Alaska's Redistricting News
(June 19, 2001 - January 17, 2002)


 Anchorage Daily News: "Redistricting trial gets edgy on ninth day." January 17, 2002
 
Juneau Empire: "Board member wanted redistricting map to fix rural problems." January 17, 2002
 
Juneau Empire: "Redistricting trial heats up." January 16, 2002
 
Juneau Empire: "Legislator testifies on redistricting difficulties." January 13, 2002
 
Anchorage Daily News: "Bunde warms redistricting hot seat." January 11, 2002
 
Juneau Empire: "Board member explains switch in redistricting vote." January 9, 2002
 
Anchorage Daily News: "First Shots Fired in Redistricting Trial." January 8, 2002
 
Alaska Daily News: "Republicans Score Victory With Redistricting Ruling." January 2, 2002
 Anchorage Daily News: "Judge Dismisses Challenges. " December 21, 2001
 Anchorage Daily News: "Partisan Call:  Legislature goes astray on reapportionmentóagain". November 30, 2001
 Anchorage Daily News: "Cost of defending plan worries state board". November 12, 2001
 Anchorage Daily News: "Reapportionment challenge derailed for now in Mat Su Borough." October 18, 2001
 
Anchorage Daily News: "State Legislature Allowed to Join Suit." October 6, 2001
 
Anchorage Daily News: "Justice Approves New Redistricting Plan." October 4, 2001
 
Anchorage Daily News: "Assembly Stumbles on Joining Suit." September 20, 2001
 
Anchorage Daily News:  "Legislators vote to join redistricting suits ." September 6, 2001
 Anchorage Daily News:  "Political boundary lawsuits progress
." August 21, 2001
 Associated Press
:  "Split board issues new plan for legislative areas." June 19, 2001

More recent redistricting news from Alaska

 

Anchorage Daily News
Redistricting trial gets edgy on ninth day; Vicki Otte: Chairwoman says only a Republican lawmaker pressured her.
By Sheila Toomey
January 17, 2002

The chairwoman of the Alaska Redistricting Board testified Wednesday that the Native corporation presidents she works for did not pressure her to vote for the district plan they supported. The only person who really pressured her was Rep. Eldon Mulder, said Vickie Otte, and he pushed her to vote against it.

Otte was appointed by Gov. Tony Knowles to the five-person board that redrew the state's election district lines to comply with the 2000 census.

Mulder is an incumbent Anchorage Republican who got reapportioned into the same House district as Republican incumbent Lisa Murkowski. If the lines in that district stand and both run for re-election, only one will survive the Republican primary.

According to Otte, Mulder sought her out in a parking lot in Juneau and came on so strong he made her cry. He said she was ruining his political career and asked how she could do that to a friend, Otte testified.

Her testimony came during the ninth day of the trial challenging the new redistricting plan.

Reached in Juneau on Wednesday evening as he prepared for the Legislature's veto override session, Mulder agreed that he was upset that day. He and the Ottes -- Vickie is married to former commissioner of Public Safety Ron Otte -- have been friends for years, Mulder said. She cried, but he didn't make her cry, he said.

"Any implication that I came down to bully her is simply not true," he said.

Otte spent three hours on the stand Wednesday afternoon as defenders of the new redistricting plan began presenting their case. The challengers finished their eight days of testimony earlier with Republican-appointed board member Michael Lessmeier. He said the Democratic board members had hidden agendas and the final plan was wired to pass without discussion.

Questions put to both board members zeroed in on allegations of bias and political skulduggery, and the exchanges between lawyers and witnesses were edgier than they have been.

Board attorney Phillip Volland elicited the Mulder story from Otte in a long defense of her independence. The redistricting plan adopted by the board in a 3-2 vote last June was written by a lobbying group supported in part with money from Native corporations that Otte works for at the Association of ANCSA Regional Corporation Presidents and CEOs.

Republican Party leaders and a group of rural plaintiffs including both Republicans and Democrats say the plan was adopted because the three board members who voted for it either conspired to run it in under public radar, were coerced into voting for it or, in Otte's case, both. Judge Mark Rindner has been asked to declare it unconstitutional.

In a sharp exchange on cross-examination, attorney Michael White accused Otte of working to benefit rural Alaska at the expense of urban Alaska.

"The issue of subsistence was very important to you, is it not?" White asked.

"I think it's important to almost every single person in this state," Otte snapped back.

"It affected your vote ... did it not?" White demanded.

Otte said she wanted "something that would be fair and equal" for all Alaskans. White tried to get her to say she really wanted "a balance of power between urban and rural Alaska." He pushed the phrase at her over and over, but Otte refused to budge. The point, according to White, was that 79 percent of Alaskans are urban so an equal balance of power between urban and rural is an improper goal.

