Bowers picks Tucson developer as first redistricting commissioner

The move kicks off the selection process far earlier than in the past




arizona map redistricting
Photo by omersukrugoksu | iStock / Getty Images Plus

House Speaker Rusty Bowers has selected the first member of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, choosing David Mehl, a southern Arizona developer, as the first of two Republican commissioners.

Bowers’s decision comes far earlier than usual and starts the clock for the remaining legislative leaders, who will choose the next three redistricting commissioners. House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, has seven days to make the next pick to the AIRC, which will draw the congressional and legislative districts that Arizona will use for the next decade.

The speaker, a Mesa Republican, said he met over the past week with each of the 10 GOP finalists, calling the group an “impressive slate of individuals.” 

“David will bring remarkable experience and leadership to the commission, as well as a profound appreciation for the monumental importance of this duty. I have immense confidence that he will apply the skill and standards that have been a hallmark of his professional success so that he will fulfill this crucial constitutional responsibility to achieve a fair result that reflects our great state,” Bowers said in a press statement.

Mehl was viewed by many insiders as a top choice for the Republicans. He’s the owner and president of Cottonwood Properties, a residential and commercial development company in Tucson, and was a founding member of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, an influential Tucson-based civic and economic advocacy organization. He was one of the top vote-getters at the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, which vets IRC candidates and the selected 25 finalists for the panel.

“I am honored to be selected by Speaker Bowers to serve on the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission,” Mehl said in a press statement. “I look forward to the important work ahead and pledge to carry out my responsibilities as a member of the commission with integrity and fairness for the good of all Arizonans.

The Democratic and Republican leaders in both legislative chambers each select one commissioner, and those four partisan commissioners select a fifth person, an independent, to serve as chair. The AIRC can’t have more than two members of any political party.

The Arizona Constitution also requires that no more than two of the four partisan commissioners be from the same county. Mehl is from Pima County; seven of the remaining Republicans are from Maricopa County, one is from Apache County and one is from Pinal County.

Five Democratic finalists are from Maricopa. Two others are from Pima County, and there are one each from Apache, Coconino and Yavapai counties.

Bowers’s selection of a Pima County resident means there’s no pressure on Fernandez to pick a commissioner from outside Maricopa County. It also ensures Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, will be able to pick someone from Maricopa County when she selects the third commissioner.

Fernandez and Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, D-Tucson, began interviewing the Democratic redistricting finalists on Wednesday and expect to finish on Friday, according to Robbie Sherwood, a spokesman for the House Democrats. Sherwood said he didn’t know when Fernandez would make her selection.

During his interview with the appellate commission, Mehl touted his 45 years in business and his work in the nonprofit sector. In addition to his work with SALC, he’s been a member of the Urban Land Institute since 1982. He was a board member at Tucson’s Pusch Ridge Christian Academy for 19 years, much of that time serving as chairman. He’s spent nearly 30 years as a board member at Good News Communications, a Christian marketing agency in Tucson, and is an elder at Catalina Foothills Church. 

Mehl grew up in Ohio, graduating from high school in Cincinnati in 1969, but has been a resident of Arizona for his entire adult life. He graduated from the University of Arizona in 1972.

He said his work on nonprofit and school boards, where he had to learn to get along with people who represent different interests, would translate well to serving on the AIRC. 

Mehl said his goal as a redistricting commissioner would be to represent the state and to come up with fairly drawn district boundaries.

“I’ve applied as a Republican, but I’m an Arizonan foremost,” Mehl told the screening panel.

Each applicant was asked how he or she would balance competitiveness and communities of interest, two of the constitutional criteria the IRC must use to draw districts, with some appellate commissioners, especially Republicans, favoring communities of interest, a broad term that can mean any grouping of people with similar backgrounds, needs or interests, ranging from racial or ethnic groups to  geographic areas to transportation corridors.

Mehl said communities of interest should drive most of the decisions at the AIRC — the constitution says the commission must consider competitiveness, but only if it doesn’t harm the other five criteria — but that the commission should pay heed to geographic considerations, as well. He cited the 1st Congressional District, which stretches from the northern Tucson area to the state line with Utah, as an example of what not to do.

“When you have districts like today with Flagstaff and Marana in the same congressional district, that just doesn’t seem reasonable,” he said.

