Board member wanted redistricting map to fix rural problems

Posted: Thursday, January 17, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The chairwoman of the Alaska Redistricting Board testified Wednesday that she wanted the state's new voting map to fix problems affecting rural Alaskans.

''You were trying to fix things through the redistricting plan,'' lawyer Michael White said while cross-examining Vicki Otte.

''Yes,'' said Otte, who is executive director for the Association of ANCSA Regional Corporation Presidents and CEOs.

Otte was the first witness called by the defense in the trial in Superior Court in which the map faces nine challenges. Critics say it is not only partisan, but it fails to satisfy the state's constitution requiring compact districts of equal population that are integrated socially and economically.

The map maintains two Senate districts with a majority Native population and preserves one Senate district with at least 35 percent Native population. The Justice Department has ruled that it preserves political representation of Alaska Natives.

Plaintiffs rested their case Wednesday after calling 39 witnesses over more than eight days. The trial before Judge Mark Rindner is expected to last about three weeks.

Otte was asked if she wanted the map to balance power between rural and urban Alaska, even though more than three-quarters of Alaskans live in urban areas.

She denied that the plan was weighted in favor of rural Alaskans.

''I wanted something that was fair for the entire state of Alaska ... no matter where they lived,'' she said.

Otte also denied that she knew that the plan would pit 20 incumbent Republicans against each other in the 2002 election, but no Democrats.

''I don't ever remember counting them,'' she said.

Plaintiffs pointed to two documents Otte provided to the court that illustrated how the plan would affect incumbents.

''So your testimony is that these documents magically appeared?'' White asked.

''I do not recall seeing them,'' Otte said.

Otte and board members Julian Mason and Leona Okakok voted in favor of the plan. Otte and Mason were appointed by Democrat Gov. Tony Knowles and Okakok was appointed by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Dana Fabe, herself a Knowles appointee.

Michael Lessmeier and Bert Sharp, both Republicans, voted against it.

Otte said the board received just one report on socio-economic issues before approving the plan on June 9, 2001. The report was received three days before.

She responded Wednesday to testimony Lessmeier gave Tuesday in which he said Otte told him she had to vote for the plan or lose her job.

Otte said it was Lessmeier who asked her whether she was under any pressure from her employer to vote a certain way. She said she told him she served at the pleasure of her employer and could be dismissed at any time.

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