Alaska's Redistricting News

 

 Alaska Star: "Center of commerce keeps growing 'Place of many places' profile: Eagle River." May 5, 2003
 Juneau Empire: "Finding clears the way for candidates to file." May 28, 2002
 Anchorage Daily News: "New redistricting map approved." April 14, 2002
 Anchorage Daily News: "Bill excludes board's legal fees." April 10, 2002
 Anchorage Daily News: "Redistricting meeting in limbo." April 2, 2002
 Anchorage Daily News: "High court throws out election map." March 22, 2002
 Anchorage Daily News: "Verdict's in on new districts." February 2, 2002
 Anchorage Daily News: "Redistricting judge faces balancing act." January 28, 2002
 Juneau Empire: "Redistricting trial ends after 3 weeks." January 27, 2002 

Alaska redistricitng news from June 19, 2001 - January 17, 2002

 

Alaska Star
Center of commerce keeps growing 'Place of many places' profile: Eagle River
By Greg Dart
May 5, 2003

This is the fifth in a seven-part, monthly series focusing on each of the communities that comprise the area once known only as Chugiak, the Athabaskan word for "place of many places."

The first business in Eagle River may well have been the roadside vegetable stand run by Melva Pippel.

Now, more than 50 years later, commerce is still the lifeblood of this ever changing community.

Pippel Field, now the site of numerous businesses, from Carrs supermarket to health care centers to fast food stands, once flourished with potatoes, carrots and broccoli. Quoted in the book "Between Two Rivers," Pippel explained her husband Walter's aptitude for farming.

"Walter was 100 percent farmer," said Pippel, who died in 1989. "It was born in him. He had the art. Everything he touched would grow."

Though Pippel was talking about agriculture at the time, the word "growth" is still a common one used to define the community. Only these days Eagle River is not growing vegetables as much as it is people, homes and businesses.

Defining Eagle River's boundaries is another matter. According to maps from the Federation of Community Councils, Eagle River consists of the area just south of the North Eagle River interchange, continuing to the Eagle River interchange. The line follows Meadow Creek east from the Glenn Highway, running about five miles. But that could change soon.

Current community council redistricting plans could change lines so that Eagle River includes the new development in Powder Ridge and the new Fred Meyer store. The dense development has more in common with Eagle River than Chugiak or Birchwood, said council president Deborah Luper.

"Those areas fit into Eagle River," she said. "Eagle River is a densely-populated community with a strong business base."

Eagle River derives its name from the translation of the Dena'ina Indian name, "Yukla." The river itself was changed to the English translation in 1912, with the town adopting the name later. An early military survey is said to have dubbed the valley a "miniature Yosemite."

Now a far cry from Yosemite, Eagle River proper is home to about 8,000 people (not counting Eagle River Valley or South Fork) and scores of retail and service businesses, drawing everyday visitors from the outlying communities of Chugiak, Birchwood, and Peters Creek.

The growth of Eagle River's business base began to take off in the early 1970s, said Lee Jordan, founder and former publisher of The Star.

The Tastee Freez, owned by Jesse Wooten, and the North Slope Restaurant, owned by George Makelos, started to form what is now the business district of Eagle River. With the community growing, and a struggle that included the proposed unification of the Greater Anchorage Area Borough and the city of Anchorage, Jordan said the time came that the community needed a forum to have its issues heard.

"We started the paper here in 1971," he said. "At that time we needed to give the people a voice, and speak to the unification issues."

More businesses - as well as homes - sprouted up, and continue to do so to today, though not as rapidly as land is becoming increasingly sparse.

Through the years, one event may have may have marked Eagle River's passing from rural and small to "urban sprawl."

"Getting a sewer extension into Eagle River really sealed its place as an urbanized community," said Jordan. "The infrastructure was there for dense development."

Home construction now in Eagle River includes single-family homes and well as dense, multi-family complexes. Leonard Simmons, who has lived in Eagle River for about three years, said he and his family like the town because it has a good "hometown flavor."

"I drive to Anchorage for work everyday, but my wife wanted to live in Eagle River," said Simmons. "We wanted to be close to stores and schools, but not in a major city."

