Arizona Mirror: Five of these 25 people will draw new legislative and congressional districts

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The list of finalists for the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission has been set.

The Commission on Appellate Court Appointments on Friday selected 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans to round out the list of 25 finalists. On Thursday, the commission selected five finalists for the position of independent chair of the redistricting commission.

Republican and Democratic leaders of the Arizona House of Representatives and Senate will each choose one candidate, and those four partisan selections will pick one of the independents to serve as chair. The chair holds the critical tiebreaker vote in case the Democrats and Republicans deadlock.

The appellate commission expects to forward the list of nominees to the legislature on Monday. Legislative leaders have until January 31 to begin making selections.

The Democratic finalists are:

  • Grant Buma, a retired hydrology engineer from Prescott
  • Ernest Calderón, a Phoenix attorney and former Arizona Board of Regents Chairman
  • Bryan Cooperrider, a surveyor with the United States Geological Survey in Flagstaff
  • Donald Evans, a retired Veterans’ Affairs service representative and former nursing services director who lives in Scottsdale.
  • Robert Kovitz, a Tucson businessman and Army veteran who served at NATO Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe
  • Shereen Lerner, a Mesa Community College anthropology professor and former state historic preservation officer
  • James Robbins, chief administrative officer at Catholic Charities in Phoenix
  • Derrick Watchman, who runs a banking and financial services company in Window Rock, is the former CEO of Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprises and a former chief of staff to the Navajo Nation executive branch
  • Maxine White, a retired Bank of America employee relations consultant who lives in Phoenix
  • Teresa Wyatt, a former Arizona Department of Health Services employee who retired in 2014 as director of rehabilitation services at Children’s Clinics for Rehabilitative Services in Tucson

The Republican finalists are:

  • Jonathan Allred, a Mesa resident and head of legal at the microschool services provider Prenda
  • Scott Crouch, a businessman and real estate broker from Phoenix
  • Lisa Davis, a Tempe resident who owns an architecture, interior and urban design firm
  • Paul Djurisic, a Scottsdale attorney
  • Kevin Kopp, a Phoenix resident and partner in a commercial real estate investment firm
  • David Mehl, a Tucson businessman and founding member of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council
  • Brandi Oveson, a high school history teacher in St. Johns
  • Walter “Randy” Schoch, a restaurant management company owner who lives in Paradise Valley
  • Michael Striplin, a Tucson resident and 27-year Army veteran who retired after years in business development at Boeing
  • Douglas York, the president and CEO of an irrigation and landscape supply company who lives in Phoenix.

Three of the Democratic candidates were unanimous selections by the 14 appellate commissioners: Calderón, Cooperrider and Watchman.

Calderón has long been prominent in the political world. He served as president of the Board of Regents after Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano appointed him to the body; served on the gubernatorial transition teams for Napolitano and her Republican successor, Jan Brewer; and served from 1994-2001 on the appellate commission that selected him as a redistricting finalist.

Calderón has also litigated cases involving the Voting Rights Act cases, an area of expertise that could serve him well on the redistricting commission, which must consider the federal law as it draws district boundaries. 

If selected to the commission, Calderón said he would listen to anyone and give consideration to their ideas, but without making any promises. He said partisan politics must be kept in check, especially when it comes to issues involving the Arizona Constitution and Voting Rights Act, though he acknowledged “there’s a certain expectation that politics will be involved.”

“He certainly checks off a lot of boxes, but the biggest one is he seems like someone who’s willing to work with others and he has a history of working with others,” Commissioner Jonathan Paton said of Calderón, whom, other commissioners noted, once represented controversial Republican Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, even though he is a Democrat. 

Watchman touted his varied experiences. He worked for former Navajo Nation President Peterson Zah; ran the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise, where he said he created 2,000 jobs and put four casinos on the map; has served on nonprofit boards; and worked out multimillion-dollar transactions. 

“I bring to the table a business focus. I bring to the table a balanced approach,” Watchman said.

