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Split board issues redistricting proclamation

Posted: Tuesday, June 19, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- The Alaska Redistricting Board issued its official proclamation of the state's new legislative districts Monday, but two dissenting board members put out their own report criticizing the plan and the process that created it.

Board members Michael Lessmeier and Bert Sharp -- who were appointed to the board by Republican legislative leaders -- say the plan is blatantly partisan.

''They destroyed neighborhoods and they put 20 Republican incumbents against each other and not one Democrat,'' Sharp said.

Board member Julian Mason of Anchorage defended the plan.

Mason said it united neighborhoods in Anchorage that had been split by a 1990 plan drawn up by a Republican board appointed by then-Gov. Walter J. Hickel. Trying to draw lines more along neighborhood boundaries made it inevitable that incumbents would be forced into the same districts, Mason said.

''We didn't put the incumbents up there and draw lines around them,'' Board Chair Vicki Otte said.

Otte and Mason were appointed to the board by Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democrat, although both said their voter registration is nonpartisan. Joining them in voting for the plan was Leona Okakok of Barrow, who was appointed by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Dana Fabe.

Sharp and Lessmeier said instead of drawing up its own plan, the board adopted a map proposed by Alaskans for Fair Redistricting, an interest group including Native, labor and environmental groups and trial lawyers.

''It was presented to the board in a canned process,'' Sharp said.

Sharp said the board ignored public comments collected in hearings around the state and rejected better proposals that deviated less from the ideal district population.

''The one-man, one-vote rule is really strained on this,'' Sharp said.

Mason, an Anchorage attorney, said board members did not ignore public comment, but weren't always able to accommodate it.

''There is no way you can treat this as though we're managing by applause meter,'' Mason said.

What makes sense for a community of 4,000 may cause cascading boundary shifts that cause greater problems elsewhere in the state, he said.

And Otte said sometimes public comment provided conflicting direction, such as in Anchorage, where the assembly advocated a different approach than the mayor's.

Two districts -- the Kenai-Soldotna House district and a North Slope-Northwest Arctic House district -- deviate from the ideal population of 15,670 by more than 5 percent, but Mason said that is an improvement over the 1990 plan.

One of the more controversial elements of the plan, putting Valdez in a district with South Anchorage, was difficult to avoid, Mason said.

Valdez had been in a Richardson Highway district that included Cordova, Glennallen and Delta Junction, and that district started the process short of population, he said.

Then, because a Southeast Alaska district was also short of population, the Southeast district was extended up to Cordova. That left the Richardson Highway district even lower in population, so it could not continue to exist on its own, Mason said.

The Valdez City Council was planning to discuss whether to file a lawsuit over the plan Monday night, according to the clerk's office.

Delta Junction also is looking at the plan with a critical eye, said Director of Economic Development Pete Hallgren. The city is waiting for final detailed maps, but has heard the plan splits the area in illogical ways, he said.

''The best description I've seen is they took our district and used it for spare parts,'' Hallgren said.

Those who disagree with the plan have 30 days to challenge it in court.

The new plan shifts boundaries enough that all but three senators will have to run again in 2002.

Donny Olson, D-Nome, Robin Taylor, R-Wrangell, and Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage, get to finish out their full four-year terms. Redistricting Board Attorney Philip Volland said that's because their Senate district boundaries changed less than 10 percent under the new redistricting plan.

Seven other senators elected in 2000 will have to run again in 2002 because their district boundaries changed so much they would be representing a different constituency than the one that elected them.

Ten senators are up for election in 2002 anyway, because their four-year terms end then.

It's not unusual for boundary shifts to force early elections after redistricting. After the 1990 plan was adopted, Volland said, all 20 senators had to run in 1992, half for two-year terms and half for four years.

All 40 House members run for re-election every two years.



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