Timing may be everything when it comes to redistricting commission picks




House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

The timeline for appointing the four partisan members of the next Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission is unclear, and the answer could determine not only when the selections are made but who is making them.

Republican and Democratic leaders in each chamber of the legislature select the first four members of the IRC. The speaker of the House of Representatives makes the first pick, followed, in order, by the House minority leader, Senate president and Senate minority leader. The two Democrats and two Republicans selected by the lawmakers choose the fifth member, an independent who serves as chair.

The Arizona Constitution gives the House speaker until Jan. 31 to make a choice. But the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, which vets redistricting applicants, selected its 25 finalists — 10 Democrats, 10 Republicans and five independents — last week, and the list is now ready for legislative leaders.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, could pick the first member of the next IRC any time he wishes. And that would start a ticking clock for Rep. Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, the House minority leader.

Once the speaker makes a selection, the House minority leader has to make a choice within seven days or she forfeits the pick. The Senate president and Senate minority then have seven days from the preceding pick to make their own selections. 

The timing is important for several reasons.

First, no more than two of the four partisan IRC members can be from the same party or county. That means if Bowers were to choose a Maricopa County resident, only one of the next three redistricting commissioners could hail from Arizona’s largest county. And if Fernandez also chose a Maricopa resident, that would block the Senate leaders from choosing anyone from that county.

Twelve of the 20 partisan finalists — five Democrats and seven Republicans — are from Maricopa County. Residents of Apache, Pima and Pinal counties round out the GOP list, while the Democrats have two from Pima and one apiece from Apache, Coconino and Yavapai counties.

The second reason why the timing of the pick is important is that at least one and possibly as many as three legislative caucus leaders will change after the election.

Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson, is termed out and will be replaced as leader of the Senate Democrats. In the House, both leaders face challenges. Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, has announced that he’ll challenge Bowers for the speaker’s chair, while Rep. Diego Espinoza, D-Tolleson, is running against Fernandez.

That means who makes the picks is subject to change. Finchem, Espinoza and any Democrat seeking to replace Bradley could have a vested interest in waiting until after the post-election leadership races are settled.

Furthermore, the order of the picks could change depending on how the legislative races shake out in November. Democrats are hopeful that they’ll take control of at least one legislative chamber — they need a net gain of two seats in the House and three in the Senate — and if they’re successful, that would change the order in which the picks are made. If the Democrats take the House for the first time since 1966, Fernandez or Espinoza would choose first, followed by Bowers or Finchem.

Andrew Wilder, a spokesman for Bowers, wouldn’t say whether the speaker planned to wait until after the election to make the first pick for the IRC.

“Speaker Bowers will be approaching this important constitutional role with the seriousness it deserves and reviewing the nominees closely,” Wilder said in an emailed statement.

Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, told the Mirror that she has no preference as to whether the selection process begins before or after the election, and hasn’t had any discussions about the issue.

But there’s still work to do before anyone starts choosing commissioners. Fann said she and Bowers will likely want to interview all of the Republican candidates. 

“Sounds to me like we have a lot of work and research to do,” Fann said via text message.

Fernandez said she hopes Bowers will wait until after the election, though she doesn’t know if he’ll wait that long and suspected he’ll make his choice before then. She noted that several current caucus leaders may no longer be part of legislative leadership after the election, and one leader, Bradley, won’t even be in the legislature when the next session begins.

“I’m sure the goal is to have the first pick. With that in mind, I’m sure that they would want to get it done as soon as possible,” Fernandez said. 

Fernandez said she plans to interview the Democratic candidates, and that the other members of the House Democratic leadership team will be included in that process. She also plans to confer with the rest of her caucus before making any decisions.

Traditionally, legislative leaders have waited until well after the election to start selecting redistricting commissioners. In 2001, then-Speaker Jim Weirs selected James Huntwork as the first member of Arizona’s first redistricting commission on Jan. 15, and the final partisan pick was made on Feb. 2. 

During the last selection process, then-House Speaker Kirk Adams waited until Jan. 31, the final day, to select Republican Scott Freeman as the first member of the IRC. Then-Senate Minority Leader David Schapira made the final selection on Feb. 15.

Jeremy Duda
Associate Editor Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. 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.”