For Republicans, redistricting is all good - COMPASS: Other points of view

Steven Aufrecht
Anchorage Daily News
May 6, 2011

The Alaska Redistricting Board has been using 2010 U.S. Census data to redraw Alaska's legislative districts. The final plan is due June 14. How are they doing? Here's a quick review using key criteria the plan must meet.

* One person, one vote.

Districts must be "of as nearly equal size as practicable." The census counted 710,231 Alaskans. Divided by 40 House districts, that equals 17,755 people per district. The board can't deviate more than 10 percent from biggest to smallest district; ideally 1 percent in urban areas. The result? The biggest total deviation is 7.96 percent in rural Native districts. Anchorage and Fairbanks districts (except District 6) are under 1 percent.

* No retrogression.

The Federal Voting Rights Act bans retrogression. "Retrogression is drawing a district in a manner that worsens minority voting strength as compared to the previous district configuration." Since the U.S. Department of Justice must OK the plan, the board has paid close attention and they've maintained the old plan's nine Native majority-influence districts.

* Districts contiguous and relatively compact.

"All parts of a district being connected at some point with the rest of the district" and "having the minimum distance between all parts of a district."

In Southeast some parts connected by land are in different districts. Other parts in the same districts are connected by water. Water connections also occur in Western Alaska. This is inevitable with islands. Some districts -- District 6 stretches from Eagle and McCarthy up past Bettles and kisses Fairbanks on its way down the Yukon to Holy Cross -- are hardly compact. But a similar district already exists. Lots of land, few people, and no retrogression create problems.

* House districts of relatively socio-economically integrated areas.

This one's hard to evaluate. Eagle River folks protested that Muldoon didn't share their interests and vice versa. But compared to the people linked in rural districts, their complaint seems trivial. In Anchorage, community councils don't match districts much, but I was told courts consider people in the same city to meet this standard.

* Senate districts composed of two contiguous house districts.

To prevent retrogression, and with Southeast reduced from five to four districts, Districts 1 (includes Ketchikan, Wrangell, and Petersburg) and 2 (Cordova, Valdez, to Talkeetna!) are combined to make Senate District A in Plan 1. Plan 2 pairs Ketchikan with Kodiak. Staff attorney Michael White said federal law takes precedence over the state constitution, and without these pairings there would be retrogression.

* No political or racial gerrymandering.

In high-density cities, lines are easier to manipulate. Board member Jim Holm, who lost his House seat to Democrat Scott Kawasaki in 2006, brought a Fairbanks plan to the board and it was quickly adopted. Asked how incumbents were impacted, Holm said he hadn't done an analysis.

I find it hard to believe Holm didn't know how incumbents were affected. (Note: Kawasaki's seat is safe.) Watching them map Anchorage was like following the pea under the walnut shells. Then the staff cleaned things up after hours.

Democratic Reps. Sharon Cissna and Les Gara are now on opposite edges of the same district -- leaving Cissna's old area incumbentless. Reps. Berta Gardner and Mike Doogan were similarly matched.

While Eagle River and Muldoon protested being linked, the board added just enough more Muldoon to put Democrats Pete Petersen and Bill Wielochowski into much more Republican Eagle River districts. Alaskans for Fair Redistricting's website lists how all incumbents were paired with maps showing new districts superimposed on old districts. Although there are 24 Republicans and 16 Democrats in the House, they've paired eight Democratic incumbents but only six Republicans with other incumbents.

Knowing intent isn't easy, but with four Republicans and one Democrat on the board it's hard for the plan not to have Republican fingerprints. Additionally, there's lots of data on their website, but little explanatory information, and no public access to the expensive redistricting software. So it was hard to prepare for the board's many, but poorly publicized, community visits.

All this leaves questions about how the lines were drawn.

Steven Aufrecht is professor emeritus of public administration at UAA. He has been covering the redistricting process at his blog: whatdoino-steve.blogspot.com (Go to Redistricting Board tab at top.)

BOARD MEETING: The redistricting board will present its plan and take public comments today in Anchorage at the Legislative Information Office, 716 W. Fourth Ave. The presentation is 9 a.m.- noon; public hearing, 2 p.m.- 6 p.m.

Re-mapping Alaska's political landscape

THE GOAL

Redraw Alaska's political districts using 2010 U.S. Census data.

THE SCHEDULE

Pre-plan phase: 30 days after census data to create Draft Plan (April 14)

Post-plan phase: 60 days more to complete Final Plan (June 14)

THE PLAYERS

* Alaska Redistricting Board:

Four Republicans: Joe Torgerson (Kenai), Jim Holm (Fairbanks), Bob Brody (Kodiak), PeggyAnn McConnochie (Juneau)

One Democrat: Marie Green (Kotzebue)

Staff: Executive Director Ron Miller, attorney Michael White, staffers Taylor Bickford, Jim Ellis, Eric Sanders, Mary Core

* Watchers submitting plans:

Alaskans For Fair Redistricting (AFFR) -- AFL-CIO and Native Organizations (akfairredistrict ing.com/)

Alaskans for Fair and Equitable Redistricting (AFFER) -- Republican Party Chair Randy Ruedrich and friends

Bush Caucus: Legislators from Native rural districts

RIGHTS Coalition -- Democratic Party

Bristol Bay, Juneau, and Valdez

(All draft plans are at akredistricting.org/)