Commission to interview 11 independent chair applicants

By: - October 7, 2020 4:17 pm
arizona redistricting

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Among the 11 independents who are in the running to helm the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission are people who have been active in the political world for years, business owners, teachers and lawyers. 

The Commission on Appellate Court Appointments will choose five of them on Thursday to be finalists for the pivotal independent chair of the AIRC during the first of two days of interviews. 

The interviews will also serve to winnow the overall list of 51 applicants, including partisan candidates. There will ultimately be 25 finalists: 10 Democrats, 10 Republicans and the five independents. 

Democratic and Republican leaders of the Arizona House of Representatives and Senate will choose the four partisan redistricting commissioners from among the 25 finalists. Those four will choose the fifth, an independent, to chair the redistricting commission.


That a single independent will be appointed to lead the redistricting panel gives that person tremendous power to determine the contours of the legislative and congressional districts Arizona will use for the next decade.

Ten years ago, independent chair Colleen Mathis sided frequently with the commission’s two Democrats, earning the ire of Republicans who accused her of being a covert partisan. A decade earlier, Democrats accused chair Steve Lynn of favoring the GOP in the IRC’s first incarnation.

Who are the 11 independents who are hoping to be the chair of the next redistricting commission? Arizona Mirror takes a look.

Christopher Bavasi

Bavasi is the executive director of the U.S. Office of Navajo and Hopi Indian Relocation and served as Flagstaff’s mayor from 1998 to 2000. 

In a statement of interest he submitted to the appellate commission, Bavasi touted his independence, noting that he’s been a registered independent since the early 1980s. He said his background as an elected official and with regional and statewide issues would be helpful in the redistricting process.

“An understanding of Arizona’s legislative and congressional structures, population distributions, current district configurations, voting rights laws, commission responsibilities, and the value of a comprehensive and accurate census will be critical for commissioners to be successful in creating entirely new and competitive districts,” Bavasi wrote.

Appellate commission member Gerald Nabours, also a former Flagstaff mayor, described Bavasi as truly independent, and said most people in Flagstaff wouldn’t know what to say if asked what political party he was in. 

Tom Chabin, a former Democratic lawmaker from Flagstaff who has known Bavasi for nearly 50 years, said Flagstaff politics wasn’t defined as much by liberals and conservatives but by “pro-business or not.” He said Bavasi was more aligned toward the former, and said the former mayor’s relationship with state and local chambers of commerce gives him pause regarding his candidacy for the IRC. 

But Chabin also said Bavasi would be “exceptionally fair” and would be an effective chairman of the commission.

“He knows how to chair a meeting. He’s pretty calm and deliberative, and without a doubt would work his best to find a consensus, if you will, among the four commissioners,” Chabin said.

Chabin said two achievements from Bavasi’s tenure as mayor stand out to him. The first was the passage of what Chabin described as a compromise sign code that cut down on the unsightly billboards that littered Route 66 through Flagstaff in the 1980s and 1990s. The second was his work on passing the city’s dark skies ordinance, which cut down on artificial light that hindered astronomy. 

Megan Carollo

Carollo is the owner of the Flower Bar, a Scottsdale boutique that provides luxury floral arrangements for weddings and other events. She founded the business in 2012. Prior to that she worked as a floral designer and as a market planning analyst in Kansas City.

Carollo also has a background in data and statistics, a field she worked in after graduating from Occidental College in 2006. She later received a Master of Business Administration and spent time “consulting in rural parts of the U.S. to better understand the needs of specific communities,” she wrote in her application, saying those experiences taught her the importance of attention to detail and accuracy in data. 

“I do not consider myself a ‘political’ person, but I would take great pride in being part of the redistricting process from an independent standpoint,” Carollo wrote. 

Applicants were asked whether they’d failed to vote in any general election over the past eight years, and Carollo responded that she didn’t vote in 2016 “because I was dissatisfied with the political posturing by both parties. However, this has now motivated me to become more involved and look for opportunities to have a positive impact on the future of our elections.”

