Ex-GOP candidate looks to influence redistricting

By: - June 26, 2019 2:05 pm

Image from Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission

Steve Gaynor, a Republican businessman who lost last year’s race for secretary of state, is looking to give the GOP a hand in the next round of redistricting.

Gaynor in May created a nonprofit organization called Fair Maps Arizona. He said the organization will participate in the next redistricting process, which begins in 2021.

Fair Maps Arizona could play a number of roles. It could recruit or vet candidates for the five-person Independent Redistricting Commission, which draws Arizona’s legislative and congressional districts. Once the commission begins its work, the organization could testify and lobby the IRC for certain boundaries or even draw district lines itself and propose them to the commission.

However, Gaynor said it’s far too early to say exactly what kind of role Fair Maps Arizona will play, and said the endeavor is “almost in the pre-startup phase.”

“It depends on the need,” he said. 

Voters in 2000 took away the legislature’s authority to draw district boundaries and gave it to the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. The five-person commission can’t have more than two members of the same political party, so it generally consists of two Democrats, two Republicans and one independent who serves as chairman. The Democratic and Republican leaders in the legislature each choose a member, and those four commissioners choose a chairman, who serves as a critical swing vote.

Republicans have long fumed over the result of the 2011-12 redistricting process. Independent Chairwoman Colleen Mathis, whom critics viewed as a Democrat in disguise, sided with the commission’s two Democratic members on numerous 3-2 votes. Mathis and Democratic Commissioner Linda McNulty pushed maps drawn outside of commission meetings, and McNulty could be seen huddling  with an Arizona Democratic Party staffer over a laptop during meeting breaks. 

The commission’s 9th Congressional District was a particular sore spot with Republicans. The district appeared competitive on paper, but has become solidly Democratic, paving the way for Kyrsten Sinema’s historic U.S. Senate win last year. 

“I wasn’t involved … nine years ago. But I’ve heard the reverberations of it since then. We want to be aware of the process early on and be proactive,” Gaynor said.

While Republicans largely aimed their complaints about the last redistricting process at the commission’s Democrats, some felt their own party was asleep at the switch, and questioned why the state GOP and other prominent Republicans weren’t better prepared.

Fair Maps Arizona evokes memories of another Republican redistricting initiative. In 2011, an organization called FAIR Trust employed a raft of GOP attorneys and began testifying frequently at redistricting commission meetings. The group drew Democrats’ ire due to its anonymous funding and secretive nature, but ultimately it had little influence on the commission, where the two Republicans were unable to overcome the three-vote majority of Mathis and the Democrats.

Gaynor said he doesn’t know much about FAIR Trust, but said, “I don’t know that we would follow their path.”

Former secretary of state candidate Steve Gaynor. Photo from Steve Gaynor for Arizona Secretary of State Facebook page.

The redistricting venture indicates that Gaynor will stay active in Arizona politics following his loss to Democrat Katie Hobbs in the race for secretary of state last year. Gaynor trounced embattled incumbent Michele Reagan in the Republican primary, but fell short in the general election to Hobbs, the first Democrat to win the office since 1990.

Last year, Gaynor, a wealthy businessman who owns printing and private equity companies,  spent about $2.6 million of his own money on his losing campaign. He said he’ll fund Arizona Fair Maps as well, though he said it’s too early to say how much he’ll spend. He said he may also try to raise outside funds as well.

Gaynor said he has no plans to run for office in 2020, and will focus instead on his redistricting committee, though he left open the possibility of running in 2022, when Arizona’s statewide offices will be up for election.

“You never know. But it’s not something that I’m planning right now,” he said. 

Gaynor isn’t the only one eyeing the next round of redistricting. Democrats cried foul during the legislative session over Gov. Doug Ducey’s nominations to the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, which vets and winnows applicants for the commission, including the all-important independent chairman. 

The Arizona Constitution mandates that the commission reflect the state’s population, but Ducey’s latest appointments have left it without a single Democrat, which Democratic lawmakers alleged was meant to aid Republicans in redistricting. The commission now consists only of Republicans and independents.

The state Democratic and Republican parties have their eyes on the redistricting process as well, though neither appears to be making any serious moves yet. 

Arizona Republican Party spokesman Zachery Henry said the party has put together a committee on redistricting, though he couldn’t elaborate on exactly what its planning entailed. The committee consists of at least three people, though all are volunteers and it has no paid staff.

The Arizona Democratic Party’s redistricting efforts currently consist of encouraging people to participate in the next Census, which will determine whether the state gets additional U.S. House seats, and is “educating folks about the stakes, timelines and giving them the information they need so they can share that with their networks” at legislative district meetings, according to spokesman Les Braswell. 

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Jeremy Duda previously served as the Mirror's associate Editor. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”