Simmons is not alone, as 89 percent of the Chugiak-Eagle River workforce makes the daily drive to Anchorage. That makes Eagle River a classic bedroom community, and that's why Anchorage is the determining factor in Eagle River's growth, said Susi Gorski, executive director of the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce.

"The economic health of Southcentral Alaska will be the determining factor in the growth out here," said Gorski. "The economic base here is not independent of that of Anchorage."

Gorski said new businesses going into Eagle River are indicative of the services and retail shops that define a bedroom community, such as the new Fred Meyer, Midas Car Care.

"Until that changes, the Eagle River economy will be determined by Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley," she said.

Continued growth in Eagle River is not something all residents hope for.

"I wish it wouldn't change from what it is," said Ross Ledger, who came to Eagle River with the Air Force. "But I'm sure there are people that said the same thing 30 years ago."

One of those people was Melva Pippel.

"Never again will Eagle River be as beautiful as it was then," said Pippel in 1976, referring to the time when Pippel Field was a farm. "Never will there be anything as lovely as those fields below the mountains were. No one can visualize now how beautiful it all was."

Reach the reporter at gdart@alaskastar.com

Juneau Empire
Finding clears the way for candidates to file
By Allen Baker
May 28, 2002

The Alaska Supreme Court on Friday swiftly rejected the final challenges to the redistricting plan for the Alaska Legislature, issuing a unanimous order affirming the map just hours after oral arguments.

The court's order clears the way for candidates to file for office under the new district plan this week. The filing deadline for the state's primary election is Saturday.

On March 21, the court found major problems with the original map drawn up by the state's five-member Redistricting Board and approved in a 3-2 vote last June. Republicans said the map paired too many Republican incumbents in individual districts, and others complained about districts containing population groups with little in common, such as Valdez and parts of Anchorage.

In its March ruling, the court said House Districts 5, 12 and 16 were not compact enough and also ordered all Anchorage districts adjusted to reduce population deviations.

The Redistricting Board went back to work, and crafted a new map on April 25. This time the plan was approved unanimously.

The board's redrawn map severed the connection between Anchorage and Valdez and instead recreated the so-called "Richardson Highway" district from Fairbanks to Valdez. It linked a portion of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough with Anchorage, and the Denali Borough with parts of Fairbanks. Districts within Anchorage were juggled.

The plan still left about a dozen Republican incumbents facing each other.

The new map was approved by Superior Court Judge Mark Rindner early this month, but a handful of objections were filed, then consolidated into one case. Among the objectors were the Municipality of Anchorage and former state Rep. Terry Martin.

In oral arguments Friday, plaintiffs' attorney Ken Jacobus argued that the new plan had three problems.

He said that residents of District 32, which runs from Eagle River Valley, across the Anchorage Hillside, to Girdwood, Whittier, Portage and Hope, have little in common socially or economically.

Second, he argued that the statewide deviation from the ideal district size was still too high, leaving some areas like the Kenai Peninsula under-represented. And he said two Anchorage House districts were not compact.

The Supreme Court rejected all those arguments.

It said District 32 was socio-economically integrated because all communities in the Municipality of Anchorage are socio-economically integrated as a matter of law.

"While the Eagle River-Chugiak area is socio-economically integrated, its residents have no constitutional right to be placed in a single district," the court said.

As for the deviations from the "ideal" number of residents in a district, the court noted that in Anchorage, the board's redrawn districts deviate from the ideal by 1.1 percent or less. In other parts of the state, the court said, reducing population deviations are more problematic because of other requirements of the Alaska Constitution.

Anchorage Daily News
New redistricting map approved
By Mike Chambers
April 14, 2002

The Alaska Redistricting Board approved a new legislative map on Saturday after talks with several groups that had fought the plan previously.

The board voted 5-0 to adopt the new map less than a month after the state Supreme Court rejected a prior plan.

The board adopted a compromise plan proposed by board member Julian Mason which fixes deficiencies pointed out by the state high court.

Mason's plan creates a "Richardson Highway" district that includes Valdez and portions of Fairbanks. It also pairs Anchorage with the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and links a section of Fairbanks with the Denali Borough.

Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich said Mason's plan for the Fairbanks North Star Borough is similar to one proposed by his party.

"He went a long way in responding to the direction of the courts," Ruedrich said.

The state Supreme Court ruled March 21 that more than half of the 40 districts were not compact, of equal population or socially and economically integrated.

The board was ordered to redraw all Anchorage districts to better balance the population and to review a district including the Denali Borough and part of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough for compactness.

The court also agreed with Valdez that it was improperly linked to south Anchorage.

Bill Walker, attorney representing Valdez, said the so-called "Richardson Highway" district created this weekend is a "huge improvement" over the previous plan.

"We are quite pleased with the results. We strongly and fully endorse this plan," Walker said.

The five-member board held a day-long meeting on Saturday where it heard presentations from several groups on how to fix a reapportionment map rejected by the state Supreme Court in March.

The state Republican Party and Alaskans for Fair Redistricting, a lobbying group representing Alaska Natives, labor and environmental interests, each weighed in with recommendations before the board took action.

The weekend work session lacked much of the partisan rancor present when the last map was approved. That redistricting map, drawn by the lobbying group Alaskans for Fair Redistricting and hastily approved on a 3-2 board vote, drew angry criticism from Republicans.

In a minority report submitted after the vote, board members Michael Lessmeier and Bert Sharp called the vote "a charade."

Republicans roundly criticized the plan as blatantly partisan after it pitted 20 GOP incumbents against each. No Democrats faced similar pairings.

While Ruedrich still disagrees with three Kenai Peninsula Borough districts, he said Saturday that Mason's plan largely responds to complaints brought before the court.

Myra Munson, a Juneau lawyer and lobbyist for Alaskans For Fair Redistricting, said her organization supports the plan and will not fight it in court.

"We think it's time to end this litigation and allow people to go forward with something other than redistricting," Munson said.

All the plantiffs in the case except for the city of Craig agreed not to dispute the map before the court, said Gordon Harrison, board executive director.

The board has until June 1 to approve a plan to meet a deadline for candidates' filing for the November election. But the plan also requires approval from the Department of Justice, a process that could take 60 days.

Harrison, board executive director, said it could at least a week for staff to formalize the plan.

Anchorage Daily News
Bill excludes board's legal fees
By the Associated Press
April 10, 2002

The Alaska Redistricting Board would get a fraction of the money it requested to complete work on the state's legislative map under a measure passed in the Senate on Tuesday.

Senate Republican leaders included $50,000 in a supplemental spending bill to allow the board to make court-ordered changes to the state's new legislative map.

But the funding plan did not include $200,000 in unpaid legal fees incurred while defending legal challenges to the map in court.

"We're not on board for that right now," said Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks. "We're just trying to get the nuts and bolts work of the committee done."

Senate Republicans who crafted the bill included a provision that forbids the board from using any of the funds toward the costs of the legal challenge.

But it would allow the board to hold a meeting Friday in Juneau to consider alternate plans to fix the redistricting map in time for a June 1 deadline, said Gordon Harrison, board executive director.

That map, which would pit 20 Republican incumbents against one another, was struck down by the Alaska Supreme Court in March.

Republicans had accused the board of creating a partisan map that benefits Democrats at the expense of the GOP. Several Republicans, including Senate President Rick Halford, House Speaker Brian Porter and the state party chairman, filed lawsuits.

The state high court ruled that three House districts outside Anchorage were not compact and ordered all Anchorage districts to be adjusted.

Harrison had requested $454,000 from the Legislature to fund the office and pay past legal debts. But that plan met stiff resistance from both House and Senate leaders.

The Senate approved a plan to fund some office expenses and pay for a Friday board meeting planned for 10:30 a.m. in Juneau.

"The $50,000 will keep us going and keep our key staff people here another month," Harrison said.

He said his office requires staff to formulate several optional maps and to pay transportation and other costs associated with holding the meeting.

The board is facing a June 1 deadline, which is also the deadline for candidates to file for state offices. But the map must also undergo a Justice Department review, which could take up to 60 days.

The spending plan approved by the Senate now goes to the House for consideration.

Redistricting Board Chairwoman Vicki Otte said the board wants a commitment from legislative leaders that the funds will ultimately be approved.

