20 GOP lawmakers may face each other

Redistricting plan is meant to hurt party, Republicans claim

Posted: Tuesday, June 12, 2001

The count of Republican incumbents running against each other under the state's new legislative redistricting plan has climbed to 20.

GOP leaders say the plan is clearly intended to hurt their party. Board members who voted for the plan say the lineup was not intentional. And Democrats say the new election district plan just evens things out from the Republican-dominated reapportionment of a decade ago, which helped put the GOP in charge of the Legislature.

Rep. Eldon Mulder, an Anchorage Republican, said preliminary analysis of the map adopted over the weekend by the Alaska Redistricting Board shows Republican incumbents facing each other in 10 House and Senate districts. No Democrats would be forced to run against each other.

"It was partisanship at its worst," Mulder said Monday.

But House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, an Anchorage Democrat, said that result was inevitable following the last redistricting, under Republican-turned- Alaskan Independence-Party Gov. Walter Hickel.

"That's what happens when there are so many of them, and when their districts are the product of gerrymandering," Berkowitz said, referring to the 1990 plan, which he said unfairly benefited Republicans. "When you undo the ill effects of gerrymandering, the beneficiaries of that gerrymandering all of a sudden are forced together."

Gordon Harrison, executive director of the Redistricting Board, said he could not confirm who would have to run against whom under the plan. The board's staff is still working on official maps and descriptions of districts for next Monday's deadline for release of the plan.

Republicans earlier identified 10 GOP lawmakers as facing each other under the new plan: Reps. John Harris of Valdez and Con Bunde of Anchorage; Reps. Lesil McGuire and Joe Green of Anchorage; Reps. Norm Rokeberg and Andrew Halcro of Anchorage; Reps. Mulder and Lisa Murkowski of Anchorage; and Reps. Fred Dyson and Pete Kott of Eagle River.

GOP leaders on Monday noted 10 additional Republican-vs.-Republican pairings: Reps. Beverly Masek of Willow and Vic Kohring of Wasilla; Reps. Jeannette James and John Coghill of North Pole; Sens. Jerry Ward and John Cowdery of Anchorage; Sens. Dave Donley and Loren Leman of Anchorage; and Sens. Gary Wilken and Pete Kelly of Fairbanks.

The 20 lawmakers total almost half of the 41 Republicans in the 60-member Legislature.

Vicki Otte, chairwoman of the Redistricting Board, defended the plan. The board voted 3-2 Saturday to adopt a revised version of a map put forward by Alaskans for Fair Redistricting, a coalition of Alaska Native, environmental and labor groups and individuals.

Otte said changes in district lines had to be made to account for shifting population throughout the state, and as lines were moved, that caused a ripple effect in other areas of the state.

Otte also talked about wanting to create "an equal balance of power" so urban and rural Alaskans could be treated fairly. She specifically mentioned issues some Republican lawmakers have been associated with that angered rural Alaska - a rewrite of the school funding formula and a failure to resolve the difference between state and federal law on subsistence.

Board member Michael Lessmeier of Juneau, who voted against the plan, said it was clearly partisan.

"All you have to do is look at Anchorage and look at the efforts they went to to pit Eldon Mulder against Lisa Murkowski," he said.

Critics said the 3-2 vote for the plan followed party lines, but supporters said that wasn't true.

In earlier redistricting efforts, the full reapportionment board was appointed by the governor. But this board followed 1998's adoption of a constitutional amendment, backed by Republicans, that split up appointment power.

Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles had two of the five picks: Otte and Julian Mason of Anchorage. GOP leaders in the House and Senate appointed Lessmeier of Juneau and retired Sen. Bert Sharp of Fairbanks.

The chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court chose the final member. A requirement for regional balance left Justice Dana Fabe picking from the northern region of the state, a Democratic stronghold. She chose Leona Okakok of Barrow.

Otte said the board was not dominated by Democrats, noting she is nonpartisan and has worked for both parties.

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