At the request of Governor Jan Brewer, the Arizona senate has voted to impeach the head of the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission. Brewer and senate Republicans allege that the committee—charged with redrawing Arizona’s eight electoral districts—has proposed maps that are politically biased. “I will not sit idly by while Arizona’s Congressional and legislative boundaries are drawn in a fashion that is anything but constitutional and proper,” Brewer told reporters. That is absolutely true, since Brewer was not sitting by when the senate moved to impeach. She was out of town promoting her memoir, so Secretary of State Ken Bennett had to call the Arizona senate into session on her behalf. I don’t mean to bias your interpretation, but Brewer’s memoir is titled Scorpions for Breakfast: My Fight Against Special Interests, Liberal Media and Cynical Politicos to Secure America’s Border.
It seems possible that Brewer is politically motivated herself. Arizona is one of the most notoriously gerrymandered states in the Union; although voter registration is split fairly evenly among 1.13 million registered Republicans, 1.01 million independents and 1 million Democrats, the GOP has controlled state government for decades. Analysts consider 17 of the 30 seats in the state legislature “safe” for Republicans, meaning that the composition of their electorates virtually guarantees a win for the GOP nominee.
Here is what one of Arizona’s eight districts looks like. As you can see, redistricting commissions have not been completely nonpartisan up to this point. Normally I do not care for John Avlon, who looks like he is auditioning to play the Benjamin character in Wayne’s World, but he points out in the Daily Beast that the northern border of Arizona’s second district is the river that runs along the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It’s possible that something beside common-sense geography drew that line.
The present commission, which is composed of two Republicans, two Democrats and one independent, was meant to make the Arizona congressional map a little less nakedly partisan. Under a 2000 law, committee members cannot be impeached except in cases of “substantial neglect of duty, gross misconduct in office or inability to discharge the duties of office.” Brewer’s motion to impeach charges that the commission has tried to “elevate ‘competitiveness’ over other goals.” In other words, they drew districts that contained comparable numbers of Republicans, Democrats and independents.
Whether that constitutes “gross misconduct” is a question for the state legislature. That Republicans control two thirds of the seats in that legislature, despite being one third of the state’s population, tells you something about both Arizona’s approach to districting generally and the likely outcome in this case. For whatever reason, the Arizona GOP considers it okay to make the right to redraw electoral maps one of the spoils of war. They consider it so okay that they will conduct public impeachment proceedings of the lady who tried to do it the fair way.
It is not okay. Gerrymandering is perhaps the most cynical corruption of little-r republican democracy, since the whole point of the American experiment is to develop a government that more accurately reflects the will of the people. Politically motivated redistricting amplifies the flaws in the system. Consolidating Democratic and independent voters in a small number of electorates functionally deprives them of their vote. There is probably a good reason not to just divide Arizona into eight equal rectangles, but putting the conservative Phoenix suburb of Surprise in the same district as Bullhead City—200 miles away—but in a different one from Phoenix itself is just obstinate. That Brewer et al are willing to accuse other officials of dishonesty and bias in defense of such obvious subversion is a testament to how gross Arizona state politics have become.
But it’s not like they’ve done anything weird lately. If you’re wondering whether gerrymandering has impaired the function of democracy in Arizona, consider that a state whose population is 30% hispanic has passed the most draconian anti-Mexican law in recent memory. How the districts are drawn seems like a parochial issue, and we have come to expect a degree of corruption in American politics directly proportional to how local they are. But gerrymandering is a powerful way to decide who runs the government on some basis other than how people vote. If we’re impeaching people for grossly neglecting their duty to constitutions and the voters who enacted them, we might start with Jan Brewer’s plan to make democracy work less.