PHOENIX - If could get any crazier, I'd like to see it. Arizona's decennial "independent" redistricting process has been nothing short of spectacular for journalists. The intrigue, outrage and paranoia took hold quickly and the twists and turns have continued without stop.
Most recently, Attorney General Tom Horne was forbidden from conducting his investigation into whether members of the Independent Redistricting Commission violated state open meeting laws when considering and hiring a mapping consultant with deep ties to Democrats and liberal causes.
Horne's office represented the commission in its infancy – prior to the commission's hiring its own attorneys and when three members miraculously cast perfect scores for the mapping firm in question.
Horne, who learned that a commission member may have shredded documents that would reflect how individual IRC members evaluated consulting firms, was removed after a trial court judge ruled that he had a conflict of interest, as his attorneys previously advised the commission on complying with state open meeting laws – the same laws that the IRC is now claiming do not apply to them.
Now, political junkies, journalists and the public will have to wait longer to learn exactly what powers the commission has when it comes to protecting their secrets. Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery has inherited the case, and Gov. Jan Brewer has launched an inquiry of her own that could dismantle the commission and do God-knows-what to the process of redrawing districts.
On Wednesday, Brewer demanded that commission members explain how they drew their maps and selected their mapping consultant. Her letter included the magic words "substantial neglect of duty" and "gross misconduct in office" that are included in the Constitution's provisions for removing IRC members. Failure to respond to the allegations, wrote Brewer, would be considered an admission of guilt. The governor gave the members until Monday to respond.
Then she promptly went to Alabama to talk about illegal immigration laws. From there, she's taking a leave to promote her new book. When and how she will decide what to do with the commission is anybody's guess.
Democrats, in the meantime, have found themselves in shackles. Facing a Republican supermajority, they're all but forced into watching what they have deemed to be an outrageous affront to commission independence and voter will. Still, they voluntarily decided to boycott legislative hearings called by Republican senators for the reason of pressuring IRC members into altering district lines.
By doing so, Democrats deprived themselves of a golden opportunity to further ridicule and denounce the reactions of Republicans. Take for instance, Rep. Carl Seel, who pondered whether the Republican voter registration advantage in his Phoenix district had been purposefully reduced as Democratic payback for his sponsoring of the "birther" legislation that would require presidential candidates to prove their citizenship in order to appear on the ballot in Arizona. Wow.
The problems of the draft maps, so we are told, are that district lines split "communities of interest," a term that is used to describe cities, towns and other areas inhabited by similarly-minded and situated people. But the very process of splitting Arizona into 30 legislative districts and nine Congressional districts will leave some people unhappy. It is a fact of life.
Republican lawmakers, both legislative and congressional, claim that the draft maps blatantly sacrifice communities of interest for the sake of the Democratic goal of creating competitive districts. Competitive districts, as we are told, will lead to less radical candidates and return Arizona to the magical time and place where Democrats and Republicans shared warm relationships, beers and carne asada at Sandra Day O'Connor's house.
Soon, we will see how the commission members will respond to Brewer. If their reaction is no different than the resistance shown to Horne by the commission's Democrats and independent chairwoman Colleen Mathis, we can expect the governor to take action.
But it is not clear whether Brewer intends to remove Mathis or dismantle the commission entirely. Nor is it clear whether federal judges or a new commission would be charged with drawing district lines if Brewer succeeds in her task.
It doesn't appear as if any of these questions have been seriously considered, and one can't help but notice that barely any thought has been given to the possibility that the IRC will simply alter their draft maps based on what they have heard from citizens and lawmakers.
But then again, by doing just that, we all might be deprived of the next round of crazy.