Juneau Empire
Board member wanted redistricting map to fix rural problems
By Mary Pemberton
January 17, 2002

The chairwoman of the Alaska Redistricting Board testified Wednesday that she wanted the state's new voting map to fix problems affecting rural Alaskans.

"You were trying to fix things through the redistricting plan," lawyer Michael White said while cross-examining Vicki Otte.

"Yes," said Otte, executive director for the Association of ANCSA Regional Corporation Presidents and CEOs.

Otte was the first witness called by the defense in the trial in Superior Court in which the map faces nine challenges. Critics say it is partisan and fails to satisfy the state's constitution, which requires compact, integrated districts.

Otte was asked if she wanted the map to balance power between rural and urban Alaska, even though more than three-quarters of Alaskans live in urban areas. She denied that the plan was weighted in favor of rural Alaskans.

"I wanted something that was fair for the entire state ... no matter where they lived," she said.

Otte also denied she knew the plan would pit 20 incumbent Republicans against each other in the 2002 election, but no Democrats.

Plaintiffs pointed to two documents Otte provided to the court that illustrated how the plan would affect incumbents.

"So your testimony is that these documents magically appeared?" White asked.

"I do not recall seeing them," Otte said.

Otte and board members Julian Mason and Leona Okakok voted in favor of the plan. Otte and Mason were appointed by Democrat Gov. Tony Knowles and Okakok was appointed by a Knowles appointee. Michael Lessmeier and Bert Sharp, GOP nominees, voted no.

Otte responded to testimony Lessmeier gave Tuesday in which he said Otte told him she had to vote for the plan or lose her job.

Otte said Lessmeier asked whether she was under any pressure from her employer to vote a certain way. She said she told him she served at the pleasure of her employer and could be dismissed at any time.

Juneau Empire
Redistricting trial heats up: Board member accuses redistricting board of hidden agenda
By Mary Pemberton
January 16, 2002

A member of the Alaska Redistricting Board said some board members were governed by a hidden agenda put forth by special interest groups in approving a new political map for Alaska.

Michael Lessmeier, a Republican from Juneau who voted against the plan, testified Tuesday in Superior Court. He said the process to come up with the map was flawed and the result was partisan.

Lessmeier said the board did not adequately discuss draft plans that were submitted and gave the public too little time to respond. The board made four plans available for public review.

"I didn't think as a board we should be rubber-stamping plans from special-interest groups," he said.

The board voted 3-2 in favor of the plan in early June.

Board chairwoman Vicki Otte and board members Julian Mason and Leona Okakok voted in favor of the plan. Otte and Mason were appointed by Democrat Gov. Tony Knowles and Okakok was appointed by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Dana Fabe, herself a Knowles appointee.

Lessmeier and Bert Sharp, both Republicans, voted against it.

Republicans have criticized the map as partisan because it pits 20 GOP incumbents against each other in the 2002 election. The redistricting plan is facing nine legal challenges. The trial before Judge Mark Rindner is in its second week.

Lessmeier said the board had guidelines to evaluate four different plans. However, it never applied the guidelines to the final plan, he said.

Lessmeier also questioned whether groups intentionally submitted plans at the last minute as a tactical maneuver.

"I don't know why some of those plans weren't submitted until the very end," Lessmeier said.

The approved plan, called the Full Representation Plan, links south Anchorage with Valdez and pairs Prince of Wales Island with Interior villages. Members of the board had expressed problems with both configurations.

Just prior to approving the plan, Otte made a statement about it, Lessmeier said.

"She said, 'Michael, if I don't vote for this plan, I'll lose my job,' " he testified.

It was not clear whether Lessmeier was referring to Otte's job with the Association of ANCSA Regional Corporation Presidents and CEOs or her position on the board.

She is scheduled to testify today.

Lessmeier said there was no way he could approve a map that linked Valdez, with its 4,100 people, to south Anchorage and its more than 15,000 residents.

"For me that wasn't even a close call," he said. "You effectively deny Valdez of representation."

The mayor of Craig testified Monday that the new redistricting map makes it impossible for Prince of Wales Island residents to receive fair representation.

The plan pairs the island and its approximately 4,500 residents with a Senate district that extends all the way to Russian Village on the lower Yukon River and Arctic Village 100 miles north of Fairbanks.

"We don't deal with the people in that area on any basis, any level," Mayor Dennis Watson said. "It created a district that is unprecedented in the United States."

The Craig City Council voted unanimously in June to sue the state over the plan.

Watson said the Senate pairing is problematic because people living in villages along the Yukon River feel Southeast Alaska's chum hatchery is hurting their fishery.

The hatchery, however, has been keeping the Southeast chum salmon fishery afloat, he said.

Prince of Wales Island should be aligned with Ketchikan about 65 miles east, Watson said.