Joseph Citelli

Citelli serves as chief counsel at the Registrar of Contractors, the state agency responsible for regulating contracting.

Citelli came to Arizona in 2012 to attend Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. After earning his law degree, he joined the Registrar of Contractors in 2016 as a staff attorney, a job that entailed ensuring the ROC complied with applicable laws and rules, and mediating in more than 100 disputes between business and property owners. Two years later, the agency elevated him to chief counsel, where he oversees 17 employees.

“As Chief Counsel, I’ve gained experience exercising fairness and impartiality,” Citelli wrote in his application. “In this oversight role, I must impartially call ‘balls’ and ‘strikes,’ rather than substituting my judgment for that of the administrative law judge. Because the independent member of the Commission generally serves as the chairperson, the ability to be fair and impartial is of utmost importance.”

Citelli emphasized that, although he wasn’t an Arizona resident in 2000 when voters created the independent redistricting process through Proposition 106, he believes in the IRC’s mission.

“As a lifelong Independent, I deeply care about maintaining a fair and competitive political environment, and I strongly believe that an impartial redistricting process is the most important condition for creating that landscape. My entire professional career has been dedicated to public service, and I am eager to continue to serve the citizens of Arizona,” Citelli wrote.

Nicole Cullen

Cullen has been a teacher for 17 years at Perry High School in Gilbert, where she teaches American government, criminal justice and American history. She also coaches basketball, cross country and softball.

“I understand how essential work ethic, time-management, and teamwork is in any position of leadership; I embody these executive attributes every day as a single mother, a teacher, and a former student-athlete at … Arizona State University,” Cullen wrote in her statement of interest. “My judicious ability to be impartial allows for me to be the ideal candidate to Chair the Commission as an Independent striving for fairness among the Arizona electorate.”

Commission member Jonathan Paton spoke with some of Cullen’s references, and said her students adore her and that she doesn’t “indoctrinate her students one way or the other.”

“I think having a teacher as one of our folks might be a really great thing to have,” said Paton, who noted that Cullen teaches her students about redistricting.

Cullen’s applications included two letters from former students, one of whom thanked her for her kindness and understanding as she helped the student understand subjects that she struggled with, saying she was “truly an amazing teacher and not only did you do a great job at teaching about U.S. history but you also helped us see the world in a new light.”

Nick Dranias

Few redistricting candidates are as publicly known in the political world as Dranias, thanks to his years as an attorney with the Goldwater Institute, a libertarian think tank that’s active at the Capitol and in the courts. That history has led Democrats to view Dranias and his candidacy for the redistricting commission with suspicion.

In private practice now, Dranias works with an organization that develops special economic zones in Honduras, an experience that he said has given him a newfound respect for Arizona’s independent redistricting process. “In a lot of ways, I think, the past couple of years, working more or less from the inside of a government rather than the outside throwing rocks at the government, has taught me that you really have a lot of social stability hinging on the legitimacy of institutions,” he told the Mirror.

Dranias is perhaps the only one of the 11 independents to publicly express views on the redistricting process, and has been critical in the past of the role that race and ethnicity play. 

In 2009, he filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in a challenge to the preclearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act, which required that states and other jurisdictions with histories of discrimination get federal approval for any changes they make to election laws or procedures. He argued that the preclearance requirement, which Arizona was subject to at the time, “promoted a new kind of invidious state racialism and racial gerrymandering.”

The Supreme Court eliminated the preclearance requirement in a separate case, which means the Department of Justice will no longer be scrutinizing Arizona’s legislative and congressional maps the way it has for decades. But Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racially discriminatory election practices — including diluting the voting power of minority blocs of voters — is still in effect. The Arizona Constitution includes adherence to the federal Constitution and Voting Rights Act as one of its six criteria for redistricting. 

Dranias acknowledges that case law still demands consideration of race in redistricting, but said he doesn’t think it’s “wise to engage in a practice of racial packing and unpacking,” and prefers redistricting decisions to be race-neutral when possible.

