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Greater clarity requested from redistricting board

Posted: Thursday, May 05, 2011

Central Kenai Peninsula residents asked Alaska's Redistricting Board for more clarity in its plans for drawing the state into new House and Senate districts at a public hearing in Kenai on Tuesday night.

Alaska's constitution charges the board with redrawing lines across the state after each census is taken. Part of the process includes holding public hearings about its draft plans in communities around the state.

Both districts that serve the central Peninsula right now grew in population. As a result, the urban Soldotna-Kenai district got a little smaller, board member John Torgerson said. And the surrounding rural areas are being re-configured into various districts, which vary between the board's plans and the privately-drawn plans that it is also taking testimony on.

Jim Harpring, from Funny River Road, asked the board to consider his community and create maps that enable area residents to figure out which district they would be part of. Both the narrative and maps didn't specify river or road mile markers, he said. Harpring also said the Funny River area doesn't have as much in common with the Homer district that one plan seems to pair them with.

"We'd like to stay aligned with 34," he said.

House District 34 is the current rural Kenai district that includes Nikiski, Kasilof and other area communities. Nikiski Republican Mike Chenault represents the area.

Sharon Waisanen echoed the sentiment that better maps would help communities on the edge of each district figure out their new districts. The current plans toss her neighborhood -- the Big Eddy area -- in with the rural district that stretches from Nikiski to Hope. But her life revolves around Kenai and Soldotna, she said.

"Basically, I can see the Kenai Spur Road from my house," she said.

Kenai resident Judy Salo said it was hard to testify on the current proposals because she knew they would change before being adopted. But she asked the board to remember how changes affect the voters.

"It becomes one more thing that confuses the public and, I think, has a chilling affect on voter turnout," she said.

Salo served in the state House and Senate in the 1990s, including a stint as a senator representing a district that ran from Kenai to South Anchorage.

The changes also make it hard for elected officials. Candidates for state office must file to run by June 1, affirming that they've been a resident of the district they're running in for one year. But the board doesn't have to have an absolutely final plan until mid June, and that's subject to litigation, so would-be politicians might not know exactly what district they'll be part of.

Torgerson said that is just part of the process every decade.

He also noted the current plans definitely aren't the final edition.

"I couldn't tell you to what degree we'll change 'em, but they'll change," he said.

On Friday, the board will accept a round of private plans from around the state and hold a final public hearing via teleconference. Later in May, they'll begin drafting the final plan. Torgerson said he expected the board to decide on a final plan by early June, leaving a week for official maps to be drawn and final details decided.

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



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