Juneau Empire
Legislator testifies on redistricting difficulties: Anchorage Republican cites district that includes S. Anchorage, Valdez
By Associated Press
January 13, 2002

Rep. Con Bunde testified this week on how difficult it would be for one legislator to fairly represent a state House district that includes both South Anchorage and Valdez.

Called as a witness in the lawsuit against the new redistricting plan, Bunde, an Anchorage Republican, said the two communities have little in common and often are on opposite sides of issues.

Bunde said he has voluntarily visited Valdez just once in 40 years and four or five times on legislative business. He said he would try to be fair but would find it difficult to promote Valdez interests when they conflict with Anchorage's - especially because Valdez would have only about 30 percent of the voters.

Bunde acknowledged that he intends to benefit from the redistricting plan by upgrading his long-held House seat to a Senate seat. In the new plan, the Senate district he lives in has no incumbent. That's a real break for someone like Bunde, who has represented the area for 10 years. He already has filed for the seat, he said.

Bunde also commented on changes in the makeup of the redistricting board.

The Legislature, led by its Republican majority and backed by a 1998 vote that approved a constitutional amendment, changed the rules governing reapportionment in an effort to reduce the power of the governor, Bunde said.

Under the old rules, the governor appointed the entire redistricting board. The new rules give the governor two appointments, the Legislature two, and the chief justice of the Supreme Court one.

The board split along partisan lines, and ultimately, Leona Okakok, appointed by Chief Justice Dana Fabe, sided with the governor's appointees, tilting the vote 3-2 in favor of the plan backed by them.

Bunde said he objected as much to gerrymandering done in 1990 by the Hickel administration as he does to the latest plan.

"The intent was to make it less partisan," Bunde said. "I don't think we got it yet, but that was the intent."

Bunde was cross-examined by Anchorage attorney Jeff Feldman, who represents a group defending the new redistricting plan, including the Tanana Chiefs Conference and Doyon, the Native regional corporation.

The bottom line is "your party doesn't like the result that emerged from the process that party designed," Feldman said.

The new Senate district Bunde now hopes to win also mixes South Anchorage with Valdez, Feldman noted. Surely the task of fairly representing both Anchorage and Valdez can't really be impossible, he said.

Bunde said the burden of bad redistricting falls on the people of the district, not the politicians elected to represent them.

When Bunde said no one from Valdez was likely to run against him because a candidate from such a small town couldn't beat the candidate from a city that has 70 percent of the vote, Feldman asked if he'd ever heard of Don Young.

Young lived in Fort Yukon, population fewer than 1,000, when he first ran for the U.S. Congress. He won a statewide race, Feldman said.

"It might be helpful if your opponent dies," Bunde shot back, getting a laugh from the audience.

"Well, that's a cute answer, Representative Bunde," Feldman said.

Feldman was referring to the second time Young ran for Congress, which was the race he won. Bunde was referring to the first time Young ran, when his opponent, Nick Begich, died in a plane crash between the primary and general elections but still beat Young in November.

Anchorage Daily News
Bunde warms redistricting hot seat; Representing both South Anchorage, Valdez would be a tall order, legislator says.
By Sheila Toomey
January 11, 2002

The people who called Rep. Con Bunde to testify in the redistricting trial Thursday put him in a tough spot.

Bunde, R-Anchorage, was called to trash some of the new district lines, specifically to explain how impossible it would be for one legislator to fairly represent a House district that includes both South Anchorage and Valdez.

He did so. The two cities have little in common and are often on opposite sides of issues, Bunde said. He has voluntarily visited Valdez just once in 40 years and four or five times on legislative business. He would try to be fair but would find it difficult to promote Valdez interests when they conflict with Anchorage's, he said, especially since Valdez would have only about 30 percent of the voters.

Then Bunde acknowledged that he intends to benefit from the redistricting plan by upgrading his long-held House seat to a Senate seat.

In the new plan the Senate district he lives in has no incumbent. That's a real break for someone like Bunde, who has represented the area for 10 years. He has already filed for the seat, he said.

After four days of numbing testimony about the existence or absence of socioeconomic integration between Anchorage and Valdez, or Valdez and the Richardson Highway, or Mat-Su and Fairbanks, Bunde's testimony opened the door just a crack to some of the politics driving the reapportionment fight.

The Legislature, led by its Republican majority and backed by a 1998 vote that approved a constitutional amendment, changed the rules governing reapportionment in an effort to reduce the power of the governor, Bunde said.

Nobody mentioned in court Thursday that the governor whose power was most immediately reduced is a Democrat. Bunde said he objected as much to gerrymandering done in 1990 by the Hickel administration as he does to the latest plan.

Under the old rules, the governor appointed the whole redistricting board.

The new rules give the governor two appointments, the Legislature two, and the chief justice of the Supreme Court one.

