Legislators vote to join redistricting suits

Posted: Thursday, September 06, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- A Republican-dominated legislative committee voted along party lines Wednesday to join the lawsuits challenging the plan that redraws the state's political boundaries.

The Legislative Council, meeting in Anchorage, also unanimously agreed to appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court a lawsuit against Gov. Tony Knowles over a bill that transferred 260,000 acres of public land to the University of Alaska.

The redistricting plan was ''lopsided'' in favor of Democrats, said Rep. Joe Green, an Anchorage Republican who chairs the committee. The committee represents the Legislature's interests when lawmakers are not in session.

The plan would have forced 20 Republican incumbents to run against each other, ''including myself,'' said Green, if they chose to run. But no Democrats were pushed together, he said. Green has since filed with the state Division of Elections to run for the Senate.

Plus, Green argued, the attorney general's office filed to intervene in the case in August to defend the redistricting plan, so the Legislature should file as well to present its opposition. ''If they have an oar in the water, we should have an oar in the water,'' he said.

For the committee to join the suit, Superior Court Judge Mark Rindner must approve its request. Costs could reach $30,000 for filing and may run up to $250,000 if the Legislature is allowed to participate, Green said.

The state's legislative districts are reshuffled every 10 years in response to the latest U.S. census. Communities and Republican leaders filed nine lawsuits objecting to the new plan, released in June. Rindner consolidated the suits and ordered the trial to start in January.

In the land issue, Democrats joined with Republicans on the committee on the vote to appeal the case against Knowles over the university lands bill.

The council sued Knowles in July 2000 when he refused to implement Senate Bill 7 after lawmakers voted 41-19 to override the governor's veto. Knowles argued they needed 45 votes, a three-fourths majority, to override the veto because the bill was an appropriations measure.

Last month, Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins agreed with Knowles, saying the land transfer would result in a sum of money -- income from UA's sale of the land.

James Crawford, the council's attorney, told the panel that the bill only initiates the appropriation by allowing the land transfer. It doesn't actually make an appropriation, he said. The judge's ruling stretched the definition of appropriations, he said, so the case should go to the high court.

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