Board member explains switch in redistricting vote

Posted: Wednesday, January 09, 2002

ANCHORAGE - A member of the state redistricting board testified Tuesday that she changed her position on a key part of the plan after viewing an aerial photograph.

Leona Okakok said the aerial photo convinced her that southern Anchorage shared rural qualities with Valdez. That decision sparked one of nine challenges to the new redistricting map that is before an Anchorage Superior Court judge this week.

The plan, narrowly approved by the five-member Alaska Redistricting Board, has been called unconstitutional by communities split under the map and blatantly partisan by Republicans affected by it.

In one case, the plan links Anchorage to Valdez to create a new district seat. The board had earlier considered combining Anchorage with the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

Critics have said the proposed district fails to satisfy state constitutional requirements that districts be compact, of equal population and integrated socially and economically.

Okakok said board members attempted to satisfy the constitutional requirements but said "we were not to make superhuman efforts to make things fit."

Okakok, an employee of the Arctic Slope Regional Corp., testified she changed her vote after an aerial photo convinced her southern Anchorage was not urban.

Pollster David Dittman, who testified via telephone for the plaintiffs, said surveys of five communities showed residents in Valdez and Anchorage feel they have little in common. The telephone surveys involved more than 900 residents conducted between Oct. 19 and Nov. 1 and had a margin of error of 3 to 7 percent.

Okakok and fellow board members Vicki Otte and Julian Mason voted in favor of the plan. Otte and Mason were appointed by Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles. Okakok was appointed by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Dana Fabe, who is a Knowles appointee.

Board members Michael Lessmeier and Bert Sharp, both Republican appointees, voted against the map, calling it blatantly partisan.

The map, which is being disputed by key Republicans in the Legislature and the state Republican Party chairman, pits 20 GOP incumbents against each other in the 2002 election.

The trial before Judge Mark Rindner is expected to last about three weeks.

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