Board chairman Vicki Otte said earlier this week that board members originally hoped to reach a unanimous decision. But it quickly became apparent that wasn't going to happen.

The board split along partisan lines, and ultimately, Leona Okakok, appointed by Chief Justice Dana Fabe, sided with the governor's appointees, tilting the vote 3-2 in favor of the plan backed by them.

"The intent was to make it less partisan," Bunde said from the witness stand Thursday. "I don't think we got it yet, but that was the intent."

Anchorage attorney Jeff Feldman cross-examined Bunde.

The bottom line is "your party doesn't like the result that emerged from the process that party designed," Feldman said.

Feldman represents a group defending the new redistricting plan. In court shorthand they are called "the Native intervenors," which includes the Tanana Chiefs Conference and Doyon Regional Corporation.

The new Senate district Bunde now hopes to win also mixes South Anchorage with Valdez, Feldman noted. Surely the task of fairly representing both Anchorage and Valdez can't really be impossible, he said

If it were really impossible, surely Bunde wouldn't want the job, Feldman said.

But Bunde has been a politician for a long time and was unfazed by a suggestion of logical inconsistency. The burden of bad redistricting falls on the people of the district, not the politicians elected to represent them, he said.

When Bunde said no one from Valdez was likely to run against him because a candidate from such a small town couldn't beat the candidate from the city with 70 percent of the vote, Feldman asked if he'd ever heard of Don Young.

Young lived in Fort Yukon, population fewer than 1,000, when he first ran for the U.S. Congress. He won a statewide race, Feldman said.

"It might be helpful if your opponent dies," Bunde shot back, getting a laugh from the audience.

"Well, that's a cute answer, Representative Bunde," Feldman said.

Feldman was obviously referring to the second time Young ran for Congress, which was the race he won. Bunde was referring to the first time Young ran, when his opponent, Nick Begich, died in a plane crash between the primary and general elections but still beat Young in November.

Juneau Empire
Board member explains switch in redistricting vote
By Mary Pemberton
January 9, 2002

A member of the state redistricting board testified Tuesday that she changed her position on a key part of the plan after viewing an aerial photograph.

Leona Okakok said the aerial photo convinced her that southern Anchorage shared rural qualities with Valdez. That decision sparked one of nine challenges to the new redistricting map that is before an Anchorage Superior Court judge this week.

The plan, narrowly approved by the five-member Alaska Redistricting Board, has been called unconstitutional by communities split under the map and blatantly partisan by Republicans affected by it.

In one case, the plan links Anchorage to Valdez to create a new district seat. The board had earlier considered combining Anchorage with the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

Critics have said the proposed district fails to satisfy state constitutional requirements that districts be compact, of equal population and integrated socially and economically.

Okakok said board members attempted to satisfy the constitutional requirements but said "we were not to make superhuman efforts to make things fit."

Okakok, an employee of the Arctic Slope Regional Corp., testified she changed her vote after an aerial photo convinced her southern Anchorage was not urban.

Pollster David Dittman, who testified via telephone for the plaintiffs, said surveys of five communities showed residents in Valdez and Anchorage feel they have little in common. The telephone surveys involved more than 900 residents conducted between Oct. 19 and Nov. 1 and had a margin of error of 3 to 7 percent.

Okakok and fellow board members Vicki Otte and Julian Mason voted in favor of the plan. Otte and Mason were appointed by Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles. Okakok was appointed by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Dana Fabe, who is a Knowles appointee.

Board members Michael Lessmeier and Bert Sharp, both Republican appointees, voted against the map, calling it blatantly partisan.

The map, which is being disputed by key Republicans in the Legislature and the state Republican Party chairman, pits 20 GOP incumbents against each other in the 2002 election.

The trial before Judge Mark Rindner is expected to last about three weeks.

Anchorage Daily News
First Shots Fired in Redistricting Trial; Challenge: Opponents say plan is unconstitutional; those in favor say contiguity needed
By Sheila Toomey
January 8, 2002

Every Alaska redistricting plan since statehood has been declared unconstitutional, and the newest one should be no exception, said a lawyer for nine plaintiffs challenging the plan as trial began Monday in Anchorage Superior Court.

Attorney Michael White said the plan that emerged from the state's new public redistricting board is little more than "the unfettered whim" of the majority, who passed the plan last year 3-2.

Five of the 40 districts are so flawed that they must be redrawn, White said. One, in Peters Creek/Eagle River, has already been declared unconstitutional by trial judge Mark Rindner in pre-trial proceedings.

But attorney Phil Volland, defending the Alaska Redistricting Board, said people unhappy with individual districts ignore the fact that the board has to look at the state as a whole, balancing population numbers, federal voting rights guidelines, and the Alaska Constitution's requirements of compactness, contiguity and socioeconomic integration.

