while drawing the maps, Bennett said.

The map was voted on and approved by a 3 to 1 vote the same day, Bennett said. One republican member of the group abstained after he said he didn't have enough time to scrutinize the maps, he said.

Bennett believes that some of the maps will be changed during the second round of public hearings the commission started around the state last week. Those changes need to be made quickly because the state's Presidential Preference Election is coming up in February.

Bennett also spoke about his plan to get two gun barrels from the USS Arizona and the USS Missouri shipped to the state to add to the memorial in capitol's park. The park already has the anchor and masthead from the USS Arizona.

Bennett said he first learned about the only remaining gun barrel from the USS Arizona from a friend. The 54-foot barrel, which can fire a 14-inch shell approximately 13.5 miles, has been rusting in a Navy storage yard for the last 65 or more years, he said. The barrel had been removed from the ship to be re-lined a few months before the Arizona was sunk at Pearl Harbor.

The Navy wasn't too keen on giving up the last barrel from the Arizona, Bennett said, and offered him one of the seven barrels it had from the Missouri. Bennett said he would think about the offer. Then he realized the two ships represented both the beginning and the end of the war in the Pacific. He called the Navy back and asked for both guns, and explained why. The Navy is willing to give the state both guns but only if they transport them, he said.

It will cost approximately $500,000 to move the guns from Virginia to Phoenix, Bennett said, and he doesn't want to use taxpayer money to pay for it. Several large companies have already pledged donations or materials to help transport the guns and build the memorial. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad has already offered to help transport the guns for free from Chicago to Arizona. Bennett's is working with Norfolk Southern to transport them from Virginia to Chicago.

They've already raised $20,000 in contributions from big company donors and through the "Guns to Salute the Fallen" website, Bennett said. His office is trying to raise the rest of the money in order to get the guns transported to Arizona before the Dec. 7th anniversary. Each person that donates $100 or more will have the opportunity to have a engraved plaque installed at the monument, he said.

The website can be found at www.gunstosalutethefallen.com/.

Bennett also spoke about the state budget and the one-cent sales tax that is due to expire in 2013. The state is currently in the black, and is taking in more than it is currently spending, he said. It may even have a surplus at the end of 2013. The question is what to do the surplus. Some Republicans believe the money should be used to replenish the state's Rainy Day Fund. Democrats think it should be spent on new programs. There are others who want to save it to pay for things after the tax expires and others who want to use it to pay down the state's $2 billion debt.

Bennett said it was unlikely that the tax would be extended since the Legislature would have to approve sending it back to the ballot for the people to vote on, and he doubts that people would vote for it a second time.

Bennett closed his speech with his song "Thank God I'm a Republican," which is set to "Thank God I'm a Country Boy."