Idaho Attorney General: Denney, Semanko can't fire redistricters
Associated Press, Jan 21, 2012
BOISE - The Idaho attorney general's office said Friday that House Speaker Lawerence Denney and state Republican Party Chairman Norm Semanko likely can't fire their Republican redistricting commissioners, something they've threatened on grounds the two commissioners helped create new legislative boundaries that are too favorable to Democrats.
Denney, R-Midvale, said he's considering ousting former state Rep. Dolores Crow of Nampa from the panel that draws up Idaho's new maps to reflect population changes every decade. He asked for her resignation, he told The Associated Press. Semanko also asked Randy Hansen, his appointee, to quit.
Crow said she'll fight Denney's attempts to stop her from joining the five other commissioners on Thursday to work on new maps, after the Idaho Supreme Court ruled this week their first plan was illegal, in part, because it split too many counties.
According to the attorney general's opinion issued to Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, political leaders like Denney and Semanko can appoint commissioners, but they don't appear to have the authority to remove them.
"No provision for removal of a commissioner with or without cause exists," wrote chief deputy attorney general Brian Kane, in his three-page opinion requested by Ysursa. "Absent authority for removal by the appointing authority, it appears that a vacancy can occur only in specific circumstances."
Kane said commissioners can resign from office; a death could necessitate the secretary of state declaring a vacancy. But the law governing the redistricting commission, unlike laws over other commissions like the Idaho State Tax Commission and the State Board of Education, doesn't include provisions to remove commissioners from office. "No similar grant of authority or oversight is indicated in" the laws governing redistricting commission, Kane wrote.
Redistricting has been called the purest form of political blood sport, because strident partisans on both sides battle for maps that preserve their strongholds. Meanwhile, incumbent lawmakers forced into primary elections against other incumbents as district lines shift live in terror of losing their cherished elected jobs.
Denney, who was put into a district with five incumbents for the May 15 primary by the map Crow, Hansen and the others approved unanimously in October, said members of his caucus weren't happy with Crow. They don't think she stood up for GOP interests when she went along with the unanimous 6-0 vote for the map that was eventually rejected by the Supreme Court.
Denney said he hadn't yet read the attorney general's opinion, so he could not comment. He could ask the Supreme Court to rule on if he can fire Crow, but he said he hasn't decided on a course of action. "I have asked her to resign," Denney said, adding he'd left a message on Crow's home answering machine. "I don't know what's next."
Crow maintains she, Hansen and the other commissioners created 35 new legislative districts that were fair to voters and blind to incumbency and partisan politics. "I'm not going to call him back," Crow said. "We did what we felt was good for the people of the state of Idaho. That's what we swore we would do, and I believe in keeping my promise. If the Supreme Court decided we didn't quite finish the job, I think we should be allowed to go back and finish it."
In Semanko's letter to Hansen, the GOP chairman issued this ultimatum: Quit or be fired. "As discussed yesterday, I request your resignation from the Idaho Redistricting Commission," Semanko wrote Friday. "Failing that, you will be relieved of your appointment and removed."
Hansen didn't return a phone call.
In addition to Crow and Hansen, the redistricting commission called back to work next Thursday by the Idaho Supreme Court ruling includes Sheila Olsen of Idaho Falls, a GOP activist; as well as Democrats Ron Beitelspacher, a retired Grangeville utility lineman; Shauneen Grange, a Democratic activist; and Elmer Martinez, a former state representative from Pocatello.
Democrats say they'll stick by all their commissioners.
Senate GOP leader Brent Hill told the AP he's happy with Olsen's performance and won't ask her to resign.