Board releases draft of redistricting plans

Posted: Thursday, April 21, 2011

Forward into the past.

That's how draft Alaska Redistricting Board proposals could be described that reset boundaries for Kenai Peninsula House of Representative and Senate districts. Two options released April 13 draw districts that look similar to the way districts were in 2000. Some features of the draft maps include:

* Putting Girdwood and Turnagain Arm communities in with the north Kenai Peninsula, what's now House District 34 and renamed District 33;

* Removing Seward and the east Kenai Peninsula from the current House District 35 and including it with Kodiak Island;

* Moving the District 35 border north of Kalifornsky and along Skilak Lake, and

* Under option 2, putting the northern Peninsula in Senate District Q with House District 32, the South Anchorage and Hillside area, and putting the Kodiak house district, called District 2, in Senate District A with a house district in Ketchikan.

Option 1 keeps the same house district boundaries, but keeps the north and central Kenai Peninsula house districts in Sen. Thomas Wagoner's Senate District Q and the lower Kenai Peninsula and Kodiak house districts in Sen. Gary Stevens' Senate District R.

"For some reason they're going back to when Jerry Ward was there and had that split with South Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula," said Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, of option 2.

Both of the options on the table right now add Hope, Cooper Landing and other north Peninsula communities into a house district shared with Nikiski and Sterling.

Hope used to be part of a South Anchorage district, while Cooper Landing was lumped in with Seward.

Jim Skogstad, a longtime Hope resident and former Kenai Peninsula Borough assemblyman, said there was value to including Hope in a district with other Peninsula borough communities.

"We should be with the Peninsula district," he said, noting that Hope has historic ties to Cooper Landing and Seward, but that he felt the community probably belonged in a district with Nikiski more than it does Seward and its new partner, Kodiak.

Skogstad said Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, has done a great job of serving the town, but he didn't think it was appropriate for Hope to get separated from other borough communities.

"Why we ended up in the Turnagain Arm-South Anchorage district -- that was just another gerrymandering issue," he said.

Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, who currently serves much of the territory Hope would join, said he thought he could serve Hope and Cooper Landing well if they were added to his district.

"I've got a pretty big district and I've gotta drive quite a bit anyway," he said.

Under the board's draft plans, he would no longer represent communities as far south as Nikolaevsk, as he currently does.

The draft plans also look similar to when Rep. Gail Phillips, R-Homer, represented District 35 and the northern border went near Kasilof.

Redistricting comes in response to the 2010 U.S. Census. Census information was released March 15 to Alaska. The redistricting board had 30 days to release a draft plan. To make all house districts equal in population, each district ideally should have about 17,755 people. Starting this week, the redistricting board holds hearings in 32 Alaska cities. Based on comments, the board expects to change the maps.

"The plans that are out there are made to be changed," said Jim Ellis, administrative coordinator for the Alaska Redistricting Board.

Wagoner, a Kenai Republican who currently represents the urban and rural central Peninsula in District Q, said he doesn't think either of the current options are exactly what the board will adopt later this spring.

"I doubt the districts you're looking at now on the maps are going to be the real districts," he said.

Wagoner said he knew that some changes had to be made based on the necessary size of each district. But he has a rapport with the communities he serves that he doesn't want to lose, he said.

"Ideally, I'd like to have the districts stay as close to the same as they can," he said. "That would be my utopia."

Chenault agreed.

"My ideal district would look about the same as it currently does," he said.

After the board prepares its final plan, the plan goes to the U.S. Department of Justice for review and clearance under the U.S. Voting Rights Act.

Seaton said the southern edge of the draft plan for District 35 wiggles around Nanwalek and Port Graham, but doesn't include village corporation land and fishing areas like Windy Bay and Port Chatham.

"They're defining a map around the area where they don't have anyone living in it," Seaton said.

That's the sort of information the redistricting board wants to hear, Ellis said. He said initial boundaries were drawn according to U.S. Census districts.

Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, criticized putting Kodiak and Seward in the same senate district as Ketchikan.

"I'm not real attracted to the scenario that puts Seward in with Ketchikan," he said.

Putting Kodiak and Seward together does work, he said.

"That's a good district with a lot of commonalities," Stevens said.

The Alaska Democratic Party also had problems with pairing Kodiak and Ketchikan in one senate district.

"You just don't have to do that," said Patty Higgins, Alaska Democratic Party state chairwoman. "It begs the question why you're doing that."

The Alaska Democratic Party is working on its own plan and will release it this week.

Speaking for his Seward constituents, Seaton said he didn't like that trans-Gulf of Alaska pairing of the east Kenai Peninsula and Ketchikan.

"That's going to put them a far distance away from Kodiak or southeast. It seems to me getting the attention of the senator in Seward is going to be difficult," Seaton said.

Senators and representatives also had problems with breaking up the Peninsula house districts to go beyond Kenai Peninsula Borough borders. Currently, except for Hope, Sunrise and Tyonek, most of the three current house districts are on the Kenai Peninsula.

"The plan here disregards the borough lines to a certain extent and disregards the district lines," Seaton said.

"One of the principles should be to try to keep the boroughs together," Stevens said.

At the end of the session last Friday, even though the Legislature faced -- and failed -- trying to pass a budget before the adjournment deadline Sunday, a lot of the buzz in the Legislature was about redistricting, Stevens said.

Public hearings on the redistricting plans will be held on the Kenai Peninsula at these times and dates:

* 2-4 p.m. May 2, Seward City Council Chambers;

* 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. May 3, Homer City Council Chambers;

* 4-6 p.m. May 3, Kenai City Council Chambers;

* 9 a.m.-noon, 2-6 p.m., May 6, statewide teleconference, Alaska Legislative Information offices.

"Folks who are unhappy should go to those meetings," Stevens said.

Draft maps of the two options both statewide and by area are at the Alaska Redistricting Board's website at www.akredistricting.org. To send comments or for more information, contact the board at Alaska Redistricting Board, 411 W 4th Avenue, Suite 302, Anchorage, AK 99501; (907) 269-7402; fax at (907) 269-6691, and email info@akredistricting.org.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

Molly Dischner can be reached at molly.dischner@peninsulaclarion.com



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