PHOENIX - Gov. Jan Brewer could call lawmakers into special session as early as today to try to oust one or more members of the Independent Redistricting Commission.
Senate Republicans were told by party leaders to be available for an afternoon meeting in case Brewer acts on her allegations that several commission members have committed offenses that allow her to remove them from office with the consent of two-thirds of the Senate.
An attorney for the commission all but vowed to sue to block the ouster if Brewer tries.
In a letter Monday to the governor, Mary O'Grady acknowledged that the Arizona Constitution gives Brewer the power to remove any or all commission members "for substantial neglect of duty, gross misconduct in office, or inability to discharge the duties of office."
But she told Brewer it is up to the courts and not the governor - or, by extension, the Legislature - to determine whether those violations have occurred. That includes whether calls made by Colleen Mathis, who chairs the panel, to other commissioners about a pending bid violates the state's Open Meeting Law.
O'Grady dismissed Brewer's complaints that the commission did not follow constitutional requirements when crafting draft maps for the state's nine congressional districts. O'Grady said the question of whether those maps, and separate ones for the 30 legislative districts, meet the requirements of a voter-approved constitutional amendment also rests with the courts.
"The commission itself is a constitutional entity charged to do a difficult, controversial job independent of the state's political structure," O'Grady wrote to Brewer. "Its independence must be respected and defended."
Brewer press aide Matthew Benson downplayed the warnings, saying his boss does not have to wait for a court's determination that someone broke the law before seeking their ouster.
"The constitution specifically prescribes to the governor an oversight role," he said. "That is the authority that she has invoked."
Senate Majority Leader Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, said what a judge considers "gross misconduct" is irrelevant to whether they can remove a commissioner.
"There's no case law on it, so it's defined by the Legislature," said Biggs, an attorney. "Gross misconduct is essentially what the Legislature says gross misconduct is."
Senate President Russell Pearce agreed that the Legislature is not bound by any specific legal definition.
"It's kind of like when one of the (U.S.) Supreme Court judges said they may not be able to define pornography, 'but I know it when I see it,' " Pearce said.
He said commissioners acted improperly in lining up votes to select Strategic Telemetry, a firm with strong Democratic ties, to help draw the new maps.
And Pearce said panel members ignored several requirements of the 2000 voter-approved initiative, including drawing lines that protect "communities of interest" where possible.
That's the conclusion reached Monday by a special legislative panel formed to review the commission's work.
That committee voted to ask the commission to revamp the maps, both because they believe the commission did not follow proper procedures and because they contend the final district lines are not fair.
That vote was unanimous, but not bipartisan: The Democrats have boycotted all the meetings.
The 2000 voter-approved plan shifted control of decennial redistricting from lawmakers to an independent five-member commission, four of whom are appointed by top-ranking legislators. Those four then select the fifth, who must be a political independent.
Republicans complain that Mathis leans with the Democrats. Not only did her husband work on the unsuccessful re-election campaign of a Tucson Democratic representative, but she helped engineer giving the contract to Strategic Telemetry.
That effort forms the basis for charges of violations of the Open Meeting Law.
Republican commissioners Richard Stertz and Scott Freeman told investigators for Attorney General Tom Horne that Mathis called them ahead of time to line up votes on the bid. Horne contends once Mathis contacted two of the four other commissioners on an issue before the panel, even separately, she broke the law.
A judge last week disqualified Horne from investigating because attorneys from his office previously advised the commission on the law. Horne has since asked Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery to continue the inquiry.
O'Grady also told the governor she cannot remove Mathis and the two Democrats on the commission, Linda McNulty and José Herrera, for refusing to cooperate with Horne's investigation since Horne's disqualification from the case proves they had legitimate reason to refuse.
Although party registration and prior voting patterns suggest three of the nine congressional districts would be considered politically competitive, with two heavily weighted toward Democrats and four favoring Republicans, outraged Republicans insist the maps favor Democrats.
On StarNet: Read more about local, state and national political news at azstarnet.com/politics