"No one has a right to have a district drawn to their liking," Volland said, and a judge should not substitute his judgment for the five-member board that wrestled with the challenge for three months.

The trial is expected to take three weeks, followed by an immediate appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court by whichever side loses.

"Proportionality" and "socioeconomic interconnectedness" were favorite terms during the interrogation of board members Vicki Otte and Bert Sharp.

Otte, appointed by Gov. Knowles and chairman of the board, voted for the plan.

Sharp, a former Republican legislator from Fairbanks, voted against it.

The down-and-dirty partisan politics that fuel all reapportionment battles remained largely veiled Monday but are certain to emerge. The challengers claim the board, dominated by Democrats, rigged district lines to kill off Republicans by putting 20 Republican incumbents in districts with other Republican incumbents so only one could survive the next primary. No Democrats ended up in this situation.

Two of the challenged districts examined Monday peripherally involve Anchorage. House District 32 combines Valdez with a section of the Anchorage Hillside, stretching across Prince William Sound to DeArmoun Road.

Valdez is unhappy with this and wants to be included in a district that runs up the Richardson Highway toward Fairbanks, similar to where it was in the last redistricting plan. Valdez has nothing in common with Anchorage and everything in common with Fairbanks and other communities lining the highway and the pipeline corridor, White said. He got a snicker from the crowd when he proclaimed, "Valdez can literally be renamed Fairbanks south."

When the board eventually voted on the issue, linking Valdez to Anchorage 4-1, he said. But the next morning, without discussion or explanation, two board members changed their votes and the Valdez-Anchorage link became part of the final plan, Sharp said.

House District 12, another challenged district, also involves Anchorage. The Mat-Su Borough had to be linked with some other area to get enough people for a fourth House district. Officials in Anchorage and Mat-Su both said they would like the two to be combined, according to attorney Charlie Cole, who is representing Fairbanks interests.

Instead, the redistricting board reached north, combining Mat-Su with the Denali Borough, part of the Delta area, Salcha, Fort Wainwright and part of the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

In sharp and prolonged questioning of Otte, Cole repeatedly asked her to describe social or economic connections between the Denali Borough and Mat-Su or between Fairbanks and Mat-Su. When Otte agreed there were very few such connections, Cole asked her why then did she vote for the plan.

"When you take into consideration all the other things we have to consider to draw an appropriate plan and to take into account what each region was entitled to, that's why I voted for it," Otte replied.

Socioeconomic integration was not the most important factor in her decision, she said. Her priorities were to deal with population shifts since the last census and to make sure Alaska Natives didn't lose political power, as is required by the federal Voting Rights Act.

The challengers argue that socioeconomic integration is just as important a factor because a single legislator can't effectively represent a district if the people within its boundaries have nothing in common or are perhaps even economic rivals.

Reporter Sheila Toomey can be reached at stoomey@adn.com.

Alaska Daily News

Republicans Score Victory With Redistricting Ruling; DECISION: Superior Court judge says Chugiak district plan is not compact
By Associated Press
January 2, 2002

 

Republicans scored a victory Monday in one of their challenges to the state's redistricting plan.

 

Anchorage Superior Court Judge Mark Rindner ruled that the Redistricting Board's plan for House District 16 in Chugiak is not compct. Rindner ruled on the configuration that splits Eagle River and Chugiak.

 

The decision came one week before a trial begins on nine challenges to the state's new political map.

 

"Eagle River is a very, very solid Republican community," said state Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich. "For that reason, it is strictly a representation issue for local individuals rather than a specific incumbency protection issue."

 

District 16 was created out of a fast-growing part of the Anchorage Bowl and includes Peters Creek and Eklutna. The district has no incumbent House member, and portions were taken from districts represented by Reps. Vic Kohring, R-Wasilla, and Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River.

 

Republicans said it tended to sprawl across the region.

 

The attorney for the redistricting board argued that the district boundaries followed transportation corridors and geographical features.

 

Rindner disagreed. He said state and federal statutes do not make those demands on the boundaries but do require the district to be compact.

 

The five-member Alaska Redistricting Board approved the 2001 election boundary map, drawn up with population numbers from the 2000 census, in June by a 3-2 vote. Board members Vicki Otte and Julian Mason, appointed by Gov. Tony Knowles, joined with Supreme Court Justice Dana Fabe in favor of the plan. Board members Michael Lessmeir and Bert Sharp, who were appointed by Republican legislative leaders, voted against it.

 

The plan pits 20 incumbent Republicans against one another.

 

Rindner's decisions are open to an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

 

Besides Republican leaders, the new political map is being challenged by Anchorage, Craig, Valdez, Wasilla, Delta Junction and Aleutians East Borough.

