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Republican Reps. Muñoz, Thomas now pitted against each other

Redistricting board joins Juneau, Haines in new district, excludes Petersburg

Posted: May 14, 2012 - 1:38pm

The Alaska Redistricting Board has pitted two local Republican representatives against each other, but denounced an Alaska Supreme Court ruling it said required that.

The newly drawn district would extend Juneau’s Mendenhall Valley House district north to include Haines and Skagway, as well as Gustavus.

That area is already represented both by Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, and Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines. They now must decide by June 1 whether to file to run against each other in the August Republican primary.

The board met Monday morning in Anchorage and by teleconference to meet a Supreme Court deadline of Tuesday at noon for filing the latest plan.

The change puts one of the Legislature’s most powerful members, Thomas, co-chair of the House Finance Committee, into a district that has elected, and re-elected him by increasing margins.

Now, he’s in a district made up almost completely of Muñoz’ current district. Last year, no one even contested Muñoz’ re-election bid.

The board’s action was driven by an Alaska Supreme Court order that told it to consider the Alaska Constitution’s requirements for legislative district, and disregard the federal Voting Rights Act requirement to maximize Native voting influence to the extent possible.

Thomas is Native, and his current district, made up of several of Southeast and Interior Native communities stretches through Southeast.

Petersburg is now excluded from the Juneau-based district and would now get its wish to instead be paired up with neighbors Wrangell and Sitka.

Redistricting board member PeggyAnn McConnochie called the map the board adopted “abhorrent,” but said the board had no choice given the Supreme Court’s order to adopt it.

The Alaska Supreme Court has told us to do something which I don’t think is right or reasonable,” she said.

The Alaska Constitution required districts be drawn that are contiguous, compact and are similar socio-economically.

The new district meets all those criteria, but now faces increased risk of failing to get approval from the U.S. Department of Justice because its doesn’t meet the Voting Rights Act requirements for maximizing Native voting influence.

“I feel caught between a rock and a hard place,” McConnochie said.

Even though the plan may not meet the requirements of the Voting Rights Act, it will get past the Alaska Supreme Court, she said.

“I don’t believe this map will serve Southeast well,” she said.

The Supreme Court has set a deadline of May 18 for further appeals, which are likely, some board member said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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