Proposition 2: Vote about representation, not government's size

Posted: Wednesday, September 26, 2001

Although the proposed private prison issue -- Proposition 1 -- is grabbing most of the attention, other important ballot measures also face Kenai Peninsula borough voters on Tuesday.

Proposition 2: Reapportionment

Voters will be asked to choose between nine single-member assembly districts or 13 single-member districts. Currently, there are nine single-member districts.

The question comes before voters as a result of the federal census. Earlier this year, the assembly declared itself to be malapportioned, and a committee was appointed to review the distribution of population within the borough as it relates to assembly districts.

After the last census, voters reduced the assembly from 16 members to nine. Sixteen members was unwieldy -- only four members shy of being the same size as the Alaska Senate. At the time, there was a strong feeling that a smaller assembly would lead to cost savings and more efficiency in decision making.

After a decade of a smaller assembly, there is no evidence that either has been the case.

On the other hand, a good case can be made that a larger assembly has the potential to lead to more representative government. It will take seven votes, not five, to pass legislation. More members means less likelihood of a small group pushing measures through. There is more potential for a greater diversity of viewpoints, which means better government.

While each assembly member must have a boroughwide view no matter what the size of the assembly, under the 13-member plan, each member would represent fewer people -- approximately 3,800 residents as opposed to 5,500 residents under the nine-member plan. Plus, it can be argued that the borough's growth in population means a larger assembly would better serve the needs of borough residents.

While proponents of a nine-member plan argue its efficiency, efficiency is a by-product of leadership and not numbers. If voters choose a larger assembly, it will be incumbent on assembly members to keep costs and meeting lengths under control. A vote for a larger assembly is not a vote for bigger government; it is a vote for more representative government.

The numbers of other assemblies around the state don't offer much guidance. Both the Anchorage Assembly and the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly have 11 members. The Juneau City-Borough Assembly has nine. The Ketchikan Gateway Borough, the Kodiak Island Borough and the North Slope Borough assemblies each have seven members.

Ultimately, it is not the number of representatives borough residents have, but the quality of those representatives that will give them the government they want. Nevertheless, the arguments for increasing the size of the assembly are stronger than those for keeping the status quo.

We encourage voters to choose the 13-member plan.

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