The City and Borough of Juneau will submit two plans to the state redistricting board Thursday in Anchorage for how Southeast Alaska should be divided into House districts.
Southeast Alaska’s population has shrunk enough that it will likely go from five districts to four. The city hired a consultant — Jim Baldwin, an attorney with redistricting experience — to assist in drawing up plans for the region. Mayor Bruce Botelho and Deputy Mayor Merrill Sanford also worked with mayors in Southeast to determine their preferences.
The ideal district has 17,755 people. The board allows for a 5 percent deviation in either direction. Another stipulation they must follow is to strive for districts with a Native population of at least 35 percent for Native influence and Native effective districts. That law ensures that districts are drawn so that Native populations have a reasonable chance at a candidate of their choice being elected. So part of the challenge for the consultant was to avoid retrogression — a decline in Native percentages in districts.
Botelho said there is no configuration of districts that would make every community happy in Southeast. Wrangell, Skagway and Petersburg are opposed to being in a district with a large population hub. At least one of the towns has to be incorporated into a Juneau district to meet the population requirement — which aims at having one vote per person. Prince of Wales communities preferred to be integrated into one district, but also not with District 1.
Communities of Southeast view Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan as the population hubs, Botelho said.
Neither of Juneau’s plans include Cordova as part of Southeast. It is currently in District 5. Part of the reason for the exclusion of the northern town is because if Southeast tried to keep five districts, it would need to come up with 7,000 additional people, Baldwin said. Another factor is that District 6 is going to have to find 4,000 more people. To stretch the reaches of Southeast Alaska isn’t feasible, Baldwin said.
The plan keeps District 3 by adding population from existing District 4. District 3 contains downtown Juneau. District 4 would capture population northward to encompass Haines, Skagway and Gustavus. District 2 would go from Yakutat in the north through the entire Prince of Wales in the south. It also would include Annette Island and Saxman. District 1 includes the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, the City and Borough of Wrangell and Petersburg.
Botelho said this is the only configuration that would ensure no regression in Native influence in Southeast.
This plan keeps District 4 intact by capturing population in District 3. District 3 would gain population by moving south to add Petersburg and west to include Gustavus. District 2 would include Yakutat, Haines, Skagway and Prince of Wales. District 1 would include Wrangell, Ketchikan, Thorne Bay and Coffman Cove.
Botelho said this plan satisfies the concerns of the northern neighbors and has the least impact on incumbent legislators.
He added that he discussed the plans with all but one legislator, and his impression was that, overall, they support Plan B. Botelho said he did not ask for them to choose between the plans. He said one concern is that with Plan B, no two incumbents will battle each other for seats.
Different Assembly members asked why different districts weren’t moved north or south further for population or Native influence reasons, but Botelho and Baldwin said that in any other configuration, communities would be split in districts. One of the goals was to avoid that scenario, which currently exists.
Robert Venables, of Haines, told the Assembly that there is a proposal to split Sitka into several districts. He also added he was surprised to read that Juneau was “carving up the turkey” considering the city said it wasn’t going to be the “big bully” of the region. Venables said other communities and organizations have drafted maps and plans. He was curious to know why other alternatives proposed in the region weren’t being looked at, though he said that dividing southeast was going to be a lose-lose situation.
Venables said Southeast needs to work together so that it can get the attention it needs.
Later in the meeting, Assemblyman Jonathan Anderson said he would like to consider other plans as well, however the Assembly doesn’t have any plans that other organizations or communities are working on.
Anderson, expressing concerns about Venables’ sentiment that Juneau is the 800-pound gorilla of Southeast, asked what the disadvantages of not submitting a plan to the redistricting board were, as well as advantages of submitting one. Botelho felt it is important to submit plans since the redistricting board may not know the intricacies of the populations throughout the state. Botelho said the plans provide a framework for the board of what this area could live with.
Assemblyman Bob Doll said that they represent Juneau and it is their responsibility to submit a plan for their constituents. He said considering neighbor concerns is important, but added he was unapologetic for the city taking the initiative.
Assemblyman Johan Dybdahl said he didn’t feel like what they were doing was “being the big bully in the room” because ultimately Juneau will also be subject to other proposals submitted to the state board.
Botelho said his overall impression, at least from the other mayors, is that they appreciated Juneau including them in on the conversations and development of the plans and addressed their concerns.
Sanford said that people were emotional upfront, but once they got to working with the numbers and trying to configure how the districts have to split they were thinking more toward what’s best for their community.
Plans will be taken by the state redistricting board on Thursday. Botelho said the board will issue its first draft by April 15, at which time it will take public comment.
• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.