Redistricting Commission Starts Housekeeping Tasks While Waiting On Census Results

(Photo by Erik (HASH) Hersman/Creative Commons)

All five commission positions have been appointed to the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC), but for now they will have to address staffing issues and other housekeeping tasks until the U.S. Census Bureau releases population counts sometime around April 1.

At its first meeting on Jan. 14, the four partisan IRC members appointed last year interviewed five candidates to be the fifth commissioner, who also serves as the commission’s chairperson. The commission later unanimously selected Chandler resident Erika Schupak Neuberg for the position.

Next up for the IRC will be a Feb. 2 meeting to address issues such as staff hires. But the five commissioners -Republican businessmen David Mehl and Douglas York, Democrats Shereen Lerner and Derrick Watchman, and Neuberg, an Independent- won’t have much to do until the 2020 U.S. Census results are officially released.

In 2000, Arizona voters passed Proposition 106, which amended the state Constitution by reassigning the power to draw congressional and state legislative districts from Arizona legislator. Instead, the IRC was created to redraw the districts every 10 years based on population, the federal Voting Rights Act, district shape, geographical features, respect for communities of interest, and potential competitiveness.

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Currently Arizona has 9 congressional districts and 30 state legislative districts. There has been some discussion the last two years that the Census may show Arizona’s population has increased enough to earn the state a 10th congressional district.

Those discussions became more serious last month when the Census Bureau estimated Arizona’s population is roughly 7.4 million, a nearly two percent growth rate from a decade ago. That estimate is not pulled from official census data but rather is pulled from databases related to births, deaths, immigration, and even Medicare records.

The five commissioners have a varied history. Mehl, of Pima County, owns Cottonwood Properties and is a founding member of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council. York, of Maricopa County, is CEO of Ewing Irrigation and Landscaping Supply with 220 branch locations in 26 states.

Lerner is a longtime professor from the Tempe area, and Derrick Watchman, a Navajo Nation member who serves as the board chairman of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development.  Neuberg, a psychologist, is a board member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

The four were chosen last year by leaders of the Arizona legislature from 20 partisan finalists named by the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments chaired by Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Brutinel. Neuberg, the commission chair, was selected by the four commissioners from a list of 5 Independent finalists.

One thing the commissioners may want to do before their next meeting is to read up on the numerous legal challenges filed after the 2011 IRC’s final district formations were announced. One of those challenges was initiated by the Arizona State Legislature, which argued that federal law did not permit use of an independent commission to establish congressional districts.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the legislature in June 2015. Then in April 2016, the high court rejected a challenge by some voters to the IRC’s final legislative district formation.

Under the Arizona Constitution, the five-member redistricting commission can include up to two registered Democrats and two registered Republicans. No more than two of the four can be from the same county.

There was no restriction on the residency of the chairperson.