Redistricting plan OK'd amid rancor

No Juneau changes, but Cordova added to 'Iceworm' voting district

Posted: Sunday, June 10, 2001

The final plan passed Saturday by the Alaska Redistricting Board returns Juneau's voting districts to their present configuration.

An earlier draft of the plan, which sets state Senate and House districts for the next 10 years, had moved the Juneau district lines slightly to meet ideal population numbers. In the end, the board decided the change wasn't worth it.

But communities in the Southeast island district saw a larger change, with the addition of Cordova to the already elongated "Iceworm" district, which currently stretches from Yakutat to Metlakatla. Cordova has threatened to sue over the change.

The Alaska Redistricting Board meeting was marked by bitterness, accusations and tears. Republican members, at a one-vote disadvantage, made a last-ditch effort to stop enactment of the plan.

Board member Michael Lessmeier tried to keep board chair Vicki Otte from voting. He claimed her position as Executive Director of the Association of ANCSA Regional Corporation Presidents and CEOs created undue pressure to support the plan presented by Alaskans for Fair Redistricting (AFFR), a Native coalition. An attorney for the board determined there was no conflict.

Later board member Bert Sharp disparaged the work of the board, accusing other members of collusion and ignoring the public.

"As far as I'm concerned a mockery's been made of the public process," Sharp said.

Lessmeier backed him, claiming the outcome was determined from the outset by the appointments to the board.

"It's a political process designed to further a political agenda," Lessmeier said.

Board member Julian Mason countered that his only agenda was to bring change in accordance with the redistricting guidelines and balance the power between urban and rural populations.

"The principles have been consistently applied throughout the state," Mason said.

In the end, the 3-2 vote followed party lines, with Democratic appointees Mason, Otte and Leono Okakok outweighing Republican appointees Lessmeier and Sharp.

Wiping away tears, Leono Okakok said she will avoid serving on public boards in the future.

"It's been a tough process, not just on us, but our families," Okakok said. "We've been called all kinds of names, some mercifully blacked out by the staff."

Sen. Georgiana Lincoln, a Rampart Democrat whose large rural district was often debated, thanked the board after the meeting. She will be the only incumbent in a Senate district linking the interior rivers House district, which wraps around Anchorage and Fairbanks, to the lengthy Iceworm district.

"I have no problem with running in that district," she said. "It's just going to be a little bit harder to get to some of those areas."

The Iceworm district is one of seven Senate districts that may have changed enough that the incumbents will have to run mid-term in 2002, when the new districts go into effect. The senator for Juneau will be up for re-election anyway that year, and Senate District A covering Ketchikan, Sitka, Wrangell and Petersburg is basically unchanged.

In the Anchorage area, 10 incumbents will run against each other for five seats. The redistricting board will determine which senators will run for two-year seats and which for four-year seats at their next meeting at 10 a.m. June 18.

Though board members continued to refer to it as the AFFR plan, the redistricting map passed Saturday was significantly different than the one originally presented by AFFR, said Myra Munson of Alaskans for Fair Redistricting. Comments from Fairbanks, Anchorage and other areas were incorporated in numerous drafts of the map, Munson said.

"We are perfectly satisfied," she said. "Our goal was to have a public process. We think that happened."

Kristan Hutchison can be reached at

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