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Redistricting board faces Senate conflicts

Posted: June 6, 2011 - 7:49am

The Alaska Redistricting Board is planning to guarantee Southeast Alaska will no longer have three state Senate seats, but it also ensured the region won’t drop below two senators.

For the last 10 years, Southeast has had three of the 20 members of the Senate, but lately had a population that barely justified two.

Currently, those are Sens. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, and Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon.

The decision also ensures that two of those politicians will have to run against each other, and based on the lines the board has drawn that tentatively means veteran legislators Stedman and Kookesh will face each other.

The plan is expected to be challenged in court however, and a judge will likely draw final lines, several observers said.

“I’m not concerned about redistricting, I’m going to run for re-election regardless,” Stedman said.

Kookesh was traveling and unavailable for comment, but earlier said he expected such an outcome.

The population centers in the district in which his hometown of Angoon has been located are Sitka and Ketchikan, both of which Stedman already represents.

Speaking earlier in the year to the Native Issues Forum, Kookesh said Alaska’s partisan redistricting process, with a board made up of four Republicans and one non-partisan member might give him a district in which he couldn’t win re-election.

“If that happens, its time for me to ride off into the sunset,” Kookesh said, noting that he’d already served 16 years in the Legislature.

Each of the state’s Senate seats represents two House districts, and Southeast’s population loss relative to the rest of the state leaves it with only enough population to justify four districts in the region.

What the board has yet to decide formally is what’s called the “pairing,” deciding which two House districts will be combined to make a Senate seat.

The region’s geography may help decide that answer, however. Each seat is supposed to, as much as possible, represent a community of common interests. That’s widely expected to mean the two House districts in Juneau would make up a Senate seat, as they do now.

In discussions over the last week, however, board members said they intended to abandon an earlier plan they had brought forward that called for non-contiguous pairings.

Were the board to pair two Southeast House districts with districts elsewhere, it is possible the region could wind up with only a single senator, though it might also wind up with three.

The Redistricting Board plans to continue near daily meetings before its June 14 deadline for releasing a final plan.

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