The bill is not expected to pass the House and reach the governor's desk by Friday.

Anchorage Daily News
Redistricting meeting in limbo
By Sheila Toomey
April 2, 2002

The Alaska Redistricting Board has scheduled a meeting in Juneau on April 12 to start redrawing state election district lines in compliance with an order issued last month by the Alaska Supreme Court.

But nobody is buying plane tickets yet.

The board has about $38,000, said executive director Gordon Harrison during a teleconferenced discussion Monday morning. With a June 1 deadline looming, the board can't afford to hold a real meeting unless the Legislature gives it more money, he said.

Members, who are required to be from different areas of the state, need to meet face to face for several days so they can study maps and work out a new plan together, Harrison said.

June 1 is the latest candidates can file for this year's primary election. A final, approved redistricting plan is supposed to be available by then.

Board chairwoman Vicki Otte asked what would happen if the board failed to meet that deadline. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," said board attorney Phillip Volland.

In the past, courts have ordered elections held using the old districts if new election boundaries were not established in time.

State Republicans charge that the board's 3-2 majority deliberately crafted a plan that pits 20 Republican incumbents against one another in this fall's election.

So far, Republicans who control the Legislature have refused a request for more money. The Senate Finance Committee last week voted along party lines to reject an immediate $474,000 supplemental appropriation for the board.

At the time, finance co-chairman Sen. Dave Donley, R-Anchorage, said he had received letters from Bert Sharp and Michael Lessmeier, the two Republican appointees to the board, urging him not to give the board more money. But Sharp and Lessmeier both said during Monday's teleconference that they sent no such letters -- to Donley or anyone else.

"I believe the board should be funded to complete the rest of its work," Lessmeier said in an interview after the teleconference, "so long as the funds are not spent simply to further a partisan agenda. . . . I would like to see us rise above partisan politics and take a balanced, objective view, whether Republican, Democrat or independent," he said.

When confronted with Lessmeier and Sharp's statements, Donley said his claim of having received letters from them was an error.

Lessmeier's hopes for a bipartisan effort by the board weren't looking too good. During the teleconference, he suggested the board commit to reaching consensus on the changes, meaning the new plan would need a 5-0 vote to be accepted.

If that seemed too much, he suggested the new plan need four votes to pass. Both suggestions failed by a vote of 3-2, with everyone voting the same way as on the original plan.

Alaska draws new election districts every 10 years to keep up with changes in population as reported by the U.S. census. And every 10 years, the proposed new districts are challenged in court. Nine lawsuits were filed against the 2001 plan.

After a three-week trial in January, a Superior Court judge declared two of the state's 40 proposed new districts unconstitutional. But upon review, the state Supreme Court found problems that could mean moving boundaries for more than half the districts.

Reporter Sheila Toomey can be reached at stoomey@adn.com or 907-257-4341.

Anchorage Daily News
High court throws out election map
By Sheila Toomey
March 22, 2002

The Alaska Supreme Court issued a sweeping rejection of the state's new election districts Thursday and voted 4-1 to return the plan to the Alaska Redistricting Board to be redrawn.

Citing a variety of problems, the justices struck down 22 of the plan's 40 House districts, including all 17 Anchorage districts.

These changes will automatically affect 12 of the 20 Senate districts. A Senate district is made up of two adjoining House districts.

However, changing this many lines is likely to create a ripple effect, necessitating changes in two-thirds of the state's 60 districts, according to Justice Walter Carpeneti, who dissented from the majority.

The decision was released more than a week before the court's self-imposed April 1 deadline. A final plan is supposed to be complete before June 1, the deadline for candidates to file for election this fall.

"We have our work cut out for us," said board chairwoman Vicki Otte.

Federal law requires states to redraw election lines every 10 years based on the U.S. census. Every Alaska redistricting plan since statehood has been fought in court and been overturned to some extent. Nine different lawsuits challenged this one.

The court threw out the Anchorage House districts on the grounds that the population was not evenly distributed.

The justices said the population disparities were unnecessary. They occurred because the board tried to follow neighborhood lines. However, the court said, having equal numbers of voters in each district is more important.

