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Redistricting board hears from Juneau residents

Posted: April 20, 2011 - 9:25pm
Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho, left, and former Juneau Representative Bill Hudson, right, speak with John Torgerson, chairman of the Alaska Redistricting Board during a break in hearing public testimony at the Capitol Wednesday.   Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho, left, and former Juneau Representative Bill Hudson, right, speak with John Torgerson, chairman of the Alaska Redistricting Board during a break in hearing public testimony at the Capitol Wednesday.

Juneau residents told the Alaska Redistricting Board they didn’t always like its proposals for new Southeast legislative districts, but also didn’t’ agree on what should be done.

The redistricting board, doing the decennial redrawing of district boundaries, has proposed options for the state. Each option makes changes only around the margins for Juneau’s two House and one Senate districts. It makes dramatic changes elsewhere in Southeast, however.

Wednesday’s hearing was held at the Capitol, one of several being held around the state.

The board, made up of four Republican and one non-partisan members, has to thread a fine line as it creates districts, keeping districts as contiguous as possible while protecting communities of interest and meeting federal requirements that minority voting interests are protected.

Mayor Bruce Botelho said the plan, while not perfect, met the requirements for his city.

“Both plans one and two and the Southeast alternative, with respect to Juneau, has fully met the criteria,” he said.

He expressed his appreciation to the board for taking Juneau’s recommendations into account.

“I know there are issues elsewhere in Southeast Alaska,” he acknowledged.

In Juneau, the biggest issues involved which surrounding areas should be added to House Districts 3 and 4, the downtown and valley districts, and where the line between the two districts should be drawn.

Juneau Republican activist Paulette Simpson criticized the board’s plan to have two districts dominated by Juneau, one by Sitka and one by Ketchikan. She said that would largely exclude anyone from any smaller community from being elected in Southeast.

Sitka in the 2008 general election turned out three times the votes of any of the smaller cities that would be in its district, she said.

“I’m concerned that both of the board’s plans make it difficult for residents of small towns to be elected to the Legislature,” she said.

She said a district made up of only the small communities would see one of their own elected.

Those living outside the urban centers would lose their voice under the board’s plans, said Juneau’s Tom Boutin.

“The three large communities would just overpower them,” he said.

Boutin also urged against moving the boundary of downtown’s District 3 north. He said that would put the “working people” of valley District 4 in a downtown district he called a “hotbed” of environmentalists.

“It completely disenfranchises them by making their votes meaningless,” he said.

Also of concern was the pairing of House districts with Senate districts. Currently, Juneau’s two House districts are combined to make up Senate District B, represented by Sen. Dennis Egan.

One proposal this year, option No. 2, has Southeast’s other two House districts not paired with each other, but instead paired with districts to the north and west.

That leads to the possibility that both districts would be represented by a senator from the other House district, the board was told.

“Your pairing has a big probability that we will only have one senator from Southeast Alaska,” Juneau’s Willie Anderson told the board.

Democratic Party official Rich Listowski said he doubted that would hold up in court.

Ketchikan and Kodiak do not have an adequate community of interest to group together, he said.

“I believe (option No. 2) may be unconstitutional because non-contiguous House districts make up a Senate district,” Listowski said.

The board will continue to hold hearings on the draft plans around Alaska, ending May 6 with a statewide teleconference.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or Patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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