The Arizona Democratic Party and the Arizona chapter of All on the Line, a redistricting advocacy group founded by former President Barack Obama and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, have criticized Dranias as unqualified to serve on the IRC as an independent due to his conservative advocacy. All on the Line specifically cited Dranias’s advocacy in support of eliminating preclearance.

Paton touted Dranias as critical of both political parties, and Dranias told the Mirror that his approach to redistricting is based on adherence to the law and is nonpartisan.

“If that’s what’s their concern, that I’m going to be some kind of naked partisan hiding as an independent, well, there’s a reason I haven’t registered as any particular party any time ever that I know of,” Dranias said of Democrats who might be wary of his candidacy.

Prior to applying for the IRC, Dranias got rid of his social media profiles on Facebook and Twitter, a move he said was due to social media censorship and was unrelated to his aspirations to serve as a redistricting commission. He said he still has inactive accounts on other social media platforms, but wouldn’t say what they were. 

Mignonne Hollis

Hollis is the executive director of the Arizona Regional Economic Development Foundation, an economic development organization in Cochise County. Hollis has vocal supporters who have contacted the appellate commission to advocate for her candidacy, and several members of the appellate commission touted her credentials. 

As a resident of Cochise County, Hollis would bring some geographic diversity to the commission. And as a Black woman, Hollis would also bring some racial diversity to the commission, a quality that it has at times lacked. A group of Democratic legislators on Tuesday publicly urged the appellate commission to interview more candidates of color, who only make up 8 of the 51 interviewees.

But Hollis has a big question mark hovering over her candidacy: whether the fact that she’s registered to lobby on behalf of her employer makes her ineligible. The Arizona Constitution bans “paid registered lobbyists” from serving on the redistricting commission, but doesn’t define the term.

Hollis told the Mirror that she registered as a lobbyist because she sometimes has to testify at the Capitol or speak with lawmakers about legislation related to economic development, but that those activities are a minor part of her job and that she doesn’t think she meets the definition of a paid lobbyist. 

The appellate commission is awaiting an analysis from the Attorney General’s Office on the issue.

Thomas Loquvam

Loquvam, who works as general counsel for the utility company EPCOR, wrote that he decided to apply for the AIRC because of something his seven-year-old daughter said to him. In response to his complaints about politics, she said, “Dad, you always tell me to take action rather than just complain about something, so why don’t you do something?”

In his statement of interest, Loquvam expressed a desire to create more competitive districts that force candidates to appeal to a broad electorate rather than just the more extreme elements of their parties in the primary election.

“Long and careful consideration has consistently led me to the conclusion that undue partisanship is a major, if not the major, crippling force in our republic,” he wrote. 

Loquvam is one of the more controversial applicants to the redistricting commission, especially given that he’s vying to become the independent chair, due to his connections to Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest utility. Prior to joining EPCOR, Loquvam served as general counsel for Pinnacle West, APS’s parent company, and is the brother of Jessica Pacheco, who for years coordinated the company’s political activities, which included a massive dark money campaign in favor of pro-APS Corporation Commission candidates in 2014.

As with Hollis, there are questions surrounding Loquvam’s status as a lobbyist. He’s registered to lobby on behalf of EPCOR at the Corporation Commission. He wrote in his application that he is still eligible because he’s not compensated for the primary purpose of lobbying. He said he had to register as a lobbyist in order to speak with a commissioner on virtually any issue.

Anders Lundin

Lundin is an attorney in Fountain Hills who retired in 2018 after 13 years as a prosecutor for the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation prosecutor’s office. Prior to that, he worked as a public defender in Maricopa County and as a prosecutor in Maricopa and Santa Cruz counties.

In his statement of interest, Lundin lamented that Arizona, whose “beautiful but rugged environment produced a correspondingly unique political climate,” has become a “partisan wasteland” and a “reluctant pawn in a larger game played by the major political parties.”

