Haines objects to capital city link

Juneau's northern neighbor fears being 'swallowed up' in new legislative district

The Haines Borough, like Petersburg before it, is objecting to being joined into a new Juneau-dominated legislative district.

 

The Alaska Redistricting board last week dramatically redrew Southeast Alaska’s election districts on the orders of the Alaska Supreme Court.

Now, instead of Petersburg being joined to Democratic Rep. Beth Kerttula’s downtown and Douglas district, Haines is being proposed to be added to Republican Rep. Cathy Muñoz’ Mendenhall Valley district.

That’s got Haines incensed, and resulted in an emergency Assembly meeting Friday to vote to challenge the new maps in court.

“We do not believe that we are socio-economically integrated with the Mendenhall Valley, we don’t have the same concerns, the same needs,” said Haines Mayor Stephanie Scott.

“We see Mendenhall Valley as a suburban community and we are a rural community,” she said.

The Redistricting Board’s action took Haines, and many others, by surprise Monday when it adopted new Southeast maps that grouped Haines with Juneau. The board had previously attempted to group enough Native voters together to ensure they’d have a strong, if not majority, voice in at least one Southeast district. Monday’s change meant that Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, would be in the same House district as Muñoz.

Scott said Haines fears being “swallowed up” by Juneau. There are only 3,000 people in the new district’s small communities of Haines, Skagway and Gustavus, compared to 14,000 in Juneau’s valley district, she said. Further, the valley district’s representative is likely to side with the downtown representative, she said.

“I can’t imagine that the representative is going to have as much time to listen to us as necessary,” she said.

Haines will be an even smaller part of the Senate district, made up of the two Juneau-dominated House districts.

Thomas, who now represents a district stretching throughout Southeast and all the way to Cordova, is easily accessible because he lives in Haines, but Scott said that’s not why Haines objects to the new plan.

“It’s not about Bill Thomas or not Bill Thomas, it’s about our voice,” she said.

Haines and other communities outside Juneau are much different than Juneau, she said.

“It’s an urban-rural question as much as anything else,” she said.

“It’s about the value of a rural lifestyle,” she said. “We don’t want the (Juneau access) road.”

Redistricting board members said the Alaska Supreme Court requirement to redraw the Southeast map came after court decisions elsewhere suggested what had been considered a “Native influence” district with about 35 percent Native voters wasn’t good enough to meet the requirements of the Voting Rights Act requirement to maximize minority voting strength.

With no way to draw a map in Southeast that reached majority Native, the Supreme Court instead wanted maps drawn to meet the Alaska Constitution’s requirements of compactness, contiguity and common interests.

That lead to the dramatic change, they said.

Scott said she didn’t know whether Haines could win its case or not.

“This is not an argument you can make because you can win, it’s an argument you make because it is the right thing to do,” she said.

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

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