Governor Brewer created a firestorm last week when she demanded that the Independent Redistricting Commission explain its actions. Naturally, there was a lot of coverage this weekend and unfortunately, most of it was wrong.
I recognize that this is a complex issue so I'm not ready to say that the media is intentionally creating a false narrative. I think they have simply fallen for some mythology. So let's debunk the four main myths.
Myth 1: The Republicans are going to remove the commissioners because they don’t like the lines.
This myth is a Democratic Party talking point that is circulated by the media as a fact.
KJZZ’s Dennis Lambert reported on the letter today and offered up this reason for her actions. “The Governor, and many Republicans, claim the congressional lines drawn by the panel favor Democrats.”
Here’s how Mike Sunnucks put it on Horizon last Friday:
Violating the open meetings laws, picking a mapping firm that had ties to Obama and drawing lines that the Republicans don’t like. That’s their dereliction of duty.
Those two explanations are just Democratic Party talking points. To his credit, Horizon host Ted Simons tried to correct Mike Sunnucks, but didn’t quite get it right:
Not necessarily, what she’s basically saying and what Republicans are saying is that the commission is not doing what it’s mandated to do and that is to look at all sorts of things, not just competitiveness.
Actually, the basis for the suit is that the Constitution prohibits the IRC from gerrymandering the districts—yet that’s exactly what the IRC did. The Constitution requires the districts to be compact, respect communities of interest and respect natural boundaries. Once these requirements are met, the IRC can make the districts competitive. In this case, the IRC sacrificed those requirements in order to create competitive districts. NO ONE denies that the districts are gerrymandered. This is a clear violation of the Constitutional requirements.
Here's an appropriate way to frame the issue. "Republicans claim that the IRC violated its constitutional mandate by gerrymandering the map so that the resulting districts are not compact, and do not respect communities of interest or natural boundaries. Democrats for their part charge that the Republicans simply don't like the lines that the IRC has drawn.
Myth 2: Sure the Maps are gerrymandered, but that's just politics.
Since no one denies that IRC ignored the requirements and gerrymandered the maps, some members of the media have attempted another tactic: That the maps are gerrymandered, but this isn’t reason to remove any commissioners. Here’s the Republic’s Bob Robb:
The congressional map is an ugly thing, and the treatment of Pinal County is indefensible. But bad map-drawing isn't neglect of duty or gross misconduct.
Really Bob? The IRC has one responsibility…to draw maps in accordance with the Constitutional requirements. There is universal agreement that the IRC failed that task--and did so intentionally. How is that not a “substantial neglect of duty”?
Here’s another example of the media conceeding that the IRC failed its fundamental task, yet chastising the Governor for doing something about it.
We don't like the map, either. It includes a contorted lobster-shaped district that starts in the northwest corner of Arizona and reaches a claw around to grab Fountain Hills. The draft needs radical reworking.
Yet, that same editorial prclaims that "Whatever the flaws in the process, nothing rises to the level of booting out commissioners."
Myth 3: The voters took politicians out of the process, now the Governor and the Senate are trying to interfere.
Here’s an example from Dennis Welsh on Friday’s Horizon Journalist round table.
This whole process was to take elected officials out of the whole thing, yet here we are with an elected official getting involved in this.
This assertion is just flat wrong. The voters specifically charged the Governor and Senate with the obligation to police the IRC. Here’s what the Constitution says:
After having been served written notice and provided with an opportunity for a response, a member of the independent redistricting commission may be removed by the governor, with the concurrence of two-thirds of the senate, for substantial neglect of duty, gross misconduct in office, or inability to discharge the duties of office.
Myth 4: If the Republicans are unhappy, they should go to court.
This myth is the converse of Myth 3. Here's a funny example of the media pushing this myth. I like this paragraph from Sunday’s Republic Editorial:
If the final map appears to violate constitutional requirements, then there's the option of a lawsuit. Democrats sued, without success, over the maps produced in 2001.
The reason that I like the paragraph is that it’s self debunking. Sure, you can sue, like the Democrats did—without success. Why did the Democrat’s suit fail? Because the court—unlike the newspaper—understands that the courts should be deferential when dealing with IRC decisions.
The courts--to their credit--recognize that they have a limited role in policing the IRC. That responsibility is given to the IRC itself and to the Governor with concurrence of two thirds of the Senate.
That being said, however, the IRC’s maps ignore the constitutional requirements so blatantly that the courts would have to side with the Governor anyway. However, the key is that the Constitution gives the responsibility to police the IRC to the Governor and Senate and specifically NOT to the courts.
So there’s the narrative: The Republicans don’t like the maps so they are going to replace the Commissioners. While the maps are ugly, fail to follow the constitutional requirements and are clearly gerrymandered, the IRC hasn’t actually neglected its duty. So the Governor and Senate are inserting themselves into this process—despite the fact that the voters specifically removed them from redistricting, and if they had a legitimate case, they would take it to court.
Those myths must be true...after all, you've been reading them in the paper.