Updated: Nov 4, 2021
The hiring of the executive director for the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission spotlights divided commission
In what was supposed to be a non-partisan process, the redrawing of Arizona’s political boundaries based on 2020 Census data has already drawn the ire of one state Democratic lawmaker.
State Sen. Martín Quezada (D-Glendale) said the March 16 vote to hire Brian Schmitt as the commission’s executive director smacked of partisanship because Schmitt is the chief of staff for GOP Phoenix City Councilman Jim Waring and had worked on John McCain’s presidential bid and Martha McSally’s Senate campaign.
“He will be the commission’s number one employee, like the CEO,” Quezada said. “Ideally, the whole point of the Independent Redistricting Commission was to take politics out of drawing congressional and legislative lines.”
He noted that when the commissioners and staff come out of political backgrounds, they inevitably skew towards self-interest, which then leads to gerrymandered boundaries. Gerrymandering refers to drawing boundaries that favor one party over another.
Under Arizona guidelines, political boundaries should be drawn based on compactness, contiguous lines, preserving political subdivisions, preserving communities of interest and making districts competitive whenever possible.
“When you have someone directly connected to politics, it will lead to a political agenda,” said Quezada. “That’s human nature. That’s why we (politicians) should be removed from that process.”
Commission members chose Schmitt in a 3-2 vote. Those who voted for him cited his government work and knowledge of working within a political environment in a non-partisan manner under Waring as a major advantage.
“We are truly looking for a lead staff person who would minister and guide and work through the government issues and help us work with one another to maximize the reason that we’re all together as a commission, and not look for someone who wants to insert themselves into policy,” Republican Commissioner David Mehl told the Arizona Mirror.
According to the Arizona Mirror, Schmitt set up a campaign event for Martha McSally in Prescott during her Senate bid and was paid more than $63,000 for his work. He also received business expense reimbursements from the Republican National Committee. Some Democratic opponents to his hiring noted he did not disclose his work for McSally on his resume. He described it as a ‘kind of one off’ that he did as a favor to friends.
Redistricting and the accompanying reapportionment, which refers to allotting congressional districts to states with fast-growing populations or losing a congressional district based on population declines, can help establish a political balance of power, which sometimes can take years to unwind.
The actual process of redrawing lines is expected to start in the fall, with the 2020 Census data available in late September. The process should be completed in early 2022, in time for elections slated for later that year.