April 12: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on preserving the Interior's voice:

Posted: Monday, April 16, 2001

The numbers don't lie: between 1990 and 2000 the largest population growth in Alaska took place in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. Residents of Southcentral can reasonably look forward to receiving greater legislative representation in the redistricting plan now taking shape.

One thing that won't change is the size of the Legislature.

However the members of the state's Redistricting Board choose to redraw Alaska's election districts the outcome must yield 40 House seats, which are then paired to provide 20 Senate seats.

The rules governing the panel's work allow for population differences of no more than 10 percent between those House seats, ensuring all Alaskans receive fair representation in Juneau.

What does this mean for the greater Fairbanks area?

The combined population of House districts 29-34 stands at 89,340. While that's an increase over 1990, it's roughly 7,000 fewer residents than six House districts should ideally contain following reapportionment.

Some might argue that Fairbanks should simply accept the loss of a seat in the Legislature. We'll choose to view this as an opportunity to reunify Interior representation sliced and diced through the political machinations of what were highly partisan redistricting schemes of the past.

Does Delta Junction, for example, have more in common with Fairbanks or Cordova? Do residents of Delta routinely shop here, or in Yukon River villages? Extend that argument to Tok and Eagle, other towns whose residents are linked by highway to this area, but would have to board planes to visit most communities in their present far-flung Rural district.

How about Central and Circle? Both of those historic mining settlements, located out the Steese Highway, developed in close association with Fairbanks.

Both communities were once part of Fairbanks-area legislative districts and most local residents rely upon this town for their supplies.

The current exclusion of Nenana from House District 34 is justified only if one believes that Alaska Native ancestry ought to take precedence over all other traditional measures of commerce and lifestyle. And if racial heritage is the basis for plunking the one Parks Highway town in a larger Bush district, why were different standards applied down along the Richardson Highway?

Shouldn't Legislative districts instead bring together constituents bound by common interests?

Fairbanks is and remains the hub of Interior commerce. Northern Lights Dairy, in Delta, supplies this town's local milk. Golden Valley Electric Association, the Interior electric utility, powers homes and businesses in Delta, using current generated, in large measure, at the Healy power plant. Fort Knox gold mine, likewise, draws much of its power from coal mined in Healy. We could go on and on.

When regional interests are at stake, lawmakers from this area have traditionally set party differences aside and banded together to defend those interests. The Interior Delegation, as its formally known, meets weekly in Juneau, where its members have a long record of coordinated activity on behalf of the highway communities whose interests all intersect in Fairbanks.

There's ample reason for the new bipartisan Reapportionment Board to redraw local house seats and put Nenana, Healy, Delta, Tok, Eagle, Central and Circle back where they belong. If that happens, the population numbers will not only preserve the area's political clout, residents up and down Interior highways will benefit from more focused representation in Juneau.

Bring together the communities that already share a common history of working and playing together.

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