Arizona state Senators consented tonight to GOP Gov. Jan Brewer’s removal of a member of the state’s independent redistricting commission.
Brewer called the Senate into a special session to remove Colleen Mathis from the Independent Redistricting Commission, and within half an hour she had secured the 20 votes of support needed to finalize the process.
Republicans are unhappy that a Congressional map drafted by the commission this month would make it possible for Democrats to gain seats in Republican-controlled Arizona. Brewer took the first step last week in the process to remove Mathis, the commission's chairwoman, citing “substantial neglect of duty and gross misconduct.”
Arizona Democrats warned earlier today that they were prepared to launch recall attempts against four moderate Republican state Senators in order to protect Mathis.
“We are going to make the so-called moderate Republicans who side with Brewer in this outrageous power grab pay the price,” Arizona Democratic Party spokesman Andy Barr said. “We won’t stand by and allow Brewer to hijack a voter-approved process away from an independent commission of citizen volunteers for crass political gain.”
Brewer has the authority to remove members of the commission, with the consent of two-thirds of the Arizona Senate, if there is a finding of “substantial neglect of duty, gross misconduct of office, or an inability to discharge the duties of office.”
“I invoked that authority today with my decision to remove IRC Chairwoman Colleen Mathis, and I’ve called the Arizona Legislature into Special Session so that the State Senate may concur with this removal, in accordance with the Constitution,” Brewer said in a statement. Because the governor was out of state on a book tour, she directed Secretary of State Ken Bennett (R), the acting governor in her absence, to call the session and remove the chairwoman.
If a commissioner does not complete his or her term, the Arizona Commission on Appellate Court Appointments “shall nominate a pool of three candidates” within 30 days of the vacancy, according to the state Constitution. Those nominees must be members of the same party as the former commissioner.
The remaining commission members will then select the new chairman from that pool. If they are unable to decide in 14 days, the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments will choose the new member, “striving for political balance and fairness.”
Mathis is a registered Independent and serves with two Democrats and two Republicans on the commission, which was created to reduce partisanship in the redistricting process. That was not to be the case this year.
As the Independent member and chairwoman, Mathis has been the focal point of criticism.
State Sen. Linda Gray (R) questioned her nonpartisan credentials. “She came in as an independent person, and it’s very obvious that her leanings are not independent,” Gray said.
Republicans list a litany of grievances about the commission’s methods and process, while Democrats have described Brewer as “drunk with power.”
There had been discussion to remove the two Democrats as well, but one Republican Senator said he did not believe the votes existed to take that further action.
In a letter Monday to Brewer, commission counsel Mary O’Grady defended the group, writing, “The five individuals who serve on this Commission are well-respected Arizonans who frankly deserve better treatment. ... [The Commission’s] independence must be respected and defended.”
“There is absolutely no basis for threatening to remove any Commissioner from office,” she continued. “The discussion of removal should come to a close immediately, and the Commission should be permitted to finish its work.”