Democratic blitz, GOP votes doomed redistricting measure

The threat of a massive infusion of political spending by a liberal advocacy group during campaign season helped thwart a legislative effort to overhaul Arizona’s redistricting process.

Story by Ben Giles, Arizona Capitol Times

Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, was one of two Republicans who cast decisive votes against Senate President Steve Yarbrough’s resolution to overhaul the makeup of the Independent Redistricting Commission. Now a five-member commission, Yarbrough’s resolution would have increased the size of the commission to nine, and changed certain rules for how legislative and congressional maps are redrawn every 10 years.

The measure would’ve gone to the ballot in November. Any change to the IRC must be approved by Arizona voters, a vote that could have sparked a contentious campaign.

Local progressive organizations like Arizona Wins and Arizona Advocacy Network opposed that effort, and they had help from the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a group led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

That fact wasn’t lost on Worsley, who voted against one of the signature legislative efforts of the Senate’s top Republican, Yarbrough of Chandler.

“The attorney general under Obama was going to target Arizona if we, in fact, passed that,” Worsley said. “That was just one more thing we didn’t need for November. The [House] speaker wasn’t happy, and the Senate president wasn’t happy, but folks that probably would’ve had to put up the money to fight that didn’t want to fight the millions [of dollars] that were on their way.”

The National Democratic Redistricting Committee had already invested $75,000 in Arizona, which they provided to help fund Arizona Wins’ efforts to raise awareness about the proposal to overhaul the redistricting commission, according to Kelly Ward, the committee’s executive director.

And in late April, Holder took a three-day trip to Arizona to meet with voting rights communities, progressive groups, and liberal candidates, and to speak at the Arizona Democratic Party’s Heritage Dinner on April 27, and tout the IRC.

“Arizona has the gold standard for commissions,” Ward said. “And I think what we’ve seen out of the commissions are really fair maps that reflect the will of the voters, and our overall mission is to achieve fair maps in the next round of redistricting, and we think that the current makeup of the commission is the best way to achieve those maps. So we would go all in to protect that very fair process, so any threat to change what is in my mind the gold standard in the country for commissions was a major priority for us to defeat.”

Those efforts were ultimately successful. Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, also voted against the resolution, and credited feedback from her constituents for her opposition.

Both Brophy McGee and Worsley voted for SCR1034 when it first cleared the Senate, but voted against an amended version of the resolution that was approved by the House. The no votes of two GOP senators left the measure to amend the IRC one vote shy of approval and a referral to the ballot.

Brophy McGee said she heard “so much” about the bill when she voted to get it out of the Senate – “none of it good, from my constituents.”

Her prayer, she said, was the House would fix it.

“Not only did it not get fixed, it got worse,” Brophy McGee said, adding that such a measure must be approved with an overwhelming majority, but that Yarbrough failed to garner Democratic buy-in. “When you put something like this forward, in my opinion, you need bipartisan support. You need it to be something that most everybody thinks is a good idea. And instead, it just got more and more split.”

Worsley, too, said the issue grew too partisan, and could have threatened Republicans at the ballot in a year when they’re already expecting a blue wave.

“We just didn’t need that extra heavy lift in November,” he said.

On May 5, Holder touted SCR1034’s defeat.

“When we fight – justice wins,” he tweeted, adding that the “citizen-led commission creates fair, competitive districts and is a model for the country.”