Anchorage Daily News

Judge Dismisses Challenges; Military district not illegal; Delta Junction remains divided
By Sheila Toomey
December 21, 2001

 

A claim that the military in Anchorage has been illegally deprived of political clout by the state's new redistricting plan was dismissed Thursday, as was a claim that the people of Delta Junction have a constitutional right to be in the same election district.

 

In a four-hour hearing in Anchorage Superior Court, Judge Mark Rindner started cutting through the tall grass, clearing the way for trial next month on nine separate challenges to the new election districts. The lines, based on the 2000 census, were drawn earlier this year by the Alaska Redistricting Board.

 

Dozens of objections to the plan have been filed. Rindner is trying to dispose of as many as possible before trial. If everyone agrees on the facts and interpretation of law is the only disagreement, a judge can issue a summary judgment before trial.

 

That's what happened Thursday to the claim by a group of Anchorage plaintiffs, including three Assembly members, that putting the military bases in one district instead of two is illegal. The Redistricting Board deliberately crammed the bases into one district to limit their influence, attorney Ken Jacobus said. Military voters used to be able to dominate the selection of two legislators but now can dominate the selection of only one, he said.

 

Cramming the military into one district reduces the number of civilians in that district. As a result, it unacceptably reduces the pool of possible candidates to run for the seat, Jacobus said. Active members of military aren't allowed to run for office and their spouses rarely do, he said.

 

All of this adds up to discrimination based on occupation, Jacobus argued.

 

Attorney Phil Volland, representing the Redistricting Board, said the claim had no legal basis and asked Rindner to dismiss it. Rindner agreed. Voters in the military are just like any other voters, he said. They have no constitutional right to control two legislative seats as opposed to one.

 

Jacobus' plea for little Delta Junction bordered on poignant.

 

The city on the Alaska Highway north of the Alaska Range is "an oasis out in the middle of nowhere," he said, "a small place which under the best circumstances has barely adequate representation in the Legislature."

 

The new plan divides the town in two, placing it in separate districts, thus diluting what little political power it might have, Jacobus said.

 

But Rindner concluded that the board was not required to keep Delta Junction in a single district. It's legal to divide the town as long as both the new districts meet the usual requirements for a district, which include compactness, contiguity and socioeconomic similarity. Rindner left for trial the question of whether the new districts measure up, so Delta Junction's hopes survive, if barely.

 

Attorney Joseph Levesque, representing the Aleutians East Borough, won a decision when Rindner ruled that e-mail exchanges among board members about where and when they would meet and who would be invited to address them constituted illegal meetings held in violation of the state Open Meetings Act. Rindner invited both sides to file briefs suggesting an appropriate punishment but said he doubted it would be in the public interest to void the board's action because of the violations.

 

Left undecided was the question of an allegedly "unnatural appendage" on the new District 16, which includes Peters Creek, Chugiak and part of Eagle River.

 

A group of plaintiffs including Republican Party head Randy Ruedrich and state Sen. Rick Halford claim the board deliberately gerrymandered Republican incumbents Fred Dyson and Pete Kott into a single district, leaving a weird-shaped area along its boundary, which became District 16. To make District 16 work, they had to snatch a little bubble of population from the heart of Eagle River and hang it off the end of District 16, said attorney Michael White.

 

As pictured in White's computer presentation, District 16 looked like a giraffe's neck and head, with a leaf hanging out of its mouth.

 

"Do the eyeball test," White urged the judge. The gerrymandering is so obvious and so unjustified by any logical reason that it should be summarily declared illegal, he argued.

 

But Rindner wasn't sure. How much appendage is too much appendage, he mused, and took the matter under advisement.

Anchorage Daily News

Partisan Call:  Legislature goes astray on reapportionmentóagain

By Editorial Staff

November 30, 2001

 

Once again, GOP legislative leaders have made a dubious foray into a thoroughly partisan redistricting lawsuit. They are providing publicly funded legal help to an attorney who represents Republicans attacking the redistricting plan.

 

Kevin Jardell, an aide to Rep. Joe Green, R-Anchorage, has been subpoenaed to talk about his experience with the reapportionment board. Mr. Jardell attended 15 of the board's meetings, at Rep. Green's behest. (He also failed in a bid to become executive director of the board.) Mr. Jardell, acting as a "private citizen," prepared an alternative reapportionment plan, which he presented to the board. Though still a legislative employee, Mr. Jardell has gone to work for the law firm handling Republican challenges to the redistricting plan. (He is on leave, working as a "private citizen.")

 

Mr. Jardell wants to quash the subpoena relating to his role in the case. The Legislative Council, chaired by Mr. Jardell's legislative boss, Joe Green, agreed to have the Legislature's attorneys help Mr. Jardell in his battle. Friday, a legislative attorney filed a 24-page motion to quash his subpoena.

