Craig mayor takes stand in state redistricting trial

Posted: Tuesday, January 15, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The mayor of Craig testified Monday that Alaska's new redistricting map makes it impossible for Prince of Wales Island residents to receive fair representation.

The map pairs the Southeast Alaska island with Interior villages in a newly created Senate district. It also places Prince of Wales communities in two separate House districts -- Hollis and Thorne Bay on the eastern side of the island in the Ketchikan House district and the rest of the island, including Craig, in a House district represented by Rep. Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon.

The plan pairs the island and its approximately 4,500 residents with a Senate district that extends all the way to Russian Village on the lower Yukon River and Arctic Village 100 miles north of Fairbanks.

''We don't deal with the people in that area on any basis, any level,'' Mayor Dennis Watson said. ''It created a district that is unprecedented in the United States.''

The Craig City Council voted unanimously in June to sue the state over the plan after it was approved by the Alaska Redistricting Board on a 3-2 vote. The challenge is one of nine being heard in Anchorage Superior Court.

Watson said the Senate pairing is problematic because people living in villages along the Yukon River feel Southeast Alaska's chum hatchery is hurting their fishery.

The hatchery, however, has been keeping the Southeast chum salmon fishery afloat, he said.

''The people along the Yukon drainage believe our chum hatchery should be stopped,'' he said. ''Frankly, it is a mainstay of our fishery.''

Watson has lived on the island for 28 years and works as a commercial fisherman.

Prince of Wales Island should be aligned with Ketchikan about 65 miles east, he said.

''I think that would be more acceptable than somewhere on the Yukon River,'' Watson said. ''We have more in common with Seattle and Portland, Oregon, than the Interior Rivers district.''

Critics have said the map violates the state constitution because it fails to satisfy requirements that districts be compact, of equal population and integrated socially and economically.

Republicans also complain that the plan, which pits 20 GOP incumbents against each other in the 2002 election, is blatantly partisan.

Board members have testified that they did their best to satisfy constitutional requirements given population shifts shown in the 2000 Census.

The trial before Judge Mark Rindner is expected to last about three weeks. It entered its second week Monday.

Philip R. Volland, the board's lawyer, asked Watson if he was aware that state law now requires that Senate seats be comprised of two contiguous House seats. He said Prince of Wales Island cannot be aligned with Ketchikan under that requirement.

He also asked Watson if he thought moving Prince of Wales voters into Ketchikan's House District would violate the requirement that districts be of equal population.

''I can make no sense of it, no matter how you put it,'' Watson told him.

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