Several cities challenge new redistricting map

Posted: Wednesday, July 18, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- A redistricting plan that would pit 20 incumbent Republican legislators against each other and change the representation of cities and boroughs across the state is headed for the courtroom.

Several cities filed lawsuits this week disputing the new map, and with a Wednesday deadline for challenging the plan looming, attorneys and government officials promised more lawsuits.

''We believe this map is the epitome of gerrymandering,'' said Craig City Administrator Tom Briggs, referring to the practice of shaping legislative districts to benefit one political party. ''I can't imagine why they would have done it.''

Craig filed a lawsuit in Ketchikan Monday saying the map violates the state Constitution, Briggs said. Valdez also filed a lawsuit challenging the new map on Monday. Delta Junction filed its lawsuit on Tuesday, said attorney Ken Jacobus. Cordova and the Aleutians East Borough have also threatened lawsuits.

The Alaska Redistricting Board drew its boundaries for the state's 20 senators and 40 representatives last month following public hearings around the state.

But shortly after the 3-2 vote approving it, two members charged that the board disregarded public comments and adopted a map proposed by Alaskans for Fair Redistricting, an interest group that includes Natives, labor and environmental groups and trial lawyers.

The new plan shifts boundaries enough so that all but three members of the GOP-controlled state Senate would have to run again in 2002.

''I don't think there was any question about the intent of the redistricting, and that was to nail the Republicans. But in nailing the Republicans, they harmed fair representation of most of the people in the state of Alaska,'' said Jacobus, a Republican activist in Anchorage.

Jacobus said he also represents a group of citizens in Anchorage who plan to challenge the map.

Vicki Otte, chairwoman of the board, denied the board was motivated by partisan concerns and said the lawsuits were not unexpected. Board members supporting the plan had said that the map was an effort to reunite neighborhoods split by a 1990 plan drawn by a Republican board appointed by then-Gov. Walter J. Hickel.

''There has never been a redistricting without a lawsuit, and we knew going into it that there were going to be people that were unhappy,'' Otte said.

Sarah Palin, mayor of Wasilla, is among those who are unhappy with the new map. Palin said about 40 percent of the work force in her city commutes to Anchorage daily and so Wasilla has more in common with that city than its new district partner, Fairbanks. Wasilla plans to file a lawsuit on Wednesday, Palin said.


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