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Independent IRC chair candidate withdraws from consideration

By: - October 15, 2020 12:14 pm
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One of the five candidates for independent chair of the next redistricting commission has withdrawn from consideration.

Nicole Cullen, an American history, government and criminal justice teacher at Perry High School in Gilbert, withdrew her candidacy for the next Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, citing family circumstances, the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments announced Thursday.

Cullen’s withdrawal eliminates only one of two independent chair candidates whom the Democrats hadn’t raised objections to. The chair is selected by the two Democratic and two Republican commissioners picked by legislative leaders, meaning both parties have a theoretical veto on any independent candidate.

The Arizona Constitution requires the commission to select five finalists for the independent chair position. The appellate commission will meet on Tuesday to select a replacement for Cullen. 

The appellate commission voted on each of 10 independent chair candidates to narrow it down to five finalists. Robert Wilson, who owns a business consulting firm and a gun store in Flagstaff, tied for fifth place with Megan Carollo, who owns a luxury floral arrangement business in Scottsdale. Wilson won a tiebreaker vote for the fifth and final spot on the list of independent finalists, leaving Carollo as the sixth-place candidate.

Carollo was a popular candidate with some members of the appellate commission. But following Carollo’s interview, some commissioners questioned whether she had the ability to maintain order on the commission and “wrangle a room full of cats that are fighting with each other,” as Commissioner Kathryn Townsend said.

After Carollo, the next highest vote-getter was Nick Dranias, an attorney who previously worked for the Goldwater Institute, a conservative-libertarian think tank. Democrats vehemently opposed Dranias’s application due to his work with the Goldwater Institute, his views on the Voting Rights Act and his support for a controversial academic who was fired by Cambridge University over his association with people who held “extremists views.” 

The remaining four independent candidates are: 

  • 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.

In a press release after the appellate commission selected its 25 finalists for the IRC, the Arizona Democratic Party raised concerns with Loquvam because of his previous work with Pinnacle West, parent company of Arizona Public Service, due to the utility giant’s controversial election spending, including a multimillion-dollar “dark money” campaign against Democratic candidates for the Corporation Commission in 2014. The party also noted that Loquvam’s sister is former APS lobbyist Jessica Pacheco, who oversaw the company’s political activities.

Wilson, the party noted, hosted a rally for President Donald Trump’s campaign in the parking lot of his gun store in August, after he applied for the IRC. Wilson also hosted events with several other Republican candidates this year and before the 2018 election. Several people sent public comments to the appellate commission alleging that Wilson is a conservative aligned with the GOP, rather than a true independent.

The party also noted that Neuberg gave $10,000 to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s campaign and political action committee. However, Neuberg has also given tens of thousands of dollars to candidates from both parties over the years, including most Democrats and Republicans in Arizona’s congressional delegation.

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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.”