Redistricting plan completed, awaiting challenges

Pat Forgey
Juneau Empire
June 7, 2011

The Alaska Redistricting Board finalized its new legislative map of Alaska Tuesday, a week ahead of its deadline, but is already receiving criticism.

The new legislative districts have also been renamed, given new numbers and letter designations that abandoned the past practice of beginning labeling in Ketchikan.

The southern Southeast hub bills itself as Alaska’s “First City,” and it is currently located in House District 1.

The “final draft map” of districts released by the board Tuesday has Ketchikan as district 33 out of 40.

That makes Juneau’s two districts, currently 3 and 4, scheduled to be 32 and 31.

District 31 will be based in the Mendenhall Valley, while District 32 will include downtown, Douglas, Gustavus, Skagway and Petersburg.

The new plan, which has one less Senate district in Southeast than the current plan, has the two Southeast districts P and Q, rather than A, B and C.

Senate District P, represented by Democrat Dennis Egan, will be the new Juneau Senate district.

The state’s House District 1 is now in the Interior, and is centered on Fairbanks’ Fort Wainwright.

The redistricting plan’s merits, not its labels, were what came under quick attack from the Alaska Democratic Party after adoption Tuesday, however.

Party Chairwoman Patti Higgins called the plan a “deeply flawed partisan plan” in a press release Tuesday.

Alaska uses a partisan redistricting process in which elected officials appoint four of the five members of the board, with the fifth appointed by the state’s chief justice. The elected officials, all Republicans, appointed Republicans to the board. The judicial appointee is registered non-partisan.

Higgins said the city of Fairbanks was split into separate Senate districts and forces two incumbent Democratic senators to run against each other.

She said in Anchorage the board basically adopted a map proposed by the Republican Party and which she said seems to discriminate against the state’s only African-American legislator, Sen. Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage

The board also frequently met behind closed doors to hash out plan details, in violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act, Higgins said.

Redistricting plans frequently wind up in court, and most observers say they expect the current plan to be challenged as well.

The board must adopt a final plan by June 14, after which opponents will have 30 days for legal challenges.