Ducey appoints new members, including Dems, to key nominating commission

By: - July 17, 2020 4:22 pm

Gov. Doug Ducey gives an update on the COVID-19 pandemic response during an April 22, 2020, press conference. Photo by Rob Schumacher/Arizona Republic & USA Today Network | Pool photo

For the first time in more than a year, the nominating panel that vets candidates for the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission has Democratic members after Gov. Doug Ducey filled a handful of vacancies.

The Arizona Constitution states that the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments must reflect “the diversity of Arizona’s population,” a requirement that Democrats say Ducey has ignored for more than a year, a period in which the commission had no Democrats and only one non-white member.

Ducey at least partially remedied that situation on Friday when he named six new members to the commission:

  • Ammon Barker, a Democrat from Coconino County
  • Jaime Chamberlain, a Republican from Santa Cruz County
  • Daniel Seiden, a Republican from Maricopa County
  • Kevin Taylor, a Democrat from Pinal County
  • Tina Vannucci, an independent from Pinal County
  • James Zieler, a Democrat from Apache County

The 15-member commission consists of 10 non-attorney members and 5 attorneys. Chamberlain, Taylor and Zeiler are non-attorneys, while Barker, Seiden and Vannucci are attorneys. 

The commission is primarily tasked with selecting candidates for Court of Appeals and Arizona Supreme Court vacancies. But every 10 years, the panel also vets candidates for the redistricting commission, a process that began this week when it began accepting applications. The start of the redistricting process, in which Arizona’s congressional and legislative districts will be completely redrawn, put a spotlight on the lack of diversity on the appellate commission and the potentially far-reaching ramifications it could have.

The redistricting commission consists of five people, no more than two of whom can be from the same political party or county. The first four members are chosen by the Democratic and Republican leaders in the state House of Representatives and Senate, and those four select a fifth member to be the chairman. 

Historically, that has resulted in two Democrats and two Republicans choosing an independent to chair the commission. When votes break along partisan lines, the independent chair serves as the all-important tiebreaker. During the 2011-12 redistricting process, independent Chairwoman Colleen Mathis routinely sided with her Democratic colleagues and voted against the two Republicans, giving Democrats effective control of the process.

That’s where the makeup of the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments becomes extremely important. That panel narrows down the list of redistricting to 25 applicants — 10 Democrats, 10 Republicans and 5 independents. Democrats have long worried that a commission without any Democrats, and with independents who lean toward the GOP, will select Democratic and especially independent candidates who favor the Republican Party.

Now, the commission has three Democratic members. And while it previously had only one non-white member, Ducey added two others with the appointments of Taylor, who is Black, and Chamberlain, who is Latino.

The Arizona Democratic Party was pleased that Ducey appointed three Democrats to the commission, but said a 15-member panel with only 3 people of color “is still sorely lacking diversity.” The commission is 80% white, while Latinos make up nearly 32% of the state’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Considering one of the positions filled has been vacant since 2017 and the two others have been open since 2019, Gov. Ducey’s first step towards compliance with the law is too little, too late,” Matt Grodsky, a spokesman for the Arizona Democratic Party, said in a written statement. “While we are happy to finally see Democrats added to the commission, the Governor must ensure that the commission reflects Arizona’s diverse population.”

Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, who has been perhaps the most outspoken critic of Ducey’s appointments to the commission, said he was pleased to see some Democrats and Black and Brown people appointed to the commission. And the presence of Democrats will have a positive effect on the redistricting process, he said. 

But Quezada said the new appointments aren’t’ enough to overcome Ducey’s “stacking” of the commission. He suggested that Ducey may have made those appointments to head off a potential lawsuit over the composition of the commission.

“Their inclusion is important,” Quezada said of the three Democrats. “It’s definitely needed. But I think that you look at the numbers of the commission as a whole… they’re still drastically outnumbered. So, it’s still a problem.”

Democrats make up 31% of Arizona’s registered voters and are now 20% of the commission’s members.

Quezada also questioned why Ducey overlooked several candidates for the attorney members. The list of candidates comes from the State Bar of Arizona, which ranks applicants based on the number of votes they received from the Bar’s board of governors. Of the 22 candidates, Seiden had the 8th most votes, Vannucci was 10th on the list and Barker was 13th. Quezada said the top vote-getter, Silvia Arrellano, a Democrat and former immigration judge, would have been a good selection.

Patrick Ptak, a spokesman for the governor, defended Ducey’s appointments to the commission, and said he will “continue to adhere to the principles outlined in the Constitution in regards to diversity and party affiliation.” He said the Ducey administration selected the new attorney members of the commission based on the “candidates’ qualifications, dedication to public service and understanding of the importance of the role.”

“Of the six most recent appointments, three are Democrats, two are Republican, and one is an Independent. They live in all corners of our state and represent diverse backgrounds including business, law enforcement, and both public and private legal positions. The commission itself includes several veterans, a mother who was the first in her family to attend college, a retiree, a female businesses owner, and more,” Ptak said in an email to the Arizona Mirror.

Barker is prosecutor at the Coconino County Attorney’s Office.

Chamberlain is the president of Chamberlain Distributing Inc. in Nogales. He serves on the board of the Arizona-Mexico Commission and chairs the Greater Nogales Santa Cruz County Port Authority. 

Seiden is director of government affairs for Intel. He is also a former campaign aide and staffer in Ducey’s office.

Taylor owns a private security and investigations company. He is also a two-time candidate for Pinal County sheriff. He won the Democratic nomination in 2012, losing to Republican incumbent Paul Babeu, and lost the Democratic primary in 2016. 

Vannucci is a real estate, municipal and business attorney in Casa Grande, where she works for Fitzgibbons law offices.

Zieler is an operations and maintenance supervisor for Salt River Project in St. Johns, where he’s served as a police officer and sheriff’s deputy. Though he’s a Democrat, former Republican Gov. Jan Brewer appointed him to the Arizona Game and Fish Commission shortly before she left office in January 2015.

Applications for the redistricting commission are due by Aug. 20.

***UPDATED: This story was updated to include comments from the Ducey administration.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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.”