Republicans cry foul over redistricting plan

Posted: Tuesday, June 12, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Republicans say a new redistricting plan appears to pit 20 GOP incumbents against each other and is clearly intended to hurt their party.

''It was partisanship at its worst,'' Rep. Eldon Mulder, R-Anchorage, said Monday. ''The big loser in this process was the public.''

Mulder said preliminary analysis of the map adopted over the weekend by the Alaska Redistricting Board shows Republican incumbents facing each other in 10 House and Senate districts. No Democrats would be forced to run against each other.

Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage, said that result was inevitable.

''That's what happens when there are so many of them, and when their districts are the product of gerrymandering,'' Berkowitz said, referring to the 1990 plan, which he said unfairly benefited Republicans.

''When you undo the ill effects of gerrymandering, the beneficiaries of that gerrymandering all of a sudden are forced together,'' Berkowitz said.

Gordon Harrison, executive director of the Redistricting Board, said he could not confirm who would have to run against whom under the plan. The board's staff is still working this week to prepare official maps, descriptions of districts and a proclamation for the June 18 deadline for release of the plan.

Republicans have identified the following legislators as facing each other under the new plan:

Reps. John Harris of Valdez and Con Bunde of Anchorage; Reps. Lesil McGuire and Joe Green of Anchorage; Reps. Norm Rokeberg and Andrew Halcro of Anchorage; Reps. Mulder and Lisa Murkowski of Anchorage; Reps. Fred Dyson and Pete Kott of Eagle River; Reps. Beverly Masek of Willow and Vic Kohring or Wasilla; Reps. Jeannette James and John Coghill of North Pole; Sens. Jerry Ward and John Cowdery of Anchorage; Sens. Dave Donley and Loren Leman of Anchorage; and Sens. Gary Wilken and Pete Kelly of Fairbanks.

That's almost half of the 41 Republicans in the Legislature.

Vicki Otte, chairwoman of the Redistricting Board, defended the plan. The board voted 3-2 Saturday to adopt a revised version of a map put forward by Alaskans for Fair Redistricting, a coalition of Alaska Native, environmental and labor groups and individuals.

Otte said changes in district lines had to be made to account for shifting population throughout the state, and as lines were moved, that caused a ripple effect in other areas of the state.

Otte also talked about wanting to create ''an equal balance of power'' so urban and rural Alaskans could be treated fairly. She specifically mentioned issues some Republican lawmakers have been associated with that angered rural Alaska -- a rewrite of the school funding formula and a failure to resolve the difference between state and federal law on subsistence.

Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich called some of the new districts illogical, pointing to the Valdez-South Anchorage pairing.

''It is very hard for me to believe that anyone could perceive the South Anchorage to Valdez seat to be compact or economically and socially uniform,'' Ruedrich said, referring to one of the constitutional requirements for election districts.

Valdez Mayor Bert Cottle told the Juneau Empire the city will consider a lawsuit.

Ruedrich also complained that the new Mulder-Murkowski district combines the Elmendorf and Fort Richardson military bases, and as a result would have far fewer residents eligible to seek election than most districts because military personnel cannot run for office.

Board member Michael Lessmeier, who voted against the plan, said it was clearly partisan.

''All you have to do is look at Anchorage and look at the efforts they went to to pit Eldon Mulder against Lisa Murkowski,'' he said.

Myra Munson, an attorney for Alaskans for Fair Redistricting, said the group did not know how incumbents would be affected when it put forward the plan because it could never get the software identifying incumbents' addresses to work properly.

She said the plan was endorsed by many people, including six members of the Anchorage Assembly.

This Redistricting Board is the first appointed following the 1998 adoption of a constitutional amendment -- backed by Republicans -- that removed sole power over the process from the governor.

The amendment gave Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles only two picks on the board instead of five. He chose Otte and Julian Mason of Anchorage. GOP leaders in the House and Senate appointed Lessmeier of Juneau and retired Sen. Bert Sharp of Fairbanks.

The chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court chose the final member. A requirement for regional balance forced Justice Dana Fabe to make her pick from the northern region of the state, a Democratic stronghold. She chose Leona Okakok of Barrow.

Otte said the board was not dominated by Democrats, noting she is nonpartisan and has worked for both parties.

After the June 18 release of the plan, people will have 30 days to file lawsuits, Lessmeier said.

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