Where will the lines be drawn?

Posted: Sunday, April 08, 2001

Kenai and Soldotna voters getting their own Alaska House district? Homer voters casting their ballots along with folks as far away as Adak? Seldovia, Port Graham and Nanwalek residents going to the polls with Kodiak?

Those may be remote possibilities, but they have been suggested to the Alaska Redistricting Board, the body whose job it will be to draw new Alaska House and Senate districts by mid-June.

Armed with the latest federal census numbers, the board late last month dove into the decennial task of divvying up Alaska's population as fairly as possible, attempting to create new election boundaries that will meet state and federal election law requirements. Since the last census in 1990, however, district populations have either grown, shifted or diminished, depending on locale, and the new boundaries are likely to be different from those existing today -- perhaps even radically different, said Gordon Harrison, executive director of the redistricting board.

"The board is doing a quick round of hearings to get some input and ideas before working on a draft plan," Harrison said. "There will be a statewide call-in teleconference on Tuesday. When that is done, the board will start in on its work to try and come up with a draft plan."

The deadline for the draft is April 18. The draft may take the form of a single proposal, but could become several accounting for different solutions to regional variations, he said.

Some suggestions have been submitted already, but the board has not yet looked at or considered any idea formally.

"There is one proposal that came from the Lake and Peninsula Borough and the Aleutians East Borough to consider making up the population loss in House District 40 (which includes the Aleutian Islands) by going to Homer," Harrison said. "District 7 and District 40 are contiguous on the west side of Cook Inlet. That was an idea I said we would try to pencil out as a scenario. I don't know how we would make up the losses (on the Kenai Peninsula), but that is the only proposal I know of that would do anything radical to the Kenai Peninsula."

Would the board really go that way?

"I must say, I'm not sure how the board would regard it," Harrison said. "The other solution (for the Lake and Peninsula Borough) would be to look for that population on the Dillingham side."

A Wasilla-based group called Alaskans for Fair Redistricting has proposed several ideas, including some for the Kenai Peninsula. One would lump Kenai and Soldotna into one House district. Areas outside those cities in the central peninsula would be another district, while a third might center around Homer.

"If you took Kenai and Soldotna into a district, it would change mainly Districts 8 and 9. District 7 might expand to take part of rural 8. That's actually an interesting idea. We get a lot of testimony from rural people who say that their interests differ from those of the cities."

The idea, he said, is to link areas of common interest where possible.

Still another idea, one that has been run up the flagpole in the past, would be to link the communities on the south side of Kachemak Bay with the Kodiak House district.

After the draft plan or plans are made public, there will be a 60-day comment period during which the board will hold public hearings, possibly even in Homer.

"The final drop-dead date is June 17," Harrison said. That's the Alaska Constitution's deadline for submitting a final district boundary plan.

Whether that plan will go the way of past redistricting plans -- that is, straight to the courts -- remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, the new census numbers also have the Kenai Peninsula Borough moving toward redrawing the assembly boundaries.

Assembly President Tim Navarre said this week he will introduce a resolution at the April 17 meeting declaring the assembly to be malapportioned, setting in motion borough procedures for redrawing assembly district lines and possibly altering the numerical makeup of the nine-member body.

"There have been some large increases in some areas," Navarre said of the borough's growing population.

According to borough officials, the borough's population grew by 21.7 percent in the 10-year stretch. The borough's six incorporated cities (Kenai, Soldotna, Homer, Seward, Seldovia and Kachemak City) together registered a 7.9 percent growth rate, while unincorporated regions, led by sharp increases in Sterling and Nikiski, grew by 31.5 percent. Much of that growth in the unincorporated areas occurred close to but outside of cities.

Navarre will appoint a committee to develop suggestions to the assembly about how to align districts with equal representation.

The new federal numbers will become the new benchmark figure on which future state estimates will be based until the next census in 2010.

Hal Spence is a reporter for the Homer News.

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