Mehl received 13 votes from the appellate commission’s 14 members who attended the Oct. 9 meeting where they selected the Democratic and Republican redistricting finalists. Commissioner Jonathan Paton called him a “pillar of southern Arizona,” while Commissioner Laura Ciscomani touted his work with SALC, saying, “They have a broad reach. When they speak up everyone listens.” Ciscomani and Paton both hail from Tucson.

Bowers didn’t have to make a selection until Jan. 31, and in previous iterations of the IRC, speakers waited until the deadline, or close to it. By making a selection when he did, Bowers significantly sped up the timeline.

By picking Mehl before the election, Bowers also might have changed who makes the selections, and the order in which they pick. Democrats need to gain only two seats to take over the Arizona House of Representatives and are optimistic about their chances. If Bowers waited until after the election, the first pick could have gone to Fernandez or to Rep. Diego Espinoza, D-Tolleson, who is challenging her for House Democratic leader. Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, also plans to challenge Bowers for speaker. 

Fernandez castigated Bowers for making his pick before the new legislature is elected, calling it “one last power grab” by the speaker.

“Historically these IRC picks have occurred with the new legislature, not while voters are still picking their lawmakers. The Speaker must know something about who is going to be in control. It’s underhanded moves like this that contribute to the frustration voters are feeling with Republican leaders,” Fernandez said in a statement provided to the Arizona Mirror.

Bradley is termed out and will be replaced as the Senate Democratic leader after the election, as well. Democrats also hope to take control of the Senate, which would require them to gain at least three seats in the November election. 

Fernandez will choose from the following Democratic redistricting applicants:

  • Grant Buma, a retired hydrology engineer from Prescott
  • Ernest Calderón, a Phoenix attorney and former Arizona Board of Regents Chairman
  • Bryan Cooperrider, a surveyor with the United States Geological Survey in Flagstaff
  • Donald Evans, a retired Veterans’ Affairs service representative and former nursing services director who lives in Scottsdale.
  • Robert Kovitz, a Tucson businessman and Army veteran who served at NATO Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe
  • Shereen Lerner, a Mesa Community College anthropology professor and former state historic preservation officer
  • James Robbins, chief administrative officer at Catholic Charities in Phoenix
  • Derrick Watchman, who runs a banking and financial services company in Window Rock, is the former CEO of Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprises and a former chief of staff to the Navajo Nation executive branch
  • Maxine White, a retired Bank of America employee relations consultant who lives in Phoenix
  • Teresa Wyatt, a former Arizona Department of Health Services employee who retired in 2014 as director of rehabilitation services at Children’s Clinics for Rehabilitative Services in Tucson

Once Fernandez makes her choice, Fann will have a week to select from among the nine other Republican finalists: 

  • Jonathan Allred, a Mesa resident and head of legal at the microschool services provider Prenda
  • Scott Crouch, a businessman and real estate broker from Phoenix
  • Lisa Davis, a Tempe resident who owns an architecture, interior and urban design firm
  • Paul Djurisic, a Scottsdale attorney
  • Kevin Kopp, a Phoenix resident and partner in a commercial real estate investment firm
  • Brandi Oveson, a high school history teacher in St. Johns
  • Walter “Randy” Schoch, a restaurant management company owner who lives in Paradise Valley
  • Michael Striplin, a Tucson resident and 27-year Army veteran who retired after years in business development at Boeing
  • Douglas York, the president and CEO of an irrigation and landscape supply company who lives in Phoenix.

The Arizona Republican Party recently warned Bowers and Fann against naming Allred to the redistricting panel, claiming he was unreliable because he’d been previously registered as a Democrat and had been publicly critical of President Donald Trump and GOP lawmakers. 

Once the four partisan commissioners are chosen, they’ll elect a chair from among the five independent finalists:

  • Megan Carollo, the owner of a luxury floral boutique in Scottsdale
  • Thomas Loquvam, general counsel and vice president of corporate services at the utility company EPCOR. He previously served as general counsel at Pinnacle West, the parent company of Arizona Public Service.
  • Erika Schupak Neuberg, a psychologist with a practice in Scottsdale who serves as a national board member for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
  • Gregory Teesdale, an Oro Valley resident and former executive at venture capital companies
  • Robert Wilson, who owns a business consulting practice and gun store in Flagstaff

The Commission on Appellate Court Appointments named Carollo to the list on Tuesday after a previous independent finalist, Gilbert high school teacher Nicole Cullen, withdrew from consideration.