Redistricting commission picks Neuberg as independent chair

By: - January 21, 2021 1:25 pm
arizona redistricting

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Learn the name Erika Schupak Neuberg — she may be one of the important people in Arizona politics for the next year, and her impact will resonate for a decade.

Neuberg, a psychologist and life coach with a practice in Scottsdale, and a national board member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, will serve as chair of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. As an independent serving with two Democrats and two Republicans on the five-member commission, Neuberg will be a critical tie-breaking vote if the four partisan members deadlock.

After less than an hour in executive session on Thursday, the four partisan appointments to the AIRC unanimously selected Neuberg as the commission’s chair without discussion. Derrick Watchman, one of the two Democratic commissioners, will serve as vice chair.

Erika Neuberg
Erika Schupak Neuberg

During her interview in last week’s meeting, the first of the newly empaneled redistricting commission, Neuberg said her goal as chair would be to reach as many unanimous decisions as possible and to avoid 3-2 votes to the greatest extent possible. On Thursday, she began her tenure as chair with a pledge to listen to take everyone’s interests into consideration as the AIRC draws the congressional and legislative districts that Arizona will use for the next 10 years.

“I have the greatest belief that Republicans, Democrats and independents will be very fairly represented and will have a voice in this process. I give all of you and our entire state my deepest commitment on that,” Neuberg said.

Neuberg told the four other commissioners during her interview last week that one goal of hers in drawing new district lines would be to not undermine other redistricting criteria by focusing on competitiveness. The Arizona Constitution states that the IRC must consider competitiveness, but only if it doesn’t create any “significant detriment” to the other requirements.

After her appointment, Neuberg reiterated her views on the constitutional criteria.

“I also see this as a vote of confidence in our constitution, that we are coming into this with a very shared vision of what our mission is, and that is to implement the principles of the constitution in the hierarchy that we collectively discussed through this process. And I believe that if we stick to these rules that we will do well for the state,” she said.

Neuberg comes into the role as a political insider. Though the Arizona Democratic Party raised concerns about several thousand dollars Neuberg contributed to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, her political donation history is bipartisan, with a long track record of contributions to politicians of both parties. She’s contributed money to most members of Arizona’s congressional delegation, both Democrats and Republicans, as well as to many candidates in other states. Neuberg is a national board member for AIPAC, which advocates pro-Israel policies and seeks to maintain ties with as many officeholders of both parties as it can.

If Neuberg can help foster unanimous votes at the commission, it will be a stark departure from the last AIRC that drew the current maps, when Chairwoman Colleen Mathis regularly sided with her Democratic colleagues on a series of 3-2 votes, including key decisions to select staff and approve maps.

The commission can’t begin drawing district boundaries until after it receives data from the 2020 Census, which is not expected to be available until at least late February, and likely later. But there are other important matters the AIRC needs to take up before then.

The AIRC’s next order of business will be selecting an executive director as its top staffer. After that, the commissioners will have to hire attorneys and a mapping consultant to assist as it draws the new legislative and congressional lines. Those decisions sparked early feuds a decade ago when the last AIRC was formed, precursors of larger fights to come over the actual district boundaries the commissioners would eventually draw.

The commission’s next meeting will be on Feb. 2.

Neuberg was one of five finalists for IRC chair, along with Megan Carollo, the owner of a luxury floral boutique in Scottsdale; Thomas Loquvam, an attorney the utility company EPCOR; Greg Teesdale, a tech start-up executive; and Robert Wilson, who owns a gun store in Flagstaff.

Democrats raised concerns about four of the five finalists, including Neuberg, due to $3,700 in contributions she made to Ducey’s campaigns, though she’s given extensively to numerous Democratic politicians as well.

After the IRC’s selection, the Democratic Party was far more gracious, congratulating Neuberg on her appointment and touting her “25 years of experience in bi-partisan political advocacy.” The party was also bullish about Watchman, the first Native American to serve on the redistricting commission.

“We congratulate the IRC Commissioners on two decisions that will hopefully set the tone for the collaborative work of the commission going forward. We applaud their ability to come together in a bipartisan manner on two very consequential decisions, and for electing to leadership Derrick Watchman, whose experience, skills, and perspective will be an invaluable asset to the Commission and the redistricting process,” Arizona Democratic Party spokesman Matt Grodsky said in a press statement.

Privately, both Democrats and Republicans were optimistic about Neuberg’s appointment. Though the Democratic Party has been critical of Neuberg’s candidacy in the past, some Democrats expressed optimism that she’ll be fair as the commission redraws the state’s districts.

Arizona is expected to gain a 10th congressional district when the 2020 Census is completed. Democrats currently hold five of Arizona’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives to the Republicans’ four.

Though Democrats had been publicly wary of Neuberg, the party took harsher stances on two of the other candidates, Loquvam and Wilson, at one point even filing an unsuccessful lawsuit to knock them off the list of finalists. 

They objected to Loquvam because of his previous work as an attorney for Pinnacle West, parent company of utility giant Arizona Public Service, which in recent years waged multimillion-dollar campaigns against Democratic candidates in Arizona. 

Democrats argued that Loquvam should be disqualified under the Arizona Constitution’s prohibition on registered lobbyists serving on the commission, though a judge ruled that being a registered lobbyist at the Corporation Commission instead of at the legislature did not bar him from serving.

And Democrats viewed Wilson as biased toward the GOP because he’d hosted President Donald Trump’s campaign bus and several Republican candidates for campaign events at his gun store, had made critical comments about Democrats on social media, and allegedly clashed with Democrats at nonprofit organizations he joined. 

State Sen. Wendy Rogers, a Republican who has been active in spreading bogus election fraud allegations over the past two months, supported Wilson’s candidacy, and supporters from her northern Arizona district sent dozens of messages to the IRC supporting his potential appointment.

The Arizona Republican Party declined to comment on Neuberg’s selection.

***UPDATED: This story has been updated to include additional information.

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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.”