While Calderón and Watchman have deep ties to the political world, other candidates appealed to the commission because they came off as regular people. Commissioner Tracy Munsil said one of her takeaways from the commission’s interview with Cooperrider, who attended via satellite phone while working on a geological survey in the Grand Canyon, was that he was a citizen, not a politician. And some commissioners said they were impressed by Evans’s interview, in which the retired Veterans’ Affairs employee said the best advice he ever received was, “Don’t complain about something if you’re not involved, so that’s something that I’m trying to live up to, trying to get involved.”

“I know it was a short interview, but I found him to be authentic — a real person,” said Commissioner Danny Seiden.

Cooperrider and Watchman are from rural counties, one commissioner noted, which could work in their favor during the final selection process. No more than two of the four partisan commissioners can be from the same county.

On the Republican side, the top vote-getters were Kopp, Mehl and Oveson, all of whom received a nod from 13 of the 14 attending commissioners. Allred, Crouch and Striplin also received at least 10 votes apiece.

The commission asked each applicant about the role of partisan interests in the redistricting process, with many saying it should play no role at all. But the acknowledgement that partisan politics will always play at least some role endeared Schoch to Seiden, who said the restaurateur didn’t give an “ultra-naïve” answer that partisan politics won’t play a role in the process.

Applicants also were asked about how to balance two redistricting criteria in the Arizona Constitution. One is communities of interest, a broad term that can be used to describe any grouping of people with similar backgrounds, needs or interests, such as a racial or ethnic group, a geographic area, a political subdivision or even a transportation corridor. The constitution mandates that the Independent Redistricting Commission also favor competitive districts, but only if doing so won’t harm the other five criteria.

“That may be one of the toughest goals to achieve, in my opinion, because there’s often a natural tension between those two,” said Wyatt, one of the Democratic finalists. “I think it’s always a juggling act.”

Crouch expressed a similar sentiment, telling the commission, “It seems like they’re almost in tug of war between each other.”

Paton in particular put a high premium on candidates who acknowledged the constitutional language stating that competitiveness can’t come at the expense of communities of interest or other requirements. Several Republican applicants made a point of highlighting that constitutional mandate.

Davis said competitiveness is “down on the list of things to consider” and only when it’s not detrimental to the other goals, while Allred said communities of interest must take precedence, saying, “Then, and only then, would competitive districts come into play.” 

Several Republican applicants noted the divisiveness and controversy in the last redistricting commission, which was characterized by numerous 3-2 votes on critical issues in which independent Chair Colleen Mathis sided with her two Democratic colleagues. Kopp and Schoch said they would strive for more consensus if selected for the IRC.

“Why can’t we have 5-0 votes? Why do we have to have litigation, contentious conversations?” Kopp said.

Several applicants impressed the commissioners with their backgrounds. Crouch, whom Commissioner Linley Wilson called “very compelling,” touted a life story that began with him being abandoned as a baby, then being adopted and becoming a successful businessman. Davis, Kopp, Mehl and Schoch also impressed the commission with their business backgrounds.

Mehl has not only spent 45 years in the real estate business but is also a founding member of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, an influential Tucson-based civic and economic advocacy organization. Paton, a former Tucsonan, called Mehl a “pillar of southern Arizona,” and Commissioner Laura Ciscomani, who hails from Pima County, touted Mehl and SALC’s work.

“They have a broad reach. When they speak up everyone listens,” she said.

Democrats have recently accused the appellate commission of selecting too few minority applicants, who made up only 15% of the 51-person interview list, though Wilson noted during Thursday’s commission meeting that applicants of color also made up 15% of the original pool of 138 applicants. Of the 25 finalists, five were non-white: Calderón, Crouch, Evans, Watchman and White.

The four partisan redistricting commissioners will select one an independent chair from the list of five finalists nominated by the appellate commission on Thursday:

  • Nicole Cullen, an American history, American government and criminal justice teacher at Perry High School in Gilbert.
  • 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.
  • Erika Schupak Neuberg, a psychologist with a practice in Scottsdale 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, who owns a business consulting practice and gun store in Flagstaff

Read the full article at the Arizona Mirror.