Lundin is one of two candidates whom the appellate commission selected for interviews, despite receiving public comments warning that they may not be so independent due to public support for Republican candidates

Since applying for the redistricting commission, Lundin has twice penned letters to the Fountain Hills Times supporting Republican Congressman David Schweikert, defending him after his admission to 11 ethics violations and criticizing his Democratic opponent, Hiral Tipirneni, at once point noting that she previously ran in a different congressional district before her campaign against Schweikert. 

Democrats are also wary of Lundin due to his affiliation with Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative religious freedom advocacy organization that has vigorously opposed gay marriage and successfully defended a Christian-owned company that didn’t want to make invitations for same-sex weddings in defiance of a Phoenix ordinance.

Erika Neuberg

Neuberg is a Chandler psychologist with a practice in Scottsdale, but is far more well known in Arizona’s political world for her work with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, an influential pro-Israel organizationm, for which Neuberg serves as a national board member. 

Democrats originally included Neuberg on a list of applicants it considered problematic thanks to past campaign contributions to Gov. Doug Ducey. But Neuberg has given tens of thousands of dollars over the past decade to both Democrats and Republicans, including numerous members of Congress and others from Arizona, where she is active in pro-Israel advocacy.

Neuberg wrote in her application that her bipartisan advocacy over the past 25 years has given her a solid idea of when both citizen advocacy and government work, as well as when they don’t. 

“True representation rests on creating a map of districts that balances majority and minority interests while also ensuring a functioning government capable of consensus. Our collective interests and well-being depend on the integrity and competency of this process,” she wrote.

Oliver Schwab, a former chief of staff to Congressman David Schweikert, a Republican, said Neuberg would have bipartisan gatherings with congressional staff, and said some of his greatest bipartisan connections were with people she connected him with. 

Gregory Teesdale

Teesdale’s application included an extensive resume but no statement of interest to shed any light on why he applied for the IRC.

The Oro Valley resident’s résumé describes him as a “seasoned executive with 37 years experience at successful venture backed technology companies and various consulting assignments.” He lists about a dozen companies on his resume, many of which he served as chief financial officer or in other executive positions, the most recent of which was Tempronics, a solid-state thermoelectric systems company.

Teesdale was the founder and executive director of the 10 West Festival, an annual technology and entrepreneurship event in Tucson. He’s a member of the Desert Angels, a nonprofit organization that invests in startup companies, and Startup Tucson, an economic development and business accelerator organization.

Robert Wilson

Wilson owns a business consulting firm and a gun store in Flagstaff. He’s served as an election observer for the Coconino County GOP, but touts his independence, and noted that he’s been a member of liberal or progressive groups as well, such as Moms Demand Action, peak Up Flagstaff and Friends of Flagstaff’s Future.

Nabours said he had a positive impression of Wilson from the interactions he had with him while services as mayor. Others, however, didn’t have the same experience. Four people submitted comments to the appellate commission regarding Wilson, all of them negative. Wilson, along with Lundin, is one of two independent candidates whom public commenters warned had publicly expressed support for Republican candidates. 

On Aug. 20, after applying for the IRC, Wilson hosted a rally supporting President Donald Trump in the parking lot of his gun store, Timberline Firearms and Training. He told the Arizona Daily Sun that he only hosted it to help inform the public, not to support the president, and he told the Mirror that he would host any candidate. The day before the 2018 election, he hosted two Republican legislative candidates and Gov. Doug Ducey at his store, and a year ago he hosted two GOP legislative candidates.

One board member from Friends of Flagstaff’s Future, a “grassroots, multi-issue organization whose mission is to achieve a sustainable just and thriving Flagstaff,” wrote to the appellate commission, alleging that Wilson was overtly conservative and seemed to have joined the organization with the intent of undermining its efforts, such as its push to ban plastic bags. The board member, Marilyn Weissman, called Wilson’s participation “divisive and an impediment to achieving our goals,” and said “dealing with his ongoing efforts to thwart us were exhausting.”

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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.”