Cordova to battle redistricting plan in court

Posted: Wednesday, July 11, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- The city of Cordova plans to sue over the new state redistricting plan, which pairs Cordova with communities in a Southeast Alaska House election district.

Cordova Mayor Margy Johnson said city leaders decided they had no choice, despite concerns about the cost of a lawsuit for the town of 2,400.

''City officials feel we can't afford not to sue,'' said Johnson, noting the City Council agreed to spend at least $35,000 on the lawsuit. ''We feel the city of Cordova will be dramatically affected, and we're not going to let it happen.''

The Alaska Redistricting Board's plan, approved last month on a 3-2 vote, would pair Cordova in Prince William Sound with Southeast's House District 5, known as the Iceworm or Islands District. District 5 currently stretches from Metlakatla to Yakutat and includes communities with high concentrations of Alaska Natives.

The district fell in population during the 1990s, but breaking it up was not an option because federal law protects Native-influence districts from dilution, according to the board.

The panel defended its proposal in a final report, saying all statewide redistricting plans submitted by the public proposed a Southeast district extending into Prince William Sound. The only plausible alternative was to move some parts of Juneau's House District 4 into House District 5. That would have left the Islands District low in population and disrupted Juneau, according to the report.

However, Johnson said the board's plan is unacceptable because it would separate Cordova from Valdez, another Prince William Sound community. The cities currently share the same House district.

''We want the Prince William Sound together - we are the Prince William Sound,'' Johnson said. ''No amount of state erasers are going to take away the fact we are the Prince William Sound.''

Although other communities have approved funding legal challenges to the plan, no one has filed a lawsuit, said Gordon Harrison, the board's executive director. The deadline to sue is July 18.

The Valdez City Council voted in June to battle the plan in court and Valdez Mayor Bert Cottle said the city probably will file a lawsuit by Monday.

The Craig City Council also approved a legal challenge. Mayor Dennis Watson said the city probably will file it by early next week.

Alaska Republicans have blasted the plan as partisan because it would force 20 GOP incumbents to run against each other.

Besides passing legal muster, the board's plan needs approval by the U.S. Department of Justice. The redistricting board plans to submit its proposal to the Justice Department after July 18.

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