Lawmaker introduces new proposal to revamp Independent Redistricting Commission

A Republican lawmaker is reviving an effort to change the makeup of Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission, the body responsible for redrawing the state’s legislative and congressional district maps once a decade.

Story by Ben Giles, Arizona Capitol Times

That’s fine with Joel Edman, executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network, a progressive organization that opposed efforts to alter the IRC in 2018 because of proposed changes to the rules governing how district lines are drawn. But there was no opposition to expanding the commission from five members to nine, Edman said.

Under Rep. John Fillmore’s proposal, party leaders at the legislature would be responsible for appointing three Republican and three Democratic commissioners. Another three commissioners must be independents. The three-way split better represents Arizona voter, supporters say, since roughly a third of voters aren’t affiliated with a political party.

It also helps ensure the redistricting process, which will begin anew in 2021, can’t be hijacked by Republican or Democratic interests, Fillmore said.

Currently, commissioners are chosen from a pool of 25 candidates vetted by the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments. Republican and Democratic legislative leaders get to choose two commissioners each from the pool. Those four commissioners must then select a fifth candidate, typically an independent or anyone who’s neither a Republican or Democrat, to serve as chair of the IRC.

With just one independent, the process was prone to criticism that the lone non-political commissioner was biased.

“I don’t necessarily think that was true, but that was the accusation I used to hear,” Fillmore said of the last redistricting process.

Fillmore also wants the nine commissioners to elect by majority vote one of their members, of any political affiliation, to serve as chair and another as vice-chair, rather than have an independent commissioner serve as de facto chair.

And he vowed to fight any effort to allow legislators a role in drawing district maps, as former Senate President Steve Yarbrough’s 2018 legislation initially proposed.

“That’s not the whole idea of the redistricting commission,” Fillmore said. “I’m not in favor in anyway for the Legislature manipulating or having authority over that in any way.”

Edman said he also favors another change in Fillmore’s legislation, though it’s an idea he suspects most Republicans will oppose. Rather than have the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments vet potential IRC commissioners, Fillmore wants to give that authority to the Citizens Clean Elections Commission.

Clean Elections is a frequent target of GOP ire, and Republican lawmakers have a history of trying to strip the CCEC of its existing authority, not give it more power.

CCEC Executive Director Tom Collins said he appreciated Fillmore’s shout out.

“The bill’s language shows a belief that the commission’s record of bipartisan decision making makes it a better vehicle for determining IRC candidates,” Collins wrote in an email. “Mr. Fillmore has demonstrated an interest this session in making government more fair and representative, and in his view the commission can accomplish that, and as executive director, I’m pleased to have that acknowledgment.”

Collins added that CCEC will officially remain neutral on Fillmore’s legislation.

Edman will support it.

“Last time around, there was some criticism on the commission from the Appellate Court Appointments from the right, and for progressives, there’s some concern that the court is not really reflective of the state as a whole,” he said. “Clean Elections, we think, is a truly independent, nonpartisan body. Of course, I think a lot of Mr. Fillmore’s Republican colleagues feel differently.”

Fillmore said he doesn’t care what his colleagues think of Clean Elections.

Clean Elections gets a bad rap, he said, even though historically, the CCEC has been a boon for helping conservative Republicans get elected to office thanks in part to the publicly-funded campaign dollars provided to participating candidates.

“I’m here to represent my district. I’m not looking at it for partisan purposes,” Fillmore said. “I think a redistricting commission that is untied to any of that is a good thing.”

Any changes to the redistricting commission are ultimately up to voters. Fillmore’s proposal would refer a question about changing the IRC to the 2020 ballot.