The court ordered the board to reconsider a district that pairs Valdez with South Anchorage. That district was created because the board wrongly concluded it could not legally pair Anchorage with Mat-Su and had to find population somewhere else.

Because of its misunderstanding of the law regarding assignment of fractions of districts, the board "unduly limited" its choices and should look again at whether it needs to put Valdez and Anchorage together.

The court said House District 12, which joins areas north and south of the Alaska Range, also must be reconsidered for these reasons.

A long, snaking Southeast House district that stretches from Cordova to Metlakatla is not compact, but may be required by the federal law that seeks to protect minority voting districts. The board needs to justify House District 5 or change it, the court said.

The justices upheld Superior Court Judge Mark Rindner's decision against House District 16 in Eagle River because it "contains a bizarrely shaped appendage" that is unnecessary. Republicans charged the board with gerrymandering this district so two incumbent Republican legislators would have to run against each other.

The high court also agreed with Rindner that the Lake and Peninsula Borough in Southwestern Alaska can constitutionally be split into two districts.

Finally, the state's northernmost district has too few people, the justices said. House District 40, which stretches from Point Hope across the North Slope to Canada is Native dominated and protected by the federal Voting Rights Act. But the act doesn't justify creating a district with 10 percent fewer people than the optimal election district population, the justices said, a number arrived at by dividing the population of the state by 40, the number of House districts.

Anchorage attorney Mike White, representing the Republican Party leadership, called the decision "a sweeping confirmation of the arguments we've been making."

Attorney Bill Walker, representing Valdez, said he is "very hopeful that as a result of this Valdez will come out not paired with Anchorage." Valdez residents testified during a three-week trial on the redistricting plan that they would prefer to be joined with communities up the Richardson Highway, "communities of like size and similar concerns," Walker said Thursday.

Lawyers for the board argued during the trial that Valdez wanted to be in a district it could dominate, rather than one dominated by Anchorage.

The early decision took people by surprise. White is vacationing in California, prepared to return for a board meeting scheduled for April 8. Otte said the meeting will probably be moved up.

She said she knows the Supreme Court justices did the best they could, but she sounded dispirited by their broad rejection of the board's work. "It's hard for them to know all of what's involved" in redistricting Alaska, she said.

It's a process that makes no one happy, she said. To further complicate matters, the board is out of money and the Legislature has so far refused to fund them further, she said.

"When I got into this, I thought I could be a fixer of all things," Otte said. "Gosh, I wish I could go back and look at it and say, This is something I don't want to do.' "

Whether a massive redrawing of district lines will prove to be a victory for Republicans who led the charge against the proposed plan remains to be seen. At the moment, 20 incumbent Republican legislators have been redistricted so they have to run against another incumbent. However, any new plan will be drawn by the same board that did that.

Reporter Sheila Toomey can be reached at stoomey@adn.com and 907 257-4341.

Anchorage Daily News
Verdict's in on new districts: Ruling: Superior Court finds all but two new state election districts meet constitutional muster.
By Sheila Toomey
February 2, 2002

After three weeks of trial and thousands of pages of evidence, a Superior Court judge has found all but two of the state's new election districts constitutional.

In a 121-page ruling Friday, Judge Mark Rindner said only House districts 12 and 16 fail to meet constitutional muster, although for different reasons.

Rindner rejected allegations that the 3-2 majority on the Alaska Redistricting Board had a "secret agenda" to improperly tilt district lines to favor Democrats, as the plan's foes had claimed.

"Each Board member made a good faith effort to adopt a constitutional plan," Rindner wrote.

He noted that the board rejected an early plan that would probably have elected more Democrats and adopted one that will almost certainly leave the Republican Party with its present legislative supermajority.

Lawyers defending the board and its plan were pleased with the decision, but said they will appeal Rindner's findings against Districts 12 and 16 to the Alaska Supreme Court.

"The judge found that the process was fair and the board members were credible," said attorney Phil Volland. "Given the kinds of allegations that were made at the beginning of this thing, that's especially rewarding."

The redistricting plan was drawn up after the 2000 census as required by law. It was challenged by nine groups of plaintiffs.

