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State redistricting trial begins in Fairbanks

Posted: January 11, 2012 - 1:02am

FAIRBANKS — Two state senators have testified that the state’s redistricting plan is political gerrymandering intended to eliminate one of them to make way for a Republican.

Sens. Joe Paskvan and Joe Thomas testified Monday in the first day of what was expected to be a two-week trial challenging the state redistricting plan, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (http://bit.ly/Ay0kWW ) reported Tuesday.

The redistricting board maintains the federal Voting Rights Act requires them to violate the Alaska Constitution’s requirements for compactness and socio-economic contiguity in districts to protect Alaska Natives’ voting power.

Much of the attention in the lawsuit so far is focused on House District 38, which pairs Ester and Goldstream Valley, where plaintiffs George Riley and Ron Dearborn live, with parts of the Denali Borough and the western coast.

The latest development has focused on Senate pairings. Under the state’s redistricting rules, two adjacent House districts can be paired together to make a Senate district. But the plaintiff’s attorney, Michael Walleri, argued those pairings don’t make sense.

“What we’re going to be talking about is the irrational Senate pairings,” Walleri said during opening arguments. “You’ve got these cities mish-mashed together, you’ve got boroughs mish-mashed together.”

The plan pairs the west Fairbanks district with a district north of Fairbanks containing Farmers Loop, Fox and Two Rivers. East Fairbanks is paired with North Pole. The Chena Ridge, College and Tanana Flats areas are paired with Salcha.

Traditionally, the west and east Fairbanks districts constitute one Senate district, which is filled by Paskvan. By pairing west Fairbanks, where Paskvan lives, with the Farmers Loop, Fox and Two Rivers district, where Thomas lives, one of the senators has been drawn out of a seat, Walleri said.

While most districts are connected through long borders, the Senate district in question only shares a few hundred feet, which was further proof, Walleri claimed, that political motivations were at play.

“When I looked at it and for the very first time became aware of the proposed pairing not with the east side and west side, but the west side and this massive area north of Fairbanks, the word that came to mind is gerrymandering,” Paskvan said.

In his opening arguments, the Alaska Redistricting Board’s attorney, Michael White, said both of the Senate seats will maintain representation for the borough and neither of the senators have the constitutional right to expect to have their districts maintained.

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