|Written by Greg Ruland|
|Saturday, 12 November 2011 12:00|
Despite a controversial action by Gov. Jan Brewer the night before, Arizona Independent Redistricting Commissioner Jose Herrera listened calmly to dozens of Verde Valley residents who spoke for their communities at a meeting at Cottonwood Recreation Center on Nov. 2.
Herrera, who was the only member of the five-member commission to attend the Verde Valley session, declined comment on Brewer’s Nov. 1 decision to remove his colleague, Chairwoman Colleen Mathis, from the commission.
Kristina Gomez, deputy executive director of the commission, also declined comment.
The commission is the state constitutional body authorized to revise political boundaries for congressional and legislative districts when required by the U.S. Census. Draft maps were approved by the commission Oct. 10. A 30-day public comment period, which included the meeting in Cottonwood, followed.
Many attendees criticized the commission’s latest draft legislative map because it splits Sedona off from the Verde Valley, placing the red rock resort town in new District 6, the same district as Flagstaff, while severing Jerome, Clarkdale, Cottonwood and Cornville into a separate district, District 14.
According to critics, the draft legislative map splits the Sedona area into Yavapai County and Coconino County sections. This should be avoided, Sedona City Councilman Mike Ward told the commission.
Criticism of the draft congressional map was along similar lines.
“It is clear to the residents of Clarkdale that all of the Verde Valley’s communities, both incorporated and not, comprise a single community of interest,” Clarkdale Vice Mayor Richard Dehnert told the commission, reading from a message written by Mayor Doug Von Gausig.
“We shop in the same stores, recreate in the same parks and along the Verde River, attend regional meetings together, have school rivalries and common economic development goals and are interdependent on the same regional economy,” Dehnert stated. “For these reasons, we ask that you make every attempt to keep the entire Verde Valley in the same legislative and congressional districts.”
“By this, we mean keeping the entire city of Sedona in one district, along with the incorporated municipalities of Camp Verde, Cottonwood, Clarkdale and Jerome and the unincorporated communities of Big Park, Village of Oak Creek, Oak Creek, Lake Montezuma/Rimrock, Cornville, Page Springs and the Verde Villages.”
The meeting took place the day after Brewer removed Mathis from the commission.
In a letter dated Nov. 1, Brewer accused Mathis of conducting her duties dishonestly and in violation of the Arizona Constitution. Mathis’ removal was confirmed by a two-thirds vote of the Arizona Senate in Special Session on Nov. 1.
Mathis conducted the previous meeting of the commission in Yavapai County, which took place in Prescott and was broadcast to Cottonwood via live video streaming.
Mathis substantially neglected her duties or engaged in gross misconduct, according to the Republican-controlled Senate, which voted 21-6 to oust her.
Several from the audience condemned the governor’s action and decried the damage done to the commission’s independence by the Senate’s vote.
“It’s unfortunate and wrong,” said Matt Capalby, spokesman for nonpartisan Greater Arizona Success, a lobbying group that represents a variety of rural Arizona cities and towns. These rural communities are seeking greater influence in the Legislature and in Congress through the creation of more rural political districts, he said.
“I am shocked and dismayed by the actions of Gov. Brewer,” Sedona resident Ronnie Jelm said. “I believe the commission is and should be independent. Actions like those of the governor are the reason people are protesting all over the country.”
Lawsuits over Mathis’ ejection are expected to delay implementation of the final legislative and congressional redistricting maps, according to Mathis’ attorney, Paul Charlton, who was quoted in The New York Times on Nov. 2. Charlton did not return a telephone call requesting an interview.
According to Charlton, Brewer’s action was motivated entirely by political interest.
Nevertheless, the process for approving new political boundaries in the state marches on. With three public meetings to go, commission members were spread thin by the time the Nov. 3 meeting in Cottonwood rolled around.
The stop in Cottonwood was a late addition to the schedule thanks to Cottonwood Mayor Diane Joens, Yavapai County District 3 Supervisor Chip Davis said.
Public hearings on the latest draft maps, like the one convened in Cottonwood on Nov. 2, continued as scheduled, the commission announced following the Senate vote to oust Mathis.
From Nogales to Flagstaff, Bullhead City to Window Rock, commissioners hosted 31 meetings across the state, the last held Saturday, Nov. 5. Unfortunately, not all commissioners can attend all meetings, Garcia said.
The commission is currently making adjustments to the draft maps based on comments from the public meetings. Final maps are expected to be delivered to the U.S. Department of Justice for review by mid-November.
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