The board "worked very hard under a brand new set of rules," said board chair Vicki Otte, who came under fire during the trial. "They put their whole heart into this thing and that's how they made this decision."

Attorneys for the challengers were not happy, but said they won more than is apparent. Redrawing the lines for District 12 will trigger a ripple effect and force the board to redraw lines for several other districts the challengers don't like, said Mike White, who represents the state Republican leadership. .

"There's no easy fix," White said.

Rindner left intact a House district that combines Valdez and the Anchorage Hillside. Although Valdez is unhappy with the pairing, the two communities have enough in common to make the district constitutional, he said. Complaints that the district would be impossible to represent are obviously not true since Rep. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, testified he plans to run for the Senate seat that covers that House district and another one, the judge said.

The Supreme Court has said appeals of the decision must be filed by Tuesday.

Every redistricting plan in state history has been challenged, appealed and changed to some degree.

The one lawyer involved in the current fight who said he had nothing to appeal was Charlie Cole. The former Alaska attorney general represented Janet Halvarson, a Fairbanks resident he admits recruiting to oppose House District 12 because he thought Fairbanks got shortchanged.

"I paid the $100 filing fee myself," Cole said Friday. "I'm going to drink a little champagne tonight."

The challenged House District 12 includes rural areas of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, all of the Denali Borough, Fort Wainwright, Fort Greeley, Delta Junction and part of the Fairbanks North Star Borough. The district is split in half by the Alaska Range and Rindner found that the north and south parts of the district have nothing in common.

House District 16 includes Peters Creek, Chugiak and part of Eagle River. It's an oddly shaped piece of geography with what looks like a giraffe's head stuck on the end. White said the district lines zigged and zagged because the board gerrymandered an adjoining district to include the homes of Republican representatives Pete Kott and Fred Dyson so they would have to run against each other. Then, in order to make District 16 work, they had to snatch a bubble of population from the heart of Eagle River.

Rindner concluded before trial that the shape of the district was not compact, which is the legal way of saying unacceptably gerrymandered. He affirmed that conclusion in Friday's decision.

Rindner dismissed claims of improper political motivation by the board or improper influence by a lobbying group called Alaskans for Fair Redistricting, which prepared the plan the board ultimately accepted. Although the new plan pits 20 Republican incumbents against each other, both sides testified that the seats left open by the pairings will probably be filled by Republicans, he said. The dominant political party is not disadvantaged and the board is not required "to protect incumbents."

The lobbying of AFFR, funded by a group of Native corporations and unions, was legal and proper, Rindner concluded. They did what "any other organized group of citizens could have done."

In rejecting complaints from communities across the state that objected to their assigned districts because of alleged cultural or economic differences, Rindner said no constitution requires that "voters within a legislative district share the same political goals or ideological viewpoint. Conflicts among citizens . . . are an inevitable part of the political process. Competition is an essential part of our economic system."

Fair and effective representation "is less dependent upon the concerns raised by the plaintiffs in this lawsuit," Rindner wrote, "and more upon the quality of the representative elected by the citizens of the district and the willingness of those citizens to be actively involved in the political process."

Anchorage Daily News
Redistricting judge faces balancing act: Case: Rindner sifts through testimony, reports and documents
By Sheila Toomey
January 28, 2002

Three weeks of testimony in the state redistricting trial is done, but the case is really just getting started.

Superior Court Judge Mark Rindner has until Friday to plow through the testimony of 63 witnesses, a pile of reports from dueling experts, and thousands of pages of documents and transcripts -- and produce a written decision.

Reduced to its simplest terms, Rindner has to decide how much community connectedness is enough and how much politics is too much. But there's nothing simple about it. Nine sets of plaintiffs are challenging the redistricting plan drawn up after the 2000 census, and each has its own set of complaints.

Noting the lack of clear rules about how he should balance the requirements of one person, one vote, compactness of individual districts, preservation of minority voting rights, socioeconomic integration, Alaska's forbidding geography an competing cultures, Rindner lamented Friday that, "every time I know' what the law requires, I find something else that makes me consider something different."

Issues of compactness and socioeconomic integration are pretty boring, a sea of information about transportation, economic development, kids basketball games, where a homeowner buys her washing machine, and river vs. coastal fishing.

