There’s been much discussion about ASU professor Paul Bender’s eligibility on Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission. Bender appears not to qualify because he is the Chief Justice of the Fort McDowell Nation Supreme Court (commissioners generally cannot have held any other public office within the previous three years).
But there’s another and more obvious reason Bender should not be on the commission. It seems he has an agenda that doesn’t comport with the language of Prop. 106, which is now part of Arizona’s constitution.
Bender told the Yellow Sheet Reports, “I was really disappointed in the results of the first commission. The primary purpose was to get politics out of it and to make more competitive, less-safe seats – more districts in which there is real competition – to see who would win. The first commission reduced the amount of competitive districts rather than making it larger. I really believe this is an important
process, and believe it’s important to get it going right in Arizona.”
Bender is flat wrong. It may have been the intent of Jim Pederson, who financed Prop. 106 and later ran as a Democrat for U.S. Senate, to have more competitive districts (i.e. fewer districts held by conservatives), but whoever crafted the language for Pederson didn’t make competitiveness a high priority.
ARTICLE IV, PART 2, SECTION 1, PARAGRAPH 14 states:
(14) THE INDEPENDENT REDISTRICTING COMMISSION SHALL ESTABLISH CONGRESSIONAL AND LEGISLATIVE DISTRICTS. THE COMMENCEMENT OF THE MAPPING PROCESS FOR BOTH THE CONGRESSIONAL AND LEGISLATIVE DISTRICTS SHALL BE THE CREATION OF DISTRICTS OF EQUAL POPULATION IN A GRID-LIKE PATTERN ACROSS THE STATE. ADJUSTMENTS TO THE GRID SHALL THEN BE MADE AS NECESSARY TO ACCOMMODATE THE GOALS AS SET FORTH BELOW:
A. DISTRICTS SHALL COMPLY WITH THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION AND THE UNITED STATES VOTING RIGHTS ACT;
B. CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICTS SHALL HAVE EQUAL POPULATION TO THE EXTENT PRACTICABLE, AND STATE LEGISLATIVE DISTRICTS SHALL HAVE EQUAL POPULATION TO THE EXTENT PRACTICABLE;
C. DISTRICTS SHALL BE GEOGRAPHICALLY COMPACT AND CONTIGUOUS TO THE EXTENT PRACTICABLE;
D. DISTRICT BOUNDARIES SHALL RESPECT COMMUNITIES OF INTEREST TO THE EXTENT PRACTICABLE;
E. TO THE EXTENT PRACTICABLE, DISTRICT LINES SHALL USE VISIBLE GEOGRAPHIC FEATURES, CITY, TOWN AND COUNTY BOUNDARIES, AND UNDIVIDED CENSUS TRACTS;
F. TO THE EXTENT PRACTICABLE, COMPETITIVE DISTRICTS SHOULD BE FAVORED WHERE TO DO SO WOULD CREATE NO SIGNIFICANT DETRIMENT TO THE OTHER GOALS. (Emphasis added.)
The first commission followed the letter of the law. The result ended up being fewer contested general election campaigns. Republicans and Democrats held safer seats, but Republicans held even more than before Prop. 106. It was a stinging defeat for Pederson.
Bender doesn’t intend to similarly follow the letter of the law. Before competitiveness can move up the chain of priorities, it must be weighed against the potential detriment to the other goals. In other words, the other five goals have higher priority. As a constitutional law expert, Bender knows this. It doesn’t matter what he or other commissioners want. Drawing district lines according to the constitution is pretty clear cut. As someone who sat through many of the statewide hearings 10 years ago, I know there isn’t much wiggle room after the first five goals are met.
Bender is not eligible because of his position with the Fort McDowell Supreme Court, and he is not qualified because he intends to sidestep the constitution in order to fulfill his own agenda.