 

The motion asks the judge to shield Mr. Jardell from questions about reapportionment-related work he did for Rep. Green. However, figuring out what part of his work was properly conducted for Rep. Green and what he did as a "private citizen" or as a paid attorney will be tough hairs to split.

 

Mr. Jardell's work is highly relevant to the issues in the lawsuit. The suits claim the board did not give fair consideration to alternatives and produced an illegal plan. Mr. Jardell's experience, especially when he advocated an alternative plan, could be illuminating.

 

In any event, it's unclear why Mr. Jardell can't get all the help he needs from his current law firm, instead of getting free help from publicly paid lawyers.

 

This is another instance where the Republican Legislature just won't keep its nose -- and the public's money -- out of partisan reapportionment battles.

 

Earlier, the judge in the case rejected the Legislature's request to join the lawsuit. Instead of giving up, Republican leaders said they'd probably hire expert witnesses to give evidence -- even though the Legislature is barred from presenting evidence to the court. The Legislature gave itself $250,000 to fight the reapportionment plan, and by gum, it's determined to use it somehow.

 

With reapportionment, the Republican-dominated Legislative Council is acting like a dog that just can't resist racing off to chase the neighbor's cat. Instead of sticking to its proper business, the Council's leadership claims there is a legitimate reason to spend public money helping the Republican Party achieve its partisan objectives in court. That dog won't hunt.

Anchorage Daily News

Cost of defending plan worries state board; Redistricting: It may have to ask for money from Legislature
By Associated Press
November 12, 200

 

With an expensive court battle looming over Alaska's new election districts, board members who approved the map are worried that the board will run short of money to defend the plan.

 

Should the state-funded board run short on funds, it would have to ask the Legislature for more money.

 

But Republican leaders in the GOP-controlled Legislature are among those who oppose the plan. In fact, the Legislature will spend $250,000 on expert witnesses and other legal fees to aid the court challenge against the new map.

 

"It's awkward," said Gordon Harrison, executive director of the redistricting board.

 

The Legislature is not allowed to be a full-fledged participant at the trial. But Republican leaders have joined several communities, including Delta Junction, in filing suit against the plan.

 

Republicans claim the final redistricting map is a partisan attempt to dilute GOP clout in the Legislature. It pits 20 Republican incumbents against one another in the 2002 election.

 

The board's mission was to redraw Alaska's election districts for the next 10 years, using the new census data. In June the board voted 3-2 to approve the final map -- with Republican members of the board strongly opposed to the plan.

 

Challenges are scheduled to go to trial Jan. 14 in Anchorage.

 

"It will certainly be a very, very costly trial," said Philip Volland, the Anchorage attorney who represents the redistricting board.

 

On Thursday the board met and voted 3-2 -- along the same lines as the vote on the plan -- to commit $300,000 to extend the contract with Volland's law firm.

 

Harrison said the $300,000 should cover the lawyer costs through the trial. But it's not known how much in other expenses could arise for the trial or whether any appeal process would break the bank

 

Board members Michael Lessmeier of Juneau and Bert Sharp of Fairbanks opposed both the redistricting plan in June and the commitment of $300,000 for Volland's firm.

 

"It basically exhausts just about everything we have and leaves us no funds for really any contingency," Lessmeier said.

 

Lessmeier said Volland should attempt to negotiate with people challenging the plan in an attempt to avoid trial.

 

Such action, Volland said, would be difficult given the nature of the people challenging the districts. "The plaintiffs don't talk with one voice," he said. "That has made scheduling matters difficult, as anything else."

 

Board member Julian Mason of Anchorage said the law firm needs $300,000 through the trial so it is responsible for the board to commit to that amount.

Anchorage Daily News
Reapportionment challenge derailed for now in Mat Su Borough
October 18, 2001

Mat-Su Borough Mayor Tim Anderson has halted an effort to join a lawsuit challenging a state plan to redraw election district boundaries. Earlier this week. Anderson vetoed the borough assembly's recent decision to join the lawsuit. Anderson says the vote was not properly advertised to the public.

The Assembly had been scheduled to debate whether to file an amicus, or friend of the court, brief. That would have allowed the borough to state a position on the redistricting dispute without making it a party to the suit. Instead the Assembly voted to intervene in the suit. That would give the borough greater standing but is more expensive.

Anderson says he supports joining the lawsuit, but adds that the Assembly's decision could be struck down in court because of how it was made.

Anchorage Daily News
State Legislature Allowed to Join Suit; Judge says others may seek to dismiss lawmaking body
By Dan Joling
October 6, 2001

The Alaska Legislature can sue to challenge the plan that redraws the state's political boundaries, a Superior Court judge said Friday, but its participation may be temporary.

Superior Court Judge Mark Rindner ruled that the Legislature would be allowed as a plaintiff despite missing a deadline for filing the lawsuit. But Rindner also made clear that other parties could file a motion to have the Legislature dismissed from the case, and the attorney for the Alaska Redistricting Board said he will next week.

"I will file a motion to dismiss them as a plaintiff because they have filed ... too late," said Philip R. Volland after the biweekly status conference on the redistricting lawsuits.

Rindner is expected to rule on the Legislature's participation when attorneys gather again Oct. 19.

The state's legislative districts are redrawn every 10 years based on the latest U.S. census. The Alaska Constitution states that any qualified voter may sue in Superior Court to correct errors within 30 days of the final adoption of the plan.

Nine lawsuits have been filed by communities and Republican leaders objecting to the new plan, released in June. Rindner consolidated the suits and ordered the trial to start in January.

The Alaska Legislative Council, a committee of lawmakers who act for the Legislature when it's not in session, voted along party lines last month to join the lawsuits.

The chairman of the council, Rep. Joe Green, R-Anchorage, said that new districts favor Democrats and would force 20 Republican incumbents to run against each other.

Attorney Kenneth Eggers argued the Legislature's case Friday. He said the Legislature should be allowed to be a full participant in the case because it has the same legal claims and seeks the same remedy as the other plaintiffs.

He said the Legislature would bring a statewide perspective to the case.

"It is members of the Legislature who are elected from those districts," Eggers said.

Volland said allowing the Legislature to intervene would be unprecedented. He said that branch of government already had participated in the process by appointing two of the five members of the redistricting board.

He said the Legislature is not a qualified voter and as a body it is unaffected by redistricting.

"Protecting incumbency is not a function of redistricting," Volland said.

He said there was good a reason why authors of the Alaska Constitution included the time constraint for challenges: to achieve stability in the electoral process.

"The way you do that is to get this dispute over quickly," Volland said.

Rindner focused most of his questions on the missed deadline. However, he said that part of his job was to develop a full record and that the Legislature could participate as a plaintiff until a motion to dismiss it was filed, backed by documentation.

Anchorage Daily News

Justice Approves New Redistricting Plan; Voting Rights Act: Alaska is one of nine states required to be pre-cleared

By Mike Chambers

October 4, 2001
 
The U.S. Department of Justice approved Alaska's 2001 redistricting plan this week, finding that it doesn't dilute the overall political clout of Natives.

 

With the Justice Department's pre-clearance of the plan, it now takes effect while a lawsuit challenging it proceeds.

 

"Alaska's plans have not been pre-cleared previously. It's an important step," said Philip Volland, attorney for the Alaska Redistricting Board.

 

The Justice Department ruled on Monday that the plan complies with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by preserving the political representation of Alaska Natives.

 

Alaska is one of nine states with a history of voter discrimination that require Justice Department approval for changes in their electoral practices.

 

Other states requiring approval are Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

 

Alaska's 2001 redistricting plan maintains four House districts and two Senate districts with a majority Native population. It also preserves two House districts and one Senate district with at least 35 percent Native population.

 

But the plan drew objection from The Aleut Corp., which represents Aleuts in the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian, Shumagin and Pribilof islands.

 

The corporation appealed to the Justice Department to stop the plan, which they said would dilute their political power.

 

The 2001 redistricting plan mixes Aleut commercial fishermen in a new Senate district with Yup'ik subsistence communities along the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

 

Aleuts and Yup'iks are often at odds over fishing issues and have no historical or economic ties to each other, said Roger DuBrock, attorney for The Aleut Corp.

 

"Under the plan they would be lumped in the same district and outvoted," DuBrock said.

 

For years, the Yup'ik subsistence users have maintained that Aleut and Alutiiq commercial fishermen intercept salmon bound for rivers to the north.

 

Yup'iks have fought for efforts to restrict commercial fishing in the Gulf of Alaska.

 

The Aleut Corp. favors returning to a pre-1994 district that included Natives in the Aleutian chain with Kodiak, which shares similar economies and cultural and historical ties.

 

Koniag Inc., a Native corporation representing the Kodiak area, raised similar objections before the Redistricting Board.

 

The Kodiak area had been in a Senate district that hopscotches across the Gulf of Alaska to Southeast Alaska under the 1994 map. Under the 2001 map, Kodiak is included with the Kenai Peninsula.

 

Koniag President Dennis Metrokin argued the new district "appears to have been driven solely by an effort to equalize population between the districts."

 

The closure of the U.S. Naval Base at Adak caused the Aleutian Island population to drop by 28 percent, the redistricting board said. That legislative district had to be incorporated with an adjacent populated area to approach the ideal size of 15,673 people in each House district.

 

The Aleutians East Borough is part of a lawsuit challenging the 2001 Redistricting plan in Superior Court.

 

The lawsuit also includes GOP leaders who argue the plan would pit at least 20 incumbent Republicans against each other. The Legislative Council, which represents the GOP-