The political stuff is more interesting but appears to matter less, unless improper influence was exerted over the board or someone's rights got badly squashed. Most courts that consider redistricting conclude that it's inescapably political. Even the challengers in the current case accept that.

"Redistricting in Alaska is no different than anywhere else in the United States. It always has been, it always will be a political process," attorney Mike White said in closing arguments Friday. White represents the state Republican leadership, one group of challengers.

"Every 10 years, whichever party has control of the redistricting board will attempt to use that control . . . to gain political advantage."

The court's job, White said, is to ensure that the people's constitutional rights are not "subject to the whim of the majority."

Phillip Voland, attorney for the Redistricting Board, said boards get sued every 10 years no matter how good a plan they produce. If the board did everything the plaintiffs wanted, there would be just a bunch of different plaintiffs, he said.

Volland said opponents of the plan are criticizing decisions that were made necessary by the problems inherent in dividing a huge, irregularly populated state. The board began in Southeast, where reduced population percentages made it necessary to use Cordova to fill out a district, he said.

That affected the configuration of the next district drawn, which in turn affected what came next. You can't look at one district and say it could have been done better because the decisions are all interlocking, Volland said.

White and the other lawyers challenging the plan charge that some decisions were made because improper influence was exerted on two of the five board members, Vicki Otte and Leona Okakok, and that Julian Mason, the third vote in favor of the plan, had been co-opted by a lobbying group, Alaskans for Fair Redistricting.

The challengers grumble about how well organized and effective AFFR was, but no one has suggested the group did anything illegal. Funded largely by Native corporations and labor unions, properly registered with the Alaska Public Offices Commission, the group had an announced goal to influence the redistricting board to draw lines that would produce a more "progressive" Legislature, especially with regard to increasing the chances of getting a subsistence amendment on the ballot.

Otte runs an organization of Native CEOs whose corporations were big contributors to AFFR. She risked losing her job if she voted against any part of the plan favored by AFFR, the challengers charged. Otte said under oath that this wasn't true.

Okakok, a Barrow community leader, is at the center of a dispute over the board's decision to put Valdez and South Anchorage in the same district. Okakok first voted against that move, saying she did not want rural Valdez swallowed by a big city.

Anchorage voters make up about 70 percent of the new district.

But eliminating that pairing would have triggered a domino effect, upsetting other district lines favored by AFFR, testified Myra Munson, the group's lawyer. So she made a series of calls urging supporters who might be able to influence Okakok to call and talk her into changing her vote.

According to trial evidence, Okakok got a call a few hours later from David Crosby, a lawyer for the Arctic Slope Regional Corp., the political and financial power that runs Barrow. Okakok works for a nonprofit organization funded by Arctic Slope.

Arctic Slope officials were unhappy with her vote, Okakok was told. The next day she changed it and the Anchorage-Valdez pairing became part of the final plan.

Board member Mason testified he arranged the re-vote, and when asked why, Mason said he "hoped" someone would change his or her vote.

"What gave you hope?" the judge inquired.

"I just meant that I hoped people would vote with me," Mason replied.

Okakok told Rindner she never felt pressured and changed her vote because people convinced her South Anchorage isn't really urban.

The challengers weren't buying any of it.

"We think something certainly inappropriate took place between the original vote and the changed vote," said attorney William Walker, who represents Valdez.

Mason's actions in general should prompt the court to review the final plan with "extra vigilance," White said.

Mason, an Anchorage attorney appointed to the board by the governor, worked with AFFR to produce what became the final plan. Mason testified that early in the process he concluded the board couldn't do the job from scratch, so he looked for a plan prepared by an outside group that the board could work on.

The challengers say Mason kept controversial elements of the final plan secret until the last minute, when the board deadline meant a minimum of debate. One result of Mason's and AFFR's work should be proof enough of wrongdoing, White charged in his closing: The new plan pits 20 Republican incumbents, but no Democratic incumbents, against each other.

Munson testified that AFFR wasn't keeping track of where incumbents live. Outside the courtroom, she explained that open districts, meaning districts where no Republican incumbent lives, provide opportunities for new, more moderate Republicans to run for office.

None of this has any legal significance, said lawyers for the board. Everyone's experts agreed that under the new plan, the Republicans retain control of the Legislature. If 10 Republicans get knocked off in primaries, 10 more will almost certainly take their place.

Judging from questions he asked during the trial, Judge Rindner was more concerned about constitutional issues of compactness and integration than what he called circumstantial evidence of wrongdoing.

The material before Rindner ranges from past Supreme Court cases, to tables of population deviations by census district and computer analyses of compactness measures, to heartfelt pleas from Prince of Wales residents whose Southeast island has been split between two House and Senate districts.

Bob Blasco, representing Craig, quoted some of them in his closing: "We're just the little people. We don't count. . . . Thorne Bay, your honor, cannot stand alone. . . . On Prince of Wales Island, your honor, we are one people."

It fell to Jeff Feldman, attorney for Native intervenors in the case, to provide a closing homily. Focusing on the things that divide Alaskans is bad, he said after completing his legal analysis.

"This is the best process the state has ever had for redistricting." The board's "good faith effort" produced "reasonable and fair results."

The three weeks in the courtroom felt like a family fight, he said. "It's the Alaskan family dispute. . . . We're having trouble carving up the house. But at the end of the day we're all family."

Juneau Empire
Redistricting trial ends after 3 weeks: Plaintiffs' lawyer complains of lobbyist, special-interest groups
By Mary Pemberton
January 27, 2002

The Alaska Redistricting Board crumpled under the pressure of lobbyists and special interest groups when assigned the difficult task of coming up with a new statewide voting map, a lawyer said Friday.

"When faced with the pressure cooker that is redistricting ... this board was unable or unwilling to meet the requirements of constitutional law," said plaintiffs' lawyer Michael White at the end of a three-week trial in Superior Court in Anchorage.

The redistricting map, approved by the board on a 3-2 vote, is facing nine legal challenges. Plaintiffs allege the 40-district map not only fails to satisfy state constitutional requirements that districts be compact, of equal population and integrated socially and economically, but it is blatantly partisan because it pits 20 Republican incumbents against each other in the 2002 election.

Judge Mark Rindner, who heard from 63 witnesses, said he will forward his decision to the Alaska Supreme Court on the Feb. 1 deadline.

White encouraged the judge to consider whether the board gave "reasonable discretion" to the facts and issues surrounding the case.

He asked Rindner to look at the "danger signals" revealed during the trial, in particular to review the testimony of board member Julian Mason, who said he realized that the five-member board would not be able to agree on a plan of its own and would need help from outside groups.

White reminded Rindner that the plan the board accepted - one put forth by Alaskans for Fair Redistricting - was approved June 9, just two days after the board received it and leaving no time for public review.

During the trial, Mason testified he met with AFFR representatives late in the mapping process and engaged in remapping some problem areas. The reworked map, called the Full Representation Plan, was the one the board approved. The AFFR, whose members are mostly Democrats, is a coalition consisting of Alaska Natives, environmental groups and labor groups.

Jeff Feldman, a lawyer for the board, told Rindner that his biggest fear during the lengthy trial is that the plaintiffs would come up with a better plan.

"Plaintiffs never came up with a plan that would solve all these problems," he said. "That never happened."

Philip Volland, another lawyer representing the board, reminded the judge that the board heard from more than 400 people while visiting more than 20 Alaska communities.

He said each decision the board made, beginning with taking population from Cordova to add to the Southeast Alaska district, affected the next one. It was impossible to keep everyone happy, he said.

"They had to somehow come up with a deal three people would agree to," Volland said.

The map is being sued on a variety of fronts. One is the linkage of Valdez to Anchorage instead of combining the city with the Matanuska-Susitna Borough to the north.

Plaintiffs say Valdez and Anchorage do not have enough in common socially and economically to meet state constitutional requirements.

Bill Walker, a lawyer for Valdez, told Rindner that Valdez was used simply to get Anchorage another House seat.

"Valdez was clearly a political pawn in this process, valued only for its population," he said.

Volland said when it came to Anchorage the board was in a no-win situation. "Here, the board faced litigation no matter what it did," he said.

 



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