Redistricting threatens Southeast representation

Posted: Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Alaska's redistricting process, based on the ongoing U.S. Census, is likely to be bad news for Southeast Alaska, state Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich told Juneau Republicans Monday.

Alaska's population growth is focused in Southcentral, which will likely gain new seats in the Alaska Legislature, with some coming from Southeast and other rural areas.

"Falling behind is very, very sad," said Ruedrich, one of the state's top experts on redistricting.

He expressed doubts that a proposal to add additional seats to the Legislature would help.

Alaska, he said, is thought to have gained about 70,000 residents since the 2000 Census. The exact number will be revealed early next year, at which time work on redistricting will begin in earnest.

If those 70,000 people were spread evenly around the state that would mean 1,750 new residents in each of the state's 40 House districts. Those districts failing to grow by that amount will need to have additional area - and people - reapportioned to them to bring them to the average so that each district has about one-fortieth of the state's population.

Juneau, which currently has two House seats, isn't keeping up with the rest of the state and will need to add to stay even.

In Ketchikan, the situation is even worse. Ruedrich said he remembers when the city had a state senator and two representatives. Now, they'll have to have additional area added just to maintain a single seat in the House of Representatives.

The problem, he said, was the local economy.

"If you don't have a vibrant economy, people are leaving and not enough people are moving to town and you suffer in consequence," he said.

Southeast currently has five House seats, though one must stretch all the way along the Gulf of Alaska to Cordova to incorporate enough population.

Ruedrich said he remembered when the fast-growing Mat-Su Borough had only two representatives, now it has four and after the next redistricting its growth is likely to give it five.

"Their population (growth) is amazing," he said. "They build schools and you'd assume the temporary classrooms would go away. No, they get redistributed but they're still there."

Mat-Su is now poised to exceed the Fairbanks North Star Borough as the second-largest political entity in the state, behind Anchorage, he said.

The way the redistricting process will work in Juneau, he said, was if north Juneau has lost 1,000 people and had begun slightly below average it is going to have to add many new people.

"For north Juneau, District 4, to retain its integrity in a full-sized district it will have to add close to 3,000 voters," he said.

What's in question is where District 4, now represented by Republican Cathy Muñoz, will get the new voters.

"They may come from central Juneau, there are other places you might consider, but that's the way it is going to work," he said.

Several Southeast and other rural legislators in the last legislative session advocated a ballot measure expanding the Legislature by six seats, four House districts and two senators.

While some areas would retain seats they'd otherwise lose under that measure, each legislator would have less power and the three of the four new House seats will go the Anchorage Mat-Su area, he said.

"I'm not sure that anybody benefits," he said, while it would increase legislative operating costs.

That measure is Ballot Measure 1 on the November general election.

People who think they are gaining from that aren't gaining, Ruedrich said, but acknowledged that he'd not studied the measure closely.

"A vibrant economy is the way to maintain your representation," he said. "Without it just gets tougher and tougher and tougher."

Ruedrich recommended that local residents appear before the state's redistricting commission, which is in the process of being named, when it holds public hearings later. That will help them get the best districts possible, he said.

One thing they shouldn't say, he said, was to recommend that things remain as they are. That simply can't happen, he said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or

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