Tempers flare as legislators joust over redistricting plan

Posted: Friday, November 02, 2001

Tempers erupted on Thursday when a bipartisan panel of lawmakers met to discuss the status of the Legislature's legal challenge to a redistricting plan opposed by Republicans.

But the GOP-led Legislative Council ultimately opted to continue its efforts to fight the plan, over objections of Democrats on the panel, which represents the Legislature's interests when lawmakers are not in session.

The council also hasn't given up on its appeal of the Katie John subsistence case to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to an attorney who briefed the panel Thursday. The council is challenging a recent decision by the clerk of the court to deny the Legislature's appeal, said attorney Ted Popely, who represents Republican lawmakers.

The clerk rejected the appeal last month, saying the council filed it too late. The Legislature now is asking the justices to overrule the clerk, he said.

"I don't know when we'll hear back from the court. It's unusual territory," Popely told the council.

The Legislature appealed after Gov. Tony Knowles in August dropped his challenge to the Katie John case, which paved the way for a federal takeover of subsistence fisheries management on federal waters in Alaska.

Meanwhile, Anchorage Republican Rep. Joe Green and Anchorage Democratic Rep. Ethan Berkowitz exchanged heated words during talks on the Legislature's challenge to the new redistricting map.

The GOP opposes the plan because it pits 20 incumbent Republicans against each other in the 2002 election but leaves Democratic strongholds intact.

An Anchorage Superior Court judge last week dismissed the GOP-led Legislature from a lawsuit challenging the map. However, Judge Mark Rinder said the Legislature could file "friend of the court" briefs, relegating it to a more limited role in the proceedings.

Green, the council chairman, said he wanted to use a large portion of $250,000 earlier approved by Republican lawmakers to hire expert witnesses. Berkowitz demanded to know whether Green intended to share the state-funded witnesses with nine communities and Republican leaders who have filed separate lawsuits against the redistricting plan.

Berkowitz said that would be inappropriate because the council is supposed to represent the interests of the Legislature, not the Republican Party.

Green called Berkowitz an "obstructionist" and told him to "quit being a child."

"That's an inappropriate comment," Berkowitz shot back.

Green later apologized to Berkowitz, saying he let his emotions get out of hand.

Juneau Democratic Sen. Kim Elton questioned why the council needed to hire expert witnesses, since friend-of-the-court status does not allow it to call witnesses during the trial.

Anchorage Republican Sen. Dave Donley said it is appropriate to hire experts to consult with the council's attorney on the Legislature's briefs. Donley also said the council should let its lawyer decide whether to share the witnesses with plaintiffs.

The council voted along party lines to spend the $250,000 to file briefs and to hire expert witnesses. The trial is scheduled to start in January in Anchorage.

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