The new legislative districts approved by the Alaska Redistricting Board on Monday are far from perfect. Yet for the most part, they will benefit rural Alaska.
The redrawn map, which must be approved by the Department of Justice, is subject to lawsuits 30 days after its passage. There will be a number of them.
To begin with, the districts are extremely partisan. Based on a plan created by Alaskans For Fair Redistricting, a group comprised largely of Alaska Natives and Democrats, the map pits 20 Republican incumbents against each other. Districts represented by Democrats are largely untouched.
And the map is extremely unfair to communities in Prince William Sound and along the Richardson Highway, which have been parceled up to fulfill the population needs of distant areas with which they have little in common.
Valdez is roped into an Anchorage-dominated district with urban neighborhoods that share few economic similarities. And Cordova is part of House District 5, a huge swath of land that extends from Prince William Sound to Alaska's southeastern tip.
Both communities have legitimate grounds for a successful lawsuit.
But while the map is flawed, it's successful on many fronts, especially given the limitations of the process.
It's been said that creating districts in Alaska which must be contiguous, compact and socially and economically integrated is as difficult as the state is vast.
Significant population shifts, coupled with Alaska's diverse landscape and lifestyles, make redistricting a tremendously challenging process. It's not surprising that every attempt since statehood has been challenged in court.
While the board should not have relied almost entirely on the AFFR plan, detractors would do well to remember the challenges of reapportionment.
The map's greatest achievement is that the Bush will maintain 10 representatives, though rural population numbers have dropped significantly since the 1990 Census.
It's our hope that when the smoke clears and the flurry of lawsuits dies down, Prince William Sound will be less divided, but rural Alaska will retain its representation.
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