Arizona Senate President-Elect Russell Pearce

Controversy continued to build this morning over the proper role of various state players in the Independent Redistricting Commission.

Or should I say, the “Independent” Redistricting Commission. Whether quotation marks should be appended in future news stories remains to be seen.

The past week has seen the tension escalate, as state Republican leaders made known their distaste for the choices that would be forwarded their way. Publicly, they went after three nominees—two Republicans and one Independent. Read more about that here.

The public request to withdraw came from House Speaker Kirk Adams and Senate President-elect Russell Pearce. And the three who were “invited” to withdraw are Mark Schnepf and Steve Sossaman (Republicans) and Paul Bender (Independent).

Since that news story yesterday, we’ve learned even more.

Arizona House Speaker Kirk Adams

This morning, the Arizona Supreme Court announced that two of those nominees—the Republicans—had tendered their withdrawal to the Supreme Court Chief Justice, Rebecca White Berch. Here is the letter from Mark Schnepf.

December 26, 2010

The Hon. Rebecca White Berch;

Members of the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments

1501 W. Washington St. Suite 221

Phoenix, AZ 85007

Dear Chief Justice Berch and Members of the Commission:

This letter is in regards to my application to serve on the Independent Redistricting Commission.  I have received and reviewed email copies of the letters written by Speaker Adams, President-Elect Pearce and Paul Bender.

I disagree with the Speaker and the President-Elect regarding my qualifications to serve on the IRC.  As I understand the definition of “public office” as explained by the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments I don’t believe that service on the New Magma Irrigation Board disqualifies me to serve on the IRC.

However, since the Speaker and President-Elect appoint the two Republican members and since I am one of the Republican nominees and they both oppose my application, it seems futile to remain a candidate.   I am respectfully withdrawing my application to serve on the IRC.

Thank you for the time and effort you are spending on this selection process.  Please accept my appreciation for your consideration and support of my application.   

Sincerely,

Mark Schnepf

So Schnepf did not reassess the facts and the law and conclude that the Republican leadership was right. He looked at the political landscape, counted votes, and saw that the jig was up.

What part of “keeping politics out of the process” does this serve?

ASU Law Professor Paul Bender, Dec. 2, 2010, speaking at an event honoring the Arizona Constitution Centennial

The Arizona Republic ran an editorial this morning titled “Keep politics out as Arizona draws new voting lines.” It urged the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments (which drafts the list of nominees for the Independent Redistricting Commission) to maintain its independence:

“You have the deep responsibility to Arizonans to maintain your independence and objectivity. In appearance as well as action. Normally, your commission deals with judicial appointments, which are far less fraught.”

“Now, the political heat is intense. And you must assert your independence.”

The complete editorial is here. You know it’s an important issue when it gets its own editorial (and when the Republic is breathless enough to use a sentence fragment).

Some may believe that this is a controversy that only nerds and wonks could love. Others may roll their eyes and say that everything about redistricting is political, so what is everyone complaining about?

But redistricting—while not forever—is for a long time. And the legislators who have the power to “urge” withdrawals today may be unhappy in 10 years, or 20, when their political opponents wield the same persuasive big stick.

Of course, that would be taking the long view, an unlikely outcome in a short-sighted state.

The Commission meets tomorrow. Let’s hope we can keep the quotation  marks out of Independent.