A divided Alaska Supreme Court has reversed course and approved the Alaska Redistricting Board’s attempt to create an election district in Southeast that with have a strong Native presence.
The practical effect of that is to group several heavily Native communities together, and put Republican incumbents Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, and Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, in different districts.
The Supreme Court’s ruling, issued Tuesday, states Alaska should use the redistricting plan the Board adopted on April 5, which has been approved by the U.S. Department of Justice. That scheme puts Petersburg in the same district as downtown Juneau, something Petersburg has opposed.
The court’s Tuesday ruling maintained the district maps it approved in a surprise action last week complied with the requirements of the Alaska Constitution, but acknowledged they’d face difficulty winning federal approval.
A number of Native groups, including the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indians of Alaska, the Alaska Native Brotherhood, the Alaska Federation of Natives and Sealaska Corp. had joined the cities of Haines and Metlakatla in challenging the districts ordered drawn by the Alaska Supreme Court that disregarded the option of creating a district with a concentrated Native presence.
“There is a risk that the United States Department of Justice would decline to pre-clear them under the Voting Rights Act,” the court acknowledged in its Tuesday decision.
If the maps were overturned, it could make it difficult to hold this year’s elections in an organized manner. Elections officials had said they needed to have districts set by May 14, and the filing deadline for candidates is June 1.
Using election districts that may be overturned risks “great disruption to the election process,” the court’s Tuesday order said.
The maps that are now required to be used include Petersburg in a Juneau-dominated district that now includes downtown and Douglas, as well as Tenakee Springs, Gustavus, and Skagway.
While the current plan separated two incumbents in northern Southeast, it places Reps. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell and Kyle Johansen, R-Ketchikan in the same district.
The Senate parings don’t change, with Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, remaining the only legislator who won’t have to run for re-election this year and Sens. Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon and Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, facing each other.
This is a developing story. Check back here or pick up Wednesday's Empire for more.
• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at email@example.com.