Jul 28, 2022 - Politics

Records shed little light on who influenced Arizona's redistricting changes

Illustration of a folder with a question mark cut out of the center.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Last December, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (AIRC) made changes to the legislative map that saved two Republican senators from being drawn into heavily Democratic districts.

  • Republican commissioner David Mehl said in an open meeting then that he and fellow commissioner Doug York had been "inundated" with messages requesting that the unincorporated community of Liberty be moved into a neighboring district with Buckeye.
  • Liberty is home to Republican Sen. Sine Kerr, and the change moved her from a heavily Democratic district to a Republican one.

Driving the news: There are no records of any communications to or from the two commissioners regarding those changes on the two days changes were made.

State of play: Axios Phoenix requested all text and social media messages, emails and phone call records to Mehl and York regarding the changes.

What else happened: The second change occurred on the final day of deliberations, Dec. 22, when Mehl proposed a last-minute change that moved a portion of southern Flagstaff from a Democratic, heavily Native American district to a neighboring Republican district.

  • The residence of Sen. Wendy Rogers (R) is in that section of Flagstaff.
  • After the meeting, Democratic commissioner Shereen Lerner told reporters that Mehl told her during a break that he wanted to make the change at a friend's request and suggested that he may have been aware that it would help an incumbent.
  • Mehl wouldn't comment on Lerner's allegation.

Of note: The Arizona Constitution prohibits commissioners from taking into account the addresses of incumbents when it draws its districts.

Yes, but: Nothing prohibits other people who propose changes or even submit entire maps for consideration from trying to help incumbents or prospective candidates.

  • The AIRC adopted numerous recommendations that were submitted to them.

What they're saying: Mehl tells Axios Phoenix that counsel advised him not to comment due to a lawsuit challenging the commission's maps.

  • York did not respond to our requests for comment.
  • In a Jan. 4 email provided by the AIRC, Mehl told the commission's leaders that he hadn't had any communication with Rogers for three months or more.

The other side: Lerner, who voted against the legislative map and was highly critical of her Republican colleagues' conduct, says that she's concerned by the absence of any records indicating whom Mehl and York were speaking to before they made those changes.

  • "From my perspective, they were very clear that they were hearing things," Lerner says. "Why there are no messages is a great question. I can't answer why those don't exist."

Erika Neuberg, the AIRC's chair, tells Axios Phoenix that she doesn't find the lack of records concerning, nor does she think it's a problem if Mehl, York or any other commissioner was being contacted by people from outside the commission regarding their mapping work.

  • “I went into this presuming that all four of my colleagues would have conversations with people they had relationships with," Neuberg says.
  • Neuberg says she was committed to fully complying with all public records requests but couldn't comment as to whether her colleagues did the same.

Of note: Neuberg says she never made any changes based on where incumbents lived and that she saw no evidence that anything inappropriate occurred during the commission's work.

Meanwhile: She says the only outside influence she saw personally was text messages that Lerner was receiving during meetings and alleged that the Democratic commissioner was being directed during deliberations.

  • Lerner says that she took information she received from outside calls or text messages under advisement but never "directly" attempted any changes to the maps based on those communications.

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