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Petersburg renews its objections to election boundaries

Posted: May 24, 2012 - 11:06pm

Petersburg, which briefly won its challenge to the Alaska Redistricting Board’s decision to group it in Juneau-dominated legislative districts, is now appealing its latest loss.

The Petersburg City Council this week authorized its attorney go to court to try to reverse the Alaska Supreme Court’s surprise ruling Tuesday that included Petersburg into a legislative district based around Juneau’s downtown.

“The council is kind of disappointed the court reversed itself,” said Mark Jensen, a Petersburg Council member and acting mayor.

Previously, Haines had been included with Juneau instead of Petersburg.

Jensen said he appreciated the difficulty the board, and the court, have in finding additional population to add to one of the two Juneau House districts to make populations equal.

“I don’t think either Haines or Petersburg is really comparable to Juneau, or downtown Juneau, it’s totally different,” he said.

Petersburg prefers to be represented by the same legislators that are representing Wrangell, Sitka or similar, more rural, fishing communities.

Under the latest plan being proposed, called the “amended proclamation plan,” Petersburg is part of the downtown and Douglas district now represented by Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau. Also in that district are Tenakee Springs, Gustavus and Skagway.

The Redistricting Board heard testimony from its attorney that Petersburg and Juneau are likely to have sufficient common interests, such as reliance on the Alaska Marine Highway System, to be part of the same district.

He did not say which communities would be considered the most similar, just that all those under consideration would likely to be found acceptable.

Haines, now represented by Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, is in a district that groups Southeast villages such as Hoonah and Metlakatla in an effort to create a district with the highest possible number of Native voters, as the federal Voting Rights Act is designed to accomplish.

Several Native organizations, including the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sealaska Corp., urged the court to attempt to create such a district, and a divided court this week agreed.

Jensen said he didn’t know what the likelihood was that the court would even agree to hear Petersburg’s motion for reconsideration.

“It is totally up to the court whether they even want to listen to that appeal,” he said.

Fairbanks opponents are also appealing the decision, which must be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice before it can take effect.

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

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