Redistricting board considers changes to legislative map

Posted: Sunday, April 14, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- The Alaska Redistricting Board approved a new legislative map on Saturday after talks with several groups that had fought the plan previously.

The board voted 5-0 to adopt the new map less than a month after the state Supreme Court rejected a prior plan.

The board adopted a compromise plan proposed by board member Julian Mason which fixes deficiencies pointed out by the state high court.

Mason's plan creates a ''Richardson Highway'' district that includes Valdez and portions of Fairbanks. It also pairs Anchorage with the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and links a section of Fairbanks with the Denali Borough.

Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich said Mason's plan for the Fairbanks North Star Borough is similar to one proposed by his party.

''He went a long way in responding to the direction of the courts,'' Ruedrich said.

The state Supreme Court ruled March 21 that more than half of the 40 districts were not compact, of equal population or socially and economically integrated.

The board was ordered to redraw all Anchorage districts to better balance the population and to review a district including the Denali Borough and part of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough for compactness.

The court also agreed with Valdez that it was improperly linked to south Anchorage.

Bill Walker, attorney representing Valdez, said the so-called ''Richardson Highway'' district created this weekend is a ''huge improvement'' over the previous plan.

''We are quite pleased with the results. We strongly and fully endorse this plan,'' Walker said.

The five-member board held a day-long meeting on Saturday where it heard presentations from several groups on how to fix a reapportionment map rejected by the state Supreme Court in March.

The state Republican Party and Alaskans for Fair Redistricting, a lobbying group representing Alaska Natives, labor and environmental interests, each weighed in with recommendations before the board took action.

The weekend work session lacked much of the partisan rancor present when the last map was approved. That redistricting map, drawn by the lobbying group Alaskans for Fair Redistricting and hastily approved on a 3-2 board vote, drew angry criticism from Republicans.

In a minority report submitted after the vote, board members Michael Lessmeier and Bert Sharp called the vote ''a charade.''

Republicans roundly criticized the plan as blatantly partisan after it pitted 20 GOP incumbents against each. No Democrats faced similar pairings.

While Ruedrich still disagrees with three Kenai Peninsula Borough districts, he said Saturday that Mason's plan largely responds to complaints brought before the court.

Myra Munson, a Juneau lawyer and lobbyist for Alaskans For Fair Redistricting, said her organization supports the plan and will not fight it in court.

''We think it's time to end this litigation and allow people to go forward with something other than redistricting,'' Munson said.

All the plantiffs in the case except for the city of Craig agreed not to dispute the map before the court, said Gordon Harrison, board executive director.

The board has until June 1 to approve a plan to meet a deadline for candidates' filing for the November election. But the plan also requires approval from the Department of Justice, a process that could take 60 days.

Harrison, board executive director, said it could at least a week for staff to formalize the plan.

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