Cordova to battle plan for districts

Town would share state rep with SE communities under revision of political boundaries

Posted: Wednesday, July 11, 2001

The city of Cordova will fight a plan by the Alaska Redistricting Board to pair the town with communities in a Southeast House election district.

Cordova's City Council has voted to file a lawsuit challenging the plan and directed the town's municipal attorney to prepare a legal case, said Cordova Mayor Margy Johnson.

Although Johnson said in June the town of about 2,400 people probably could not afford to mount a legal challenge to the plan approved 3-2 by the redistricting board last month, civic leaders decided they had no choice, she said.

"City officials feel we can't afford not to sue," said Johnson, noting the City Council agreed to spend at least $35,000 on the lawsuit. "We feel the city of Cordova will be dramatically affected, and we're not going to let it happen."

The board's plan would pair Cordova in Prince William Sound with Southeast's House District 5, known as the Iceworm or Islands District, which currently stretches from Metlakatla to Yakutat and includes communities with high concentrations of Alaska Natives. The district fell in population during the 1990s, but breaking it up was not an option because federal law protects Native-influence districts from dilution, according to the board.

The panel defended its proposal in a final report, saying all statewide redistricting plans submitted by the public proposed a Southeast district extending into Prince William Sound. The only plausible alternative was to move some parts of Juneau's House District 4, which includes the Mendenhall Valley and neighborhoods out Glacier Highway, into House District 5. That would have left the Islands District low in population and disrupted Juneau, according to the report.

"It's one thing to put an entire community with other communities, it's another to peel off parts of a community and put it with something that has no relation to it," said Gordon Harrison, the board's executive director.

However, Johnson said the board's plan is unacceptable because it would separate Cordova from Valdez, another Prince William Sound community. The cities currently share the same House district.

"We want the Prince William Sound together we are the Prince William Sound," Johnson said. "No amount of state erasers are going to take away the fact we are the Prince William Sound."

Meanwhile, Bert Sharp, one of two members of the redistricting board who voted against the plan, urged his hometown of Fairbanks on Tuesday to file a lawsuit. Sharp and board member Michael Lessmeier, Republican appointees to the panel, have accused the other three members of rubber-stamping a special-interest group's plan to thrust Democrats into power.

The board's plan, authored by a coalition of unions, environmentalists and Native corporations, would pit 20 Republican incumbents against each other. Democrats have defended the proposal saying it corrects a skewed redistricting plan crafted by the GOP 10 years ago. Republicans gained a veto-proof majority in the state Legislature after their plan took effect in the 1990s.

Although other communities have approved funding legal challenges to the plan, no one has filed a lawsuit, said Harrison, the board's executive director. The deadline to file is July 18.

The Valdez City Council voted in June to battle the plan in court and Valdez Mayor Bert Cottle said the city probably will file a lawsuit by Monday. The Craig City Council also approved a legal challenge; Mayor Dennis Watson said the lawsuit is almost ready and the city probably will file it by early next week.

Craig rejected the plan partly because it pairs House District 5 with House District 6, which spans a vast, horseshoe-shaped area stretching from the Kenai Peninsula Borough north to Arctic Village then south to the top of the Panhandle. The two House districts comprise the sole Senate district for Craig and numerous other communities across the state.

"It's just over the edge. We're going to end up in a Senate district with Arctic Village," Watson said. "We're wondering if we're going to have any say-so in ANWR."

In addition to passing legal muster, the board's plan also needs approval by the U.S. Department of Justice. The redistricting board plans to submit its proposal to justice officials after July 18.

Kathy Dye can be reached at kdye@juneauempire.com.



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