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Dems Challenge To Arizona Redistricting Panel List Rejected

Associated Press | Matt York

A judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by Democratic leaders of the Arizona Legislature who sought to disqualify two of five independents chosen as potential chairs of a commission that will redraw the state’s political district boundaries next year.

The Democrats argued that one of the independents wasn’t qualified because he registered as a lobbyist with the state utility regulation commission. They said the other wasn’t truly an independent because he held a rally for President Donald Trump at his business.

The ruling filed by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Janice Crawford on Monday flatly rejected those arguments. She said the lobbyist designation of utility company executive and attorney Thomas Loquvam doesn’t fall under the law that created the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission in 2000. And she said political activity by Flagstaff gun store owner Robert Wilson doesn’t mean he’s not qualified.

“There is no requirement that Mr. Wilson avoid, limit, or restrict his political activities,” Crawford wrote, only that he not be registered with a political party.

Crawford also listed a series of other reasons for rejecting the effort, including that doing so would require the entire process for choosing the five-member commission be restarted.

The redistricting commission was created by voters in 2000 to limit political influence by taking the job of redrawing congressional and legislative district maps from the Legislature. The process that follows each U.S. Census is politically important because where districts’ lines are drawn can influence what voices are heard and how loudly in the political debate, partly by limiting how many legislative and U.S. House seats each party can realistically win.

The commission is designed to have five members — two Democrats, two Republicans and an independent, who serves as chair. The state Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, led by Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Brutinel, vets the candidates and presents a list of 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans to leaders of the House and Senate.

The four leaders then choose one member each from the list, and those four commissioners pick the chair from another list of five qualified independent candidates the judicial screening panel provides. The chair often serves as a tiebreaker.

House and Senate leaders of both parties have already announced their choices for the commission.

The outgoing Democratic leaders of the House and Senate said Republican Gov. Doug Ducey stacked the panel that picked the nominees and lamented the ruling.

“The judge ignored the will of the voters by allowing Governor Ducey’s stacked Commission on Appellate Court Appointments to provide unqualified and biased commission candidates,” Rep. Charlene Fernandez and Sen. David Bradley said in a statement. “The purpose of the IRC is to be independent of partisan politics.”

They said that can’t happen if Loquvam or Wilson are chosen as the commission chairs.