Court rejects Petersburg's last appeal

The Alaska Supreme Court has rejected a last-ditch redistricting appeal from Petersburg, and said at least this year’s elections should be conducted with Petersburg part of Juneau-based legislative districts.

The court made its final action Wednesday.

“I guess we’re not surprised,” said Kathy O’Rear, city clerk in Petersburg.

The city won a surprise victory for its quest to be grouped together with more similar communities of Sitka and Wrangell earlier this month, but then saw the Supreme Court reverse itself not long afterwards and return to the original Petersburg and Juneau grouping.

Also part of that district will be Skagway, Gustavus and Tenakee Springs, along with Juneau’s downtown and Douglas Island areas.

O’Rear said the city would continue to advocate for its preferred electoral map, but said there is a concern that whatever is done for the 2012 elections will be the final maps for the next decade.

“That’s what we’re afraid will probably happen, but we’re going to stay on top of it and see if it can be changed,” she said.

The Alaska Redistricting Board, faced with the difficult task of adding about 3,000 people to the two Juneau-based districts to keep all the state’s districts with relatively the same population first added Petersburg. Then, its surprise decision was to switch to include Haines and Skagway with Juneau’s Mendenhall Valley district.

That plan satisfied Petersburg, but equally offended Haines, which wanted to be grouped with other small communities. That plan had a political problem as well, placing two incumbent Republicans, Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau and Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, in the same district.

It also threatened to reduce Native voter representation, raising the likelihood the plan would fail to get required “pre-clearance” from the U.S. Department of Justice as is required by the Voting Rights Act.

After the court went back to the plan that grouped Juneau and Petersburg together, O’Rear said the city would probably have to now live with that.

“It will definitely be a change for us, there are just so many differences between the communities,” she said.

The court Friday granted “friend of the court” status to several groups who opposed that plan, including Haines Borough, Sealaska Corp. and Central Council of the Tlingit-Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.

The court Wednesday also rejected a motion from the Alaska Democratic Party to extend the June 1 candidate-filing deadline

And the court also declined to block implementation of the interim plan for the 2012 elections, but held open the possibility that it would rule differently if the Justice Department fails to pre-clear the plan before the Aug. 28 primary election.

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

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