Redistricting board broke and forced to ask GOP for funds

Posted: Sunday, March 31, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- The Alaska Redistricting Board doesn't have the money to finish work on a new legislative map ordered by the state Supreme Court.

After an expensive legal battle against numerous groups -- including top GOP leaders in the state -- the board has about $38,000 remaining and a June 1 deadline to complete its work.

''The phone works and we have lights on, but we need a source of funds ... in order to keep going,'' said executive director Gordon Harrison.

The Alaska Supreme Court found that House Districts 5, 12 and 16 were not compact enough and also ordered all Anchorage districts to be adjusted in a March 21 ruling.

Harrison said the board requires staff to formulate several optional maps that board members need to approve to send to a judge.

''We sort of tentatively think it could be a four-day meeting and we don't have the money for that,'' Harrison said.

But Republicans who control the Legislature have accused the board of crafting a partisan map that benefits Democrats. The map pits 20 GOP incumbents against each other.

Nine lawsuits were brought by communities and Republicans disputing the map. The Legislature was barred from filing suit, but earlier it approved spending $250,000 to aid the lawsuit.

Among those involved in the lawsuit were state House Speaker Brian Porter, R-Anchorage, Senate President Rick Halford, R-Chugiak, and state Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich.

Partisan rancor was evident this week when the Senate Finance Committee rejected a request by Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, to give the board $474,000. The request was rejected on a 5-2 party-line vote.

Senate Finance Co-Chairman Dave Donley, R-Anchorage, said he's received letters from the two Republican board members recently urging that no funds be given to the board.

''One of the concerns was they were politically biased and ruthless in gerrymandering,'' which prompted the expensive legal battle, Donley said.

Donley said additional funds may be approved at a later date for the board to complete its work, adding he wants ''to see that the board actually works together this time.''

Donley also suggested requiring four board members to agree to spend funds within its budget.

The board approved the 40-district map in June on a 3-2 vote. It also approved extending the contract of its attorney by the same vote after the lawsuits arose.

Board members Vicki Otte, Julian Mason and Leona Okakok voted in favor of the legislative map.

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.

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

Legislative districts must be finalized by the June 1 deadline for candidates to file for election. Any proposed map must also go through a 60-day approval process from the Justice Department.

Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, who oversees the state Division of Elections, said a delay past May 1 could require the courts to reschedule the candidates' filing deadline and primary election.

Donley said legislative leaders are considering using excess funds from the Legislature's budget to meet the request at a later date. He said it is unclear how much excess money is available and gave no timeline for approving the spending.

Harrison said he was optimistic that the Legislature would eventually give the board additional money to meet and formulate a legislative map.

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