Legislator testifies on redistricting difficulties

Anchorage Republican cites district that includes S. Anchorage, Valdez

Posted: Sunday, January 13, 2002

ANCHORAGE - Rep. Con Bunde testified this week on how difficult it would be for one legislator to fairly represent a state House district that includes both South Anchorage and Valdez.

Called as a witness in the lawsuit against the new redistricting plan, Bunde, an Anchorage Republican, said the two communities have little in common and often are on opposite sides of issues.

Bunde said he has voluntarily visited Valdez just once in 40 years and four or five times on legislative business. He said he would try to be fair but would find it difficult to promote Valdez interests when they conflict with Anchorage's - especially because Valdez would have only about 30 percent of the voters.

Bunde acknowledged that he intends to benefit from the redistricting plan by upgrading his long-held House seat to a Senate seat. In the new plan, the Senate district he lives in has no incumbent. That's a real break for someone like Bunde, who has represented the area for 10 years. He already has filed for the seat, he said.

Bunde also commented on changes in the makeup of the redistricting board.

The Legislature, led by its Republican majority and backed by a 1998 vote that approved a constitutional amendment, changed the rules governing reapportionment in an effort to reduce the power of the governor, Bunde said.

Under the old rules, the governor appointed the entire redistricting board. The new rules give the governor two appointments, the Legislature two, and the chief justice of the Supreme Court one.

The board split along partisan lines, and ultimately, Leona Okakok, appointed by Chief Justice Dana Fabe, sided with the governor's appointees, tilting the vote 3-2 in favor of the plan backed by them.

Bunde said he objected as much to gerrymandering done in 1990 by the Hickel administration as he does to the latest plan.

"The intent was to make it less partisan," Bunde said. "I don't think we got it yet, but that was the intent."

Bunde was cross-examined by Anchorage attorney Jeff Feldman, who represents a group defending the new redistricting plan, including the Tanana Chiefs Conference and Doyon, the Native regional corporation.

The bottom line is "your party doesn't like the result that emerged from the process that party designed," Feldman said.

The new Senate district Bunde now hopes to win also mixes South Anchorage with Valdez, Feldman noted. Surely the task of fairly representing both Anchorage and Valdez can't really be impossible, he said.

Bunde said the burden of bad redistricting falls on the people of the district, not the politicians elected to represent them.

When Bunde said no one from Valdez was likely to run against him because a candidate from such a small town couldn't beat the candidate from a city that has 70 percent of the vote, Feldman asked if he'd ever heard of Don Young.

Young lived in Fort Yukon, population fewer than 1,000, when he first ran for the U.S. Congress. He won a statewide race, Feldman said.

"It might be helpful if your opponent dies," Bunde shot back, getting a laugh from the audience.

"Well, that's a cute answer, Representative Bunde," Feldman said.

Feldman was referring to the second time Young ran for Congress, which was the race he won. Bunde was referring to the first time Young ran, when his opponent, Nick Begich, died in a plane crash between the primary and general elections but still beat Young in November.

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