The Alaska Redistricting Board set up a battle between two incumbent Southeast senators as it adopted the House district pairings that make up each Senate district Tuesday.
The board, meeting in Anchorage and by teleconference, grouped House districts 1 and 2 together, and then did the same with districts 3 and 4.
The board had earlier drawn new House districts, with District 1 including Ketchikan and Wrangell, while District 2 included Sitka, Haines, Hoonah and Angoon.
District 3 is downtown Juneau, along with Petersburg, Skagway, Gustavus and Tenakee Springs, while District 4 in the Mendenhall Valley is almost unchanged from its current boundaries. Democrat Beth Kerttula currently represents District 3; Republican Cathy Muñoz holds District 4.
The Senate pairing of the two Juneau-dominated districts makes sense, said Peggy Ann McConnochie of Juneau, one of the five members of the board.
“We need to keep cities together when it is reasonable and practical,” she said.
That means incumbent Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, will represent a district that includes the area he represents today, with the addition of Skagway, Petersburg, Tenakee Springs and Gustavus.
Egan said he was happy with that district.
“I know a lot of people in those communities and I think I can represent them well,” he said.
That leaves the remainder of Southeast in the other district, which contains two incumbent senators, Republican Bert Stedman of Sitka and Democrat Albert Kookesh of Angoon.
McConnochie said given the population distribution in Southeast, there were few other ways for the districts to be drawn.
“We don’t want to see splitting up Juneau,” she said.
Dividing Juneau into two different Senate districts could wind up with two senators from Juneau, and none from anywhere else in Southeast — an outcome which would likely not be received well outside Juneau, she said.
“Juneau taking over the rest of Southeast” would be unpopular, she said.
“It is important to keep Juneau together,” said another board member “and then you have no choice on the other two (districts) after that.”
Both Stedman and Kookesh have said they were expecting that outcome.
All 40 House members will be up for election next year, as is standard. Yet to be decided is which senators will have two-year terms and which will get four-year terms, and how many will have to stand for election next year.
“We changed every district around so much we need to have everybody run again,” said board chair John Torgerson of Anchorage.
He said the board would attempt to resolve that question today when its meetings resume.
The board’s deadline for a final plan is June 14, but many observers say lawsuits challenging the board’s work are inevitable, and courts will likely adopt the final plan.
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