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Alaska Redistricting Board releases two draft plans

Posted: April 14, 2011 - 11:00pm

ANCHORAGE — State Rep. David Guttenberg has been known as the University of Alaska Fairbanks representative, a Democrat popular with youthful voters.

But under a proposed reshaping of Alaska election districts, Guttenberg may be chasing votes 400 miles away in Huslia, Holy Cross and other villages along the Yukon and Koyukuk rivers.

A plan for House districts proposed by the Alaska Redistricting Board and released late Wednesday slices off Guttenberg’s home in the Goldstream Valley from the UAF campus.

He instead would be part of a district that horseshoes around Fairbanks, starting near Kalskag, winding north past Fort Yukon and then east and south to the tip of the Alaska Panhandle.

“I would still have a considerable university population,” he said Thursday, “but not the campus itself.”

As the Legislature winds down and people point out how his direct constituency could change, he’s not overreacting, he said.

“I hate to say these words but I know the Supreme Court in the end will be who draws the map,” he said. “I’m not getting all excited now.”

Districts are redrawn after the national census every 10 years. The restricting board has a host of considerations beyond simply dividing the population into 40 House districts, including a requirement to protect the rights of minorities.

The governor picks two members of the redistricting board and one each is picked by the Senate president, House speaker and Alaska Supreme Court chief justice. Four members this time around are Republicans.

Alaska gained 83,299 residents between 2000 and 2010, bringing its total population to 710,231. The ideal district size identified by the redistricting board for a House district is 17,755 people. Senate districts consist of two House districts.

Demographics have changed over the last decade with people moving out of rural Alaska. Alaska’s Panhandle stands to lose one state representative and former Gov. Sarah Palin’s home, the Matanuska-Susitna region north of Anchorage, stands to gain one.

The board plan proposes Senate districts that are not made up of contiguous House districts. A rural Southeast House district could be paired with an Interior House district.

The plan gives two Senate options for Ketchikan’s House district. One would link it with Valdez, Cordova and Delta Junction. Another other would link Ketchikan with Kodiak and Seward.

Under the Ketchikan-Kodiak plan, Anchorage essentially loses a Senate seat, according to an analysis by Alaskans for Fair Redistricting, a group headed by Carl Marrs and Vince Beltrami. That’s because one of its House seats is paired with a Mat-Su District and another is paired with the Kenai district, giving Anchorage seven Senate seats within the municipality rather than eight.

Under the Ketchikan-Valdez plan for a Senate seat, a south Fairbanks district would be paired with a Mat-Su district.

Board chairman John Torgerson, a former Republican state senator from Kasilof, said in a statement that the board worked hard in an open manner to build draft plans that protect Alaska Native voting rights while providing fair representation for all Alaskans.

Guttenberg said he expects alternate plans to come forward. Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich heads a group that has already submitted an alternate plan. A Democratic Party version will be unveiled Monday, said chairwoman Patty Higgins.

She called it “crazy” to link Ketchikan and Kodiak in a single Senate district. A Republican map for Anchorage, she said, “bleeds all over the place. It looks like amorphous blobs.”

“Ours looks really neat and compact,” she said.

She acknowledged the difficulty the redistricting board faced.

“You tweak one little place and all of a sudden it dominos and nothing works,” she said.

Guttenberg said he and others are waiting to find out exact details of the board’s plans, such as whether the unincorporated community of Ester is in his proposed district.

He’s sure of one thing.

“I am running for re-election. I just have to see what my district looks like.”

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