Legislature may be asked to fund redistricting fight

Posted: Sunday, November 11, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- With an expensive court battle looming over Alaska's new election districts, board members who approved the map are worried that the board will run short of money to defend the plan.

Should the state-funded board run short on funds, it would have to ask the Legislature for more money.

But Republican leaders in the GOP-controlled Legislature are among those who oppose the plan. In fact, the Legislature will spend $250,000 on expert witnesses and other legal fees to aid the court challenge against the new map.

''It's awkward,'' said Gordon Harrison, executive director of the redistricting board.

The Legislature itself is not allowed to be a full-fledged participant at the trial. But Republican leaders have joined several communities, including Delta Junction, in filing suit against the plan.

Republicans claim the final redistricting map is a partisan attempt to dilute GOP clout in the Legislature. It pits 20 Republican incumbents against one another in the 2002 election.

The board's mission was to redraw Alaska's election districts for the next 10 years, using the new Census data. In June the board voted 3-2 to approve the final map -- with Republican members of the board strongly opposed to the plan.

Challenges to the plan are scheduled to go to trial Jan. 14 in Anchorage.

''It will certainly be a very, very costly trial,'' said Philip Volland, the Anchorage attorney who represents the redistricting board.

On Thursday the board met and voted 3-2 -- along the same lines as the vote on the plan itself -- to commit $300,000 to extend the contract with Volland's law firm.

Harrison said the $300,000 should cover the lawyer costs through the trial. But it's not known how much in other expenses could arise for the trial, or whether any appeal process would break the bank.

Board members Michael Lessmeier of Juneau and Bert Sharp of Fairbanks opposed both the redistricting plan back in June and the commitment of $300,000 for Volland's firm.

''It basically exhausts just about everything we have and leaves us no funds for really any contingency,'' Lessmeier said.

Lessmeier said Volland should attempt to negotiate with those challenging the plan in an attempt to avoid trial.

Such a move, Volland said, would be difficult given the nature of those challenging the new election districts. ''The plaintiffs don't talk with one voice,'' he said. ''That has made scheduling matters difficult, as anything else.''

Board member Julian Mason of Anchorage said $300,000 is what is needed by the law firm through the trial, so it is responsible for the board to commit to that amount.

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