Lobbyist testifies about how redistricting plan got approved

Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A lobbyist for a group that successfully promoted a new state redistricting map testified Thursday she sought support from the Knowles administration, but was disappointed by the response.

Myra Munson, a Juneau lawyer and lobbyist for Alaskans For Fair Redistricting, was asked who she talked with about the redistricting plan.

''I talked to lots and lots of folks... I talked to the folks who would talk to me,'' Munson said. ''We were in an advocacy position. We wanted to achieve a certain end.''

Those people included Attorney General Bruce Botelho and Jim Ayers, Democrat Gov. Tony Knowles' former chief of staff, she said.

Munson hoped the governor would be more involved. She wanted the governor's office to raise money.

''I learned very quickly the governor would not take part,'' she said.

In the 1980s, Munson was commissioner of the Department of Health and Social Services under former Democrat Gov. Steve Cowper. Before that, she was an assistant attorney general.

Knowles appointed two people to the board. He chose Vicki Otte and Julian Mason, who along with Leona Okakok voted in favor of the plan. Okakok was appointed by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Dana Fabe, a Knowles appointee.

Board members Michael Lessmeier and Bert Sharp, both Republican appointees, voted against the map.

Bob King, Knowles' spokesman, said the governor chose Otte and Mason for their integrity. He was not sure if Knowles had any contact with board members during the redistricting process.

''I think that knowing his style he picks good people to do the job but doesn't micromanage them,'' King said.

The five-member board voted 3-2 on June 9 to approve the AFFR plan, which was put forward by a coalition consisting of mostly Alaska Natives, environmental groups and labor groups.

While board members were aware of pieces of the plan, the final version was presented to the board just a few days before it was approved and after public hearings on redistricting ended.

The plan, which is facing nine challenges in Superior Court in Anchorage, has been called blatantly partisan by Republicans because it pits 20 incumbent Republicans against each other in the 2002 election.

Munson cited ''political differences'' for why she did not seek contact with Sharp and Lessmeier.

''Mr. Lessmeier ... was appointed by the Republican leadership. I did not seek him out,'' she said.

Sharp was more interested in maintaining the status quo than in doing something different with redistricting, Munson said.

''We had a fundamentally different strategy,'' she said.

Munson found Mason more receptive to the AFFR plan. Not only did he meet with AFFR representatives several times, but he decided to take a hands-on approach late in the process.

''He was willing, finally, to engage in mapping,'' she said. ''We took advantage of that opportunity.''

Mason testified earlier that he cobbled together a plan after meeting with AFFR representatives because the board could not agree on certain problem areas.

Lawyer Michael White asked Munson about the pairings of 20 incumbent Republicans and no Democrats. She said districts were not drawn to avoid or favor incumbent pairings.

''I don't know how many pairings there are,'' she said. ''I have never known how many pairings there are.''

Munson also was questioned about sources of funding for AFFR and whether the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation was a contributor. White pointed to a $2,500 contribution from Arctic-PAC, the corporation's political action committee.

''It was a political action group, wasn't it?'' White asked.

''If you say so,'' Munson responded.

The plan is facing nine legal challenges in Superior Court. Judge Mark Rindner has until Feb. 1 to forward his decision to the Alaska Supreme Court.

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