Arizona established an Independent Redistricting Commission to try to take politics out of the process of redrawing Arizona’s legislative and congressional boundaries. Political consultants Stan Barnes of Copper State Consulting Group and Barry Dill of First Strategic Communications and Public Affairs talk about the reality of removing politics from the redistricting process.
Ted Simons: Keep politics out of the process. That's what voter seemed to want when they approved of having maps for legislative and congressional districts drawn by an independent commission instead of letting state lawmakers continue doing the job. Politics, though, are still very much a part of the redistricting process. Here to talk about it are political consultants Barry Dill and Stan Barnes. Good to have you both here.
Barry Dill: Great to be here. Thank you very much.
Ted Simons: Barry, this non-political process, how did it get so political? Has it really always been this way?
Barry Dill: You know, I love having this debate this year because if we could go back in time for 10 years, you would have the people on my side, the Democrats, were saying pretty much exactly the same thing, and now we hear the Republicans saying it in this process. So even though it is independent, it's still a political process. Ten years ago, there was a -- an independent chairperson, a great guy from Tucson I know him very well, but his main job was to take care of his congressman down in Tucson, his district. And, therefore, it tended to -- decisions tended to kind of float more Republican than they did Democrat. This time, I think the rules are -- the roles are reversed and my Republican brother don't like that.
Ted Simons: Talk about not liking that.
Stan Barnes: What a toss that is to me. He stole my line. My wise friend stole my line. Exactly yes, if you look back ten years, it was the shoe on the other foot. Democrats in Arizona were angry at this new thing called the Independent Redistricting Committee, which I have a hard time calling the Independent Redistricting Committee, because it's not independent. And Republicans were smiling at using the system to make maps the way they wanted the maps to be drawn. Today, it's opposite. I think -- I'm hoping that Arizona is going through a slow motion 30-year political experience where we determine you cannot take politics out of the most political thing there is: Redrawing legislative and congressional districts. And we'll go back to a system where someone is accountable. There's no accountability in today's system and that's the frustration you see playing out.
Ted Simons: Was it a better system where people were accountable? Where lawmakers basically went at it?
Barry Dill: Personally, I think it was. I'm not a big IRC fan. I know some of my colleagues are. Those lines were always negotiated, they always tended to be pretty much fair to everyone.
Stan Barnes: Yeah, I had the delight of serving in the statehouse 20 years ago when the boundaries were redrawn and I was in the room when a lot of them were being redrawn. Pete Rios was in the building in the state senate and that map came out as balanced as you can get it, because the parties had to agree and everybody had to listen to their constituent, and that's what is so upsetting- is that those five don't have any constituents and they act on their own. If they're independent judges of some great neutrality, you might get a map that looks different but that's not proving true.
Ted Simons: But do you want people deciding this who have constituents or do you want people making these decisions and drawing these maps them to have nothing at stake so as to be as impartial, independent if you will, as possible?
Stan Barnes: I understand that political science experiment, and that's what I'm referring to that's in slow motion before our eyes. I personally want someone accountable and I don't believe the fantasy that you can take a person who is neutral and apolitical and put them in that pressure cooker and let them go off and make a wise decision.
Ted Simons: Can you get competitive districts without a quote/unquote impartial commission?
Barry Dill: Absolutely. There used to be competitive districts. To Stan's point, not that much has changed in reality, from where we used to do it in the '70s and '80s when the legislators got together, smart people got together. But I will also preface that, that one of these notions that there's a democrat mapping firm this time, science doesn't know Republicans from Democrat. So that, I think, is an entire myth and a red herring that's been raised to discredit this current commission.
Stan Barnes: You see Republicans whine about that. They're playing their role. They're supposed to do that and they're supposed to remind the viewer that things tilt one way or the other. But to Barry's point, you cannot make the math add up differently if you want to because we eventually have to get districts that are balanced and Mesa, or East Valley, is going to be Republican, South Phoenix is going to be Democratic, Tucson is going to be Democratic- that's the way that Arizona's laid out.
Ted Simons: With the idea that you both seem to agree that the way it was done in the past was a better process, the process we have right now is under way- criticism that it leans left, it's biased against Republicans you call it a myth? You kind of mentioned the word "whine" here. How much validity is in this?
Stan Barnes: Well, all we have are the clues they've given us and the ones they haven't given us have been done behind closed doors, and that's part of the drama. This whole investigation of the IRC by the attorney general is built on the premise that something is going on behind the scenes, behind closed doors that shouldn't be because it's supposed to be a process of daylight and sunshine, but it's not and so Republicans are playing the roles with the clues given and, yes, the third player that makes up the three-member majority is the Independent person but she's voting the Democratic line and that's got what has got Republicans--
Barry Dill: All Democrats want is no more humiliation without representation. We want to have districts that are reflective of the voter registration totals, as they exist. And I will say this: It's my understanding that at the congressional level, our current congressional delegation is both Republicans and Democrats are pretty much in concert with where the initial lines came out and there's some miner, not a whole lot of disagreements between Republicans and Democrats and what that will probably leave us is five leaning Republicans, four leaning Democrats and that's about reflective of the voter registration.
Ted Simons: What do you make of the attorney general's investigation? There's been no lawsuit, there's been no grand jury indictment. Someone suggested it's not even a secret investigation anymore, because he made it well known that he was looking into this.
Barry Dill: It's a political witch hunt.
Ted Simons: A political witch hunt, well, that's pretty clear no questions there.
Stan Barnes: I think our attorney general is a Republican. He does have ambitions because he's bound by his -- his ethic of being the lead law enforcement officer in the state of Arizona and I think he's only doing what he must do as a -- as a political person in a very political process. He's had a lot of folks come to him and saying things are happening behind closed doors including members of that committee. He has to, he can't just ignore that, he has to look, and that's what he's doing.
Ted Simons: But, should he have told us that's what he's doing.
Stan Barnes: It's up to him. I can't prejudge that.
Ted Simons: The idea that Republicans are trying to intimidate by way of Attorney General Tom Horne, is that a valid criticism?
Stan Barnes: I don't think it's a valid criticism. That implies a certain darkness or badness and I don't think it's either dark or bad. It's merely politics playing itself out. The way it should. This is a political process. And they're making their voices heard, the Republican side of the issue.
Barry Dill: I give them credit for trying anything they can. Although they're drawing at straws and I wish our side would have been more intimidating 10 years ago. We might have gotten better districts than we ended up with.
Ted Simons: Last question- will the attacks, will the criticisms, will the concerns, you name it, will they continue to grow, will they ease as the process? I mean a lot of people are legitimately worried about how many border districts there are and other really nut-and-bolts business. Is this going to ease?
Barry Dill: You'll be able to tell if this commission did their job if both Republicans and Democrats are angry at them. This is a thankless job and they kind of have to make everyone mad and if they make everyone mad, that means they probably came up with a fairly safe and fairly decent process.
Ted Simons: One side is already pretty mad. If that eases off a little bit as the lines and people start moving and shifting -- and the process actually becomes more important, do you think that's going to happen?
Stan Barnes: I hope that's going to happen for the sake of Arizona, but to make a further -- furthering on Barry's point, you'll know that everybody is equally upset when everybody sues over the outcome. And if the last 20 years are any indication, there will be big lawsuits at the end and a federal judge on the congressional side will get to decide where the boundaries are actually going to be.
Ted Simons: Alright, great conversation good to have you both here.
Stan Barnes: Thanks for having us.
Stan Barnes:Copper State Consulting Group, Barry Dill:First Strategic Communications and Public Affairs