Commission narrows down list of redistricting applicants

By: - September 17, 2020 9:39 pm
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A longtime Flagstaff mayor, a former attorney for Arizona’s biggest utility and a former attorney for a conservative think tank are among the candidates to be the independent chair of Arizona’s next redistricting commission.

The Commission on Appellate Court Appointments on Thursday narrowed down the list of 138 applicants to the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission to 51 candidates — 20 Democrats, 20 Republicans and 11 independents — that it will interview next month. The appellate commission will ultimately winnow the list down to 10 Democrats and Republicans apiece and 5 independents.

Democratic and Republican leaders of the state House of Representatives and Senate will each choose one redistricting commissioner from the final list of 25, and those 4 commissioners will choose an independent to serve as chair. If the Democrats and Republicans deadlock, the chair acts as the tiebreaking swing vote.

The 11 independents whom the appellate commission will interview are: 

  • Christopher Bavasi, who served as mayor of Flagstaff from 1988 to 2000, and works as the executive director of the U.S. Office of Navajo and Hopi Indian Relocation.
  • Megan Carollo, the owner and principal designer of Flower Bar, a Scottsdale business that provides luxury floral arrangements.
  • Joseph Citelli, chief counsel at the Registrar of Contractors.
  • Nicole Cullen, an American history, American government and criminal justice teacher at Perry High School in Gilbert.
  • Nick Dranias, a former attorney with the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank, who now runs his own law and policy analysis firm.
  • Mignonne Hollis, the executive director of the Arizona Regional Economic Development Foundation in Sierra Vista.  
  • Thomas Loquvam, general counsel and vice president of corporate services at the utility company EPCOR. He previously served as general counsel at Pinnacle West, the parent company of Arizona Public Service. 
  • Anders Lundin, a retired attorney who lives in Fountain Hills. Lundin previously worked as a public defender in Maricopa County and a prosecutor for the Attorney General’s Office, Santa Cruz County Attorney’s Office and Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation.
  • Erika Schupak Neuberg, a Chandler life coach who serves as a national board member for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. 
  • Gregory Teesdale, an Oro Valley resident and former executive at venture capital companies.
  • Robert Wilson, a Flagstaff resident who owns RHS Consulting, a business consulting firm.

A handful of applicants were deemed ineligible because they’d changed the partisan affiliation in their voter registration some time in the past three years. Others were disqualified for what the commissioners deemed excessive partisan activity. And one Republican applicant with apparent support on the commission died shortly after submitting his application. 

One potentially deal-breaking issue that came up for several applicants was whether they were lobbyists. The Arizona Constitution prohibits anyone who’s been a “registered paid lobbyist” during the past three years from serving on the commission. 

That issue led the commissioners to select 11 independents, rather than 10 as they initially planned.

Mignonne Hollis, who runs an economic development organization in Cochise County, is a registered lobbyist for her employer, the Arizona Regional Economic Development Foundation. Several commissioners expressed support for Holllis’s application, citing her credentials and noting that, as a Cochise County resident and an African-American, she would add to the redistricting commission’s geographic and racial diversity. Several commissioners received communications from Hollis’s supporters prior to the meeting.

But some commissioners questioned whether Hollis would be eligible to serve, given that she’s registered as a lobbyist. Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Brutinel, who chairs the appellate commission, said the state constitution bars “registered paid lobbyists” from serving, but said the law doesn’t define that term.

Commissioner Kathryn Townsend wanted to include Hollis on the list of 10 independents to interview, but worried that if she were disqualified as a lobbyist, the panel would be taking a spot from another deserving candidate. Ultimately, they decided to interview 11 independents as a hedge against that possibility. 

“I think she deserves consideration,” Townsend said. “She is definitely one of the most diverse candidates that we’ve got on the independent list.”

No more than two of the first four candidates who are appointed to the redistricting commission can be from the same county, though the Arizona Constitution doesn’t apply that same standard to the independent chair. Nonetheless, several appellate commissioners expressed a desire to include rural voices from outside Maricopa and Pima counties on the list of interviewees.

The appellate commission is seeking an opinion from the Attorney General’s Office, but Brutinel said that won’t necessarily be persuasive because there’s no definitive legal answer to the question.

“The only way we’re eventually going to get an answer is if you put her on the list to be chosen from the members, she is in fact chosen, and then somebody brings a lawsuit to get her off,” Brutinel said.

Hollis said she had to register as a lobbyist for occasions in which she has to testify at the Capitol or speak with lawmakers about economic development legislation. But she told Arizona Mirror that such activities make up a small portion of her job.

“I am not a paid professional lobbyist, nor have I ever been a lobbyist for compensation,” she said.

Thomas Loquvam, general counsel for the utility company EPCOR, is also registered as a lobbyist, though with the Corporation Commission, not with the Secretary of State’s Office. In his application, Loquvam included a statement saying that, though he has to register as a lobbyist because he sometimes speaks with corporation commissioners about issues they vote on, he doesn’t consider himself a registered paid lobbyist because he’s “not compensated for the primary purpose of lobbying” on behalf of his employer. 

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Gerald Nabours, a commission member from Flagstaff, sang the praises of Chris Bavasi, who spent 12 years as Flagstaff’s mayor. Nabours, a former Flagstaff mayor himself, called Bavasi “an icon in Flagstaff and in northern Arizona,” noting that Bavasi also chaired his school board and hospital board.

“I’ll bet you if you were to ask 50 people in Flagstaff what political party is Chris Bavasi in, they would say, ‘You know, I don’t know,’” Nabours said.

For years, Nick Dranias rankled Democrats as an attorney with the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank that’s active at the Capitol. But commissioner Jonathan Paton, a former lawmaker, touted Dranias’s independence.

“He’s been equally critical of both parties and I think he would make a great addition to this commission,” said Paton.

Dranias contributed $250 to Paton’s 2010 congressional campaign. Paton said he didn’t remember that Dranias contributed to his campaign, and said he included him on the interview list because of his credentials, calling Dranias one of the smartest people he knows.

“I don’t think that’s enough to buy my vote,” Paton joked to the Mirror.

Extensive partisan activities were a disqualifier for some candidates. Despite heavy lobbying on her behalf, most commissioners rejected the application of Leezie Kim, an independent who previously served as a staffer for Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano. And Sarah Brown Smallhouse, a nonprofit president in Tucson, has a long history of contributing to political candidates and ballot measures, which concerned Nabours. 

Commissioner Danny Seiden said political contributions shouldn’t disqualify a candidate. After all, he said, such contributions are protected political speech, he said. More than 20 independent candidates alone have contributed money to political campaigns over the past decade. But if an independent candidate’s contributions overwhelmingly favor one side, Seiden said that would be problematic.

The Arizona Democratic Party issued a press release on Wednesday highlighting independent applicant Erika Schupak Neuberg as one of seven applicants who contributed money to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey. But Neuberg has a long record of giving thousands to both Democrats and Republicans. The other applicants who gave to Ducey are Republicans.

The desire for partisan balance among the independent candidates was clear as the commission discussed the application of Nicole Cullen, a teacher of American history, American government and criminal justice at Perry High School in Gilbert. Paton, a Republican, said Cullen’s students adore her, and that “she does not indoctrinate her students one way or the other.” She even teaches her students about redistricting, he added.

Because of the independent chair’s role as the swing vote between the Democratic and Republican commissioners, both sides are wary of potential partisan leanings. Democrats accused Steve Lynn, the chair of Arizona’s first redistricting commission in 2001, of favoring Republicans, while Colleen Mathis, the most recent chair, routinely sided with her Democratic colleagues and faced frequent accusations from GOP lawmakers, who voted to impeach her in 2011.

Seiden noted that another independent applicant, Steven Neil, was an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention in 2012. Neil did not receive any votes from the commission on Thursday. Another independent candidate who received no votes was Chris Verill, who founded “Beijing for Bernie,” an organization supporting U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, while he lived in China.

Even among the partisan applicants, some commissioners were concerned about severe partisan leanings. The commission rejected the application of Randy Pullen, a former chairman of the Arizona Republican Party. Seiden said he believes the panel should try to find people who will be more willing to collaborate with other redistricting commissioners.

The Republican candidates whom the commission selected are:

  • Trevor Abarzua, of Maricopa County
  • Jonathan Allred, of Maricopa County
  • Margaret Bevan, of Coconino County
  • Scott Crouch, of Maricopa County
  • Lisa Davis, of Maricopa County
  • Paul Djurisic, of Maricopa County
  • Megan Gould Maestas, of Maricopa County
  • Brian Hatheway, of Pima County
  • Kevin Kopp, of Maricopa County
  • David Lane, of Maricopa County
  • David Mehl, of Maricopa County
  • Brandi Oveson, of Apache County
  • Walter Schoch, of Maricopa County
  • Grant Smith, of Gila County
  • Michael Striplin, of Pinal County
  • Ken Strobeck, of Maricopa County
  • Donald Wilson, Jr., of Maricopa County
  • Edwin Winkler, of Maricopa County
  • Douglas York, of Maricopa County

The Democratic interviewees are:

  • Elizabeth Bernstein, of Cochise County
  • Grant Buma, of Yavapai County
  • Ernest Calderon, of Maricopa County
  • Bryan Cooperrider, of Coconino County
  • Martha Durkin, of Pima County
  • Rodolfo Espino III, of Maricopa County
  • Donald Evans, of Maricopa County
  • Grant Freeland, of Maricopa County
  • Susan Freeman, of Maricopa County
  • Sheila Harris, of Maricopa County
  • S. Arthur Hinshaw, of Maricopa County
  • Dale Keyes, of Pima County
  • Robert Kovitz, of Pima County
  • Shereen Lermer, of Maricopa County
  • Mark Murphy, of Pima County
  • Mumtaza “Taj” Rahi-Loo, of Maricopa County
  • James Robbins, Jr., of Maricopa County
  • Derrick Watchman, of Apache County
  • Maxine White, of Maricopa County
  • Teresa Wyatt, of Pima County

The appellate commission will meet on Oct. 8 and 9 to interview the 51 applicants who made the cut on Thursday, with the independents being interviewed on the first day and the Democrats and Republicans on the second. The Commission on Appellate Court Appointments has until Jan. 8 to send its final list of 25 to legislative leaders.

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Jeremy Duda previously served as the Mirror's associate Editor. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”