Elton may seek at-large House seats for Juneau

Restoring citywide seats would allow residents to vote for both representatives

Posted: Tuesday, November 07, 2000

Today, Juneau residents are choosing House representatives for different parts of the community.

But in 2002, perhaps all voters will select two people to represent Juneau as a whole, suggests Sen. Kim Elton.

Elton, who's not on the ballot today, said he might ask the new state redistricting committee to bring back at-large House seats for Juneau, which existed until the 1992 election. The five-member committee is charged with drawing new legislative boundaries to reflect the 2000 Census.

"I see Juneau as an integrated community, rather than two communities," Elton said last week. "We got into this artificial thing. If I live in the valley, who do I have to call?"

Rep. Bill Hudson, a Republican, represents the Mendenhall Valley, Auke Bay and areas to the north. Rep. Beth Kerttula, a Democrat, represents downtown, Douglas, Thane, Lemon Creek and the airport area.

Hudson is unopposed for re-election today. Kerttula faces a challenge from Republican Mike Race.

Elton, a Democrat, said there would be no partisan advantage to at-large House seats. Under that format, Hudson was elected simultaneously with former Democratic Rep. now Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer.

But at-large districts would reflect the reality that Juneau's three-person legislative delegation handles all the same issues, regardless of geography, Elton said.

"In Juneau, we all work on behalf of the University of Alaska Southeast," he said. Although the campus is in Hudson's district, "Beth worked very hard to get the $5.5 million for the classrooms" during the past legislative session.

As a matter of course, the three legislators let each other know when constituent concerns arise, Elton said. And constituents often get confused about district lines, he said. When he was the downtown House representative, he said he got calls from people who said they voted for him, only to find out they lived in Fritz Cove.

State Administration Commissioner Jim Duncan, a Democrat who represented Juneau in the House and Senate for many years, said local legislators always have treated Juneau as one district.

"In this community, you ended up representing everyone," he said. "It's a unique community. It's very homogeneous."

Campaign workers and campaign contributions frequently cross district lines. Kerttula's campaign manager, Amber Lee, moved into Hudson's district after being hired. Race said he also has campaign workers from Hudson's district, although he didn't name them.

"It really is a sense of one larger community," Kerttula said. However, all things being equal, her policy is to hire within the district for her legislative office at the Capitol, she said.

Kerttula said she hadn't given any thought to an at-large system for Juneau. "As a practical matter, it doesn't seem we have a problem to be fixed."

Race declined to comment on the prospect.

"I see no momentum for going back to at-large districts," Duncan said.

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