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Redistricting rearranges peninsula

Board draws lines connecting Kenai, Soldotna in one House district

Posted: Tuesday, June 12, 2001

Kenai and Soldotna share one House district, and Nikiski and Sterling share another under plans adopted by the Alaska Redistrict-ing Board.

Official maps depicting Kenai Peninsula election districts were not available Monday. However, districts the board adopted Saturday closely mirror those proposed by a group called Alaskans for Fair Redistricting, said George Harrison, the redistricting board's executive director.

House District 33 includes Kenai, Soldotna and most of the area surrounded by Kalifornsky Beach Road and the Sterling Highway.

District 33 shares Senate Seat Q with House District 34, which includes Nikiski, Salamatof, Ridgeway, Sterling, Cohoe, Clam Gulch, Ninilchik, Happy Valley and Nikolaevsk.

The area from Cooper Landing to Seward and around the coast to south Kachemak Bay, East End Road, Homer, Anchor Point and southwest Cook Inlet lands in House District 35, which shares Senate Seat R with Kodiak and much of the Lake and Peninsula Borough.

"The testimony in Homer was that Seward played a role in their community, not because of the road connection, but because of fishing and tourism," said redistricting board member Julian Mason, an Anchorage attorney.

Hope lands with Valdez, Whittier, Girdwood, Bird and Indian in House District 32, which shares Senate Seat P with District 31 in the Abbot Loop-Hillside area of Anchorage.

Tyonek is in House District 6, which encompasses most of the Yukon-Kuskokwim drainage. District 6 shares Senate Seat C with House District 5, which reaches from Chenega to Hydaburg and Metlakatla.

"We tried to keep the Kenai Peninsula together as much as possible, and we did that," Mason said.

The board rejected a plan to split East End Road from Homer in a House district with Sterling, Nikiski and Seward, and to put south Kachemak Bay in a House district with Kodiak.

"In Homer, people were really clear about not wanting Port Graham, Seldovia and East End Road split away. They viewed that as a community of common interest," Mason said.

Redistricting board member and former Fairbanks legislator Bert Sharp said the board voted 3-2 for the final plan with Sharp and Michael Lessmeier, a Juneau trial lawyer, dissenting.

"I'm not happy. I wasted six months of my time," Sharp said.

Formerly, the governor appointed the redistricting board and drew election districts with the board's advice.

Under a 1998 amendment to the Alaska Constitution, though, the redistricting board no longer is advisory to the governor, who now appoints just two members. The other three are appointed by the presiding officers of the House and Senate and by the chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court.

Gov. Tony Knowles appointed Mason and Vicki Otte, director of the Association of ANCSA Regional Corporation Presidents and CEOs. Sen. President Rick Halford appointed Sharp, House Speaker Brian Porter appointed Lessmeier, and Chief Justice Dana Fabe appointed Leona Okakok, an Arctic Slope Regional Corp. employee.

Sharp said he originally thought the new rules would take the politics out of redistricting. However, he said, the board adopted the Alaskans for Fair Redistricting plan -- which he said was proposed by Democrats and Native groups -- with little heed to extensive public testimony.

"They had it all worked out from the beginning," he said. "Julian Mason hand-carried and presented the Democratic plan to the board and spoke in favor of it all the time."

Kenai testimony unanimously opposed putting Kenai and Soldotna in one House district, he said, and communities from Healy to Valdez wanted to be part of a highway corridor House district.

"They took Valdez out and destroyed that district," he said.

The plan cuts the core from four of the five former House districts in Fairbanks, he said.

"The only one left with most of its core is Democratic," he said. "In Anchorage and Fairbanks, the plan matches a remarkable number of incumbents against each other."

Lessmeier said the result was a plan written not by the board, but by a special interest group with a political agenda.

"I think the agenda was to take away as many Republican incumbents as possible," he said.

Mason said his goal was to give rural areas a stronger voice. The 1990 plan split the cities and paired the pieces with rural areas, he said.

"The result is that you only elect people from the most urban part of the districts. The people who surround them, which are rural, tend to have no direct voice in the Legislature," he said.

The 1990 redistricting paired Nikiski with Kenai and split off Soldotna, he said. The new plan changes that.

"By pairing Kenai with Soldotna, that gives you one House seat that comes from the most populated area," he said. "Nikiski and the rural areas around it are another House seat. They are paired for a Senate seat."

Similarly, he said, the board replaced the former Fairbanks districts, which stretched from urban to rural areas. Instead, it drew two downtown House districts that share one Senate seat, and two House districts north and west of Fairbanks that share another. A fifth House seat represents the North Pole area.

The plan incorporates ideas from the Alaskans for Fair Redistricting, the Tanana Chiefs Conference and a grass-roots Fairbanks group, he said.

"I certainly was a proponent of it. It certainly was not predestined, and there is no way it could have been prearranged," he said.

Otte said her goal was a plan to "balance out the power in the state" and allow fair resolution of issues such as school funding and subsistence.

"I'm looking in urban-rural terms and at what's fair for every person in the state, no matter where they live," she said. "You look at education funding and the court challenges that have been going on, and a majority of the people wanting to resolve subsistence and not being able to vote."

Accurate maps of the new legislative districts are available on the World Wide Web at www. inforain.org/akmaps/full_rep/district_maps.htm on the Web.



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