Two people who applied to be the independent chairman of Arizona’s next redistricting commission have shown recent support for Republican candidates, public commenters warned the nominating panel that vets the candidates.
Comments, some of them from representatives of Democratic or progressive organizations, pointed out comments by applicants Anders Lundin and Robert Wilson that they viewed as supportive of Republican politicians. The Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, which received the comments, selected both men to be among the 11 applicants it will interview before narrowing the list of independents down to five finalists next week.
The comments about Lundin and Wilson were among the 198 pages of comments from the public submitted to the appellate commission regarding the 139 original applicants for the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission.
Wilson, who owns a gun store and business consulting practice in Flagstaff, hosted an Aug. 20 event by President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign in the parking lot of his store, Timberline Firearms and Training, Coconino County Democratic Party Chairwoman Ann Heitland told the appellate commission in an email.
Heitland’s email also included an image of an ad for a “shooting day” event the Trump campaign held at Timberline on Sept. 1. A Facebook post by Wilson the day before the 2018 election invited people to his store to meet Gov. Doug Ducey and Republican candidates Walt Blackman, who was elected to the Arizona House of Representatives, and Wendy Rogers, then a candidate for Congress.
Another Facebook post in October 2019 asked, “Do you know your AZ state representatives?” and invited people to meet Blackman and Jon Saline, then a GOP candidate for the legislature.
Heitland said Wilson was a “a vocal and visible supporter of Republican candidates,” despite his independent registration.
Wilson told the Arizona Daily Sun that he agreed to host the Aug. 20 Trump event to help inform the public, not to endorse any particular candidate. His Facebook posts didn’t urge anyone to vote for the candidates he was hosting at his store.
“I’m a strong advocate for an informed electorate. We as citizens have a responsibility to be educated on the candidates and the issues and act accordingly with the information we have to vote,” Wilson told the Arizona Daily Sun. “This was a great way to connect citizens to the potential elected leaders.”
Wilson couldn’t be reached for comment. But in a recent interview with the Mirror, he said, “I wouldn’t say I lean one way or the other. I have pretty strong opinions about single-issue kinds of things that fall on both sides of the spectrum.”
After the Arizona Democratic Party noted that Wilson’s gun shop hosted a Trump rally — the event occurred after he submitted his application for the IRC — Wilson told the Mirror that he supports voter education and does what he can to promote it.
“I welcome any candidate that would like an opportunity to meet the folks in our neighborhood,” he said.
Wilson said he’s also a member of Mom’s Demand Action, a pro-gun control group, and said he’s been a member of several “far left organizations” in Flagstaff, “trying to better understand and learn and share thoughts on issues with them.” His IRC application lists him as a former member of Speak Up Flagstaff, Friends of Flagstaff’s Future and Flagstaff Liberty Alliance.
Lundin, a retired attorney who lives in Fountain Hills, submitted a letter earlier this month to the Fountain Hills Times defending Republican Congressman David Schweikert, who represents the area, over his admission to 11 ethics violations following a report by the House Ethics Committee that found evidence of misuse of office and campaign funds. Lundin decried “drips from a leaky tap” against Schweikert, whom he called a “faithful representative” who “has taken responsibility for having numbers challenged in his old campaign.”
“If you have gone out to actually meet him at any of the numerous groups he has appeared at, you have found him to be positive, intelligent and personable. It’s time to get off his case and move forward. Let him who is without sin be the first to cast stones on this too much maligned public servant,” Lundin wrote.
Lundin declined to comment to the Arizona Mirror.
Neither Wilson’s political activity nor Lundin’s letter to his local newspaper were discussed by the appellate screening commissioners.
The Independent Redistricting Commission consists of five people: two Republicans, two Democrats and a third member from neither party — traditionally an independent — who serves as chair. That makes the chair the key to the process, serving as a tiebreaker vote if the two Democrats and Republicans deadlock. As such, partisans on both sides of the aisle typically have a keen eye for any potential bias by the independents who apply for the position.
The Commission on Appellate Court Appointments must select 10 Democrats, 10 Republicans and five independents as finalists for the redistricting commission. Democratic and Republican leaders in the state House of Representatives and Senate choose the first four members, and those four select an independent to serve as chair.
When the appellate commission winnowed the list of 139 applicants down to the 51 they’ll interview, nine of 14 commissioners voted for Lundin and 7 seven voted for Wilson.
The appellate commission unanimously rejected two independent applicants with partisan activities in their backgrounds. Commissioners noted that one applicant was an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention in 2012, and that another created an organization supporting Bernie Sanders’ 2016 run for the Democratic presidential nomination. Another independent applicant, a former aide to Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano, received only two votes and was not selected for an interview.