Redistricting must be fair to all

When the Juneau Assembly held its first special meeting about redistricting on March 24, Mayor Bruce Botelho introduced his paid consultant and presented “standards” for drawing Juneau house districts:


1: “The core Capitol complex and associated infrastructure shall be contained in a single house district with population taken from existing House District 3 and 4.”

2: “The remainder of the population of existing House District 4 shall be combined with population found outside the boundaries of the CBJ located in the Northern Southeast region.”

Next to last on the mayor’s list was, “… early outreach to other communities of the region to ensure that they have an opportunity to comment and propose alternatives.”

The mayor must be pleased that the Alaska Redistricting Board’s preferred plan mirrors his own and honors his Juneau-centric priorities.

The Redistricting Board should consider modeling the mayor’s approach and articulate standards for redistricting our entire region — not just Juneau — that consider the big picture and respect our geographic diversity and history of inclusive representation.

When Alaska’s First Territorial Legislature convened on March 3, 1913 the State Senate was comprised of eight members — two from each of the state’s four judicial districts. Southeast’s two senators were from Juneau and Skagway. The 16-member state House of Representatives included four Southeast representatives from Ketchikan, Sitka, Douglas and Wrangell.

In the 98 years since that first Legislature gathered in Juneau, Southeast has consistently elected legislators who reflect the identity of our diverse region. They’ve come from Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka but also from Angoon, Craig, Douglas, Haines, Hoonah, Hyder, Kake, Klawock, Pelican, Petersburg, Skagway, Sulzer (Prince of Wales Island) and Wrangell.

In January 2013, however, if the Redistricting Board’s preferred draft plan for Southeast is implemented, the Alaska Legislature will open with a Southeast House delegation limited to lawmakers from Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka. One hundred years of representation rich in geographic diversity will be over as it will no longer be likely that a resident of a small Southeast community can be elected to the Alaska Legislature. This will happen in spite of the board’s best efforts to meet its constitutional obligations and the requirements of the federal Voting Rights Act.

Currently, Southeast has five House seats. Our representatives hail from Juneau (2); Ketchikan (1); Wrangell, (1) and Haines (1). Our 2½ senators reside in Juneau, Sitka and Angoon.

Population decline in the region will reduce Southeast representation from five districts to four. Juneau, with 31,275 people, will dominate two of those four districts. Ketchikan (13,477) and Sitka (8,881) have sufficient voting strength to control the remaining two.

Juneau’s legislative districts will remain essentially intact; D3 needs 2,322 more people and D4 needs 1,913. Regardless of where the extra population is found, each district will contain at least 75 percent Juneau residents, making it virtually impossible for a non-Juneau legislator to be elected from those districts. Ketchikan’s District 1 is short 4,279 people who, depending on the current Board plan, will come primarily from either Wrangell or Petersburg. With at least 75 percent of the district’s population, the First City will clearly dominate any election.

In both Board plans, Southeast’s third-largest city, Sitka, is grouped with current District 5 villages — the tiny, rural communities that rely largely on fishing, some logging and tourism and generally, a subsistence lifestyle. These communities have similar transportation and energy needs and will suffer maximum disruption under both board plans. When swallowed up by a larger urban community, their voices will disappear into insignificance.

In the 2008 presidential election, Sitka turned out 3,182 voters; Petersburg, 1,183; Haines, 1,067; Wrangell, 855; Hoonah, 332 and Klawock, 269. If either Board plan is implemented, a Sitka candidate with minimal campaign money should be handily elected to the state House from the new district, without ever leaving Sitka. The likelihood of someone else running from anywhere other than Sitka is slim.

Just like Ted Stevens always fought for rural Alaska to keep its air and postal service, energy assistance and health care, the Redistricting Board should configure one of our region’s four remaining districts as a place where someone from a small Southeast community can still be elected to the Legislature. Alaska’s small communities deserve a voice in Juneau.

Simpson is active in Republican politics.


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