The Alaska Redistricting Board hopes to have new Southeast election districts drawn by Monday, and Petersburg is hoping its lot in the new plan won’t be the same as it was in the old.
The Alaska Supreme Court, in overturning the last plan, focused its criticism on Southeast, where the maps the board drew were challenged in court by Petersburg.
Petersburg Mayor Al Dwyer said the city now hopes a new rewrite of the election boundaries will link his city with Sitka or Wrangell, as they are now and with which they have more in common.
“We’re nothing like Juneau. Juneau is a government and tourist town,” he said. “We’re fishing, and that’s it.”
The people are different too, with the downtown-based House district being among the state’s most liberal.
“It’s a Republican stronghold here, and it’s tied in with downtown Juneau,” he said.
The board may have drawn the maps the way it did in order to concentrate Native votes in a district where they’d be an important constituency, said Dwyer and other observers, but there may be other ways to accomplish that.
Sen. Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, said the delay in setting the boundaries has been “really frustrating.”
He and other potential candidates don’t know where their boundaries will be, or whether they’ll be changed again one or more times. That may happen even after an election, if the state goes forward with an interim plan that’s later changed.
Kookesh said he knows he’s going to have to run against an incumbent, with the current plan putting him up against Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, in a district Stedman already represents much of.
That’ll be a challenge, Kookesh said, but not as much as if they put Angoon in with Juneau and he has to face Sen. Dennis Egan.
“That doesn’t work for me,” he said, especially since both are Democrats, and he’d prefer the current arrangement.
Elections officials have said they need to know the districts by Monday, and the candidate-filing deadline is on June 1.
Given the tight timelines, and the requirement for Department of Justice approval of the plan for compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act, Kookesh said if a decision can’t be made soon the best thing to do would be to use the current districts for one more election cycle.
“If I had a preference it would be to run on the old lines, and take the next two years to draft a new plan” that would hold up under legal review, he said.
Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho said the city doesn’t have any strong preference, but earlier submitted to the board two possible maps.
Southeast’s population decline relative to the rest of the state means some new population must be added to the Juneau-based districts.
Botelho said the city had proposed adding Petersburg and other neighboring communities as did the board, and also presented an alternative that instead added Haines and Skagway.
The board will meet in Anchorage on Monday and hopes to adopt new Southeast maps then, said Taylor Bickford, the board’s executive director.
The court has ordered new plans submitted by Tuesday at noon.
• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.