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Redistricting data paints dismal picture for Southeast

Posted: Thursday, March 17, 2011

Redistricting experts throughout Alaska began reviewing new 2010 Census data Wednesday, and in Southeast that was mostly a grim task for elected officials.

Each of the state’s 40 House of Representative districts should have a relatively equal share of the state’s population, which the new census put at just over 710,000 people.

That calls for an average of 17,755 residents per district. None of Southeast’s five districts are close to the average, and one is the smallest in the state.

It’s not unexpected by those who have been watching Southeast’s population barely hold steady and decline in the south, while Anchorage and its suburbs grew.

Now, it’s all but certain that Southeast will lose one of those seats, with the others changing dramatically.

“Each of the districts is going to look a lot different,” said Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau.

As Southeast loses a representative, it likely means two of the five will wind up in the same district and be faced with running against an incumbent to remain in the Legislature.

“I don’t want to run against any of the other people from Southeast, we all know each other well and work well together,” Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said.

The Alaska Redistricting Board received the data from the U.S. Census Bureau Wednesday, and immediately began work on drafting its plan. Under state law, the board has 30 days to issue its draft plan.

Unlike some states, where politicians draw new district boundaries, in Alaska that task is given to an independent board.

Politics remains, however, as appointees from the governor, Senate president, speaker of the House and chief justice of the Supreme Court all make appointments.

The elected officials all appointed members of their respective parties to the redistricting board. All are Republicans, so the board now includes four Republicans and the chief justice’s appointment, who is non-partisan.

Chairing the board is John Torgerson, of Kenai, a former state legislator. Vice-chairwoman is PeggyAnn McConnochie of Juneau.

The final plan doesn’t have to have each district the same size. In 2000, several districts were five percent or more off. Those were generally rural districts in large, lightly populated stretches of Alaska the plan tried to make more manageable.

One of those is the district of Sen. Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, which stretches from the state’s southern tip through Southeast’s small villages north through the Interior, making it the largest state election district in the nation.

More than half of Kookesh’s district is now outside Southeast, and election observers speculate that district will be lost from Southeast as well.

Muñoz said she hopes things will be different in 10 years.

“I think it’s a wake-up call for us that we need to be actively working to promote economic development for our region, because the Mat-Su and Anchorage are growing at a rapid rate,” she said.

After the board’s plan is released in 30 days, it will be available for public comment, and most plans in recent years have been challenged in court as well.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or at patrick.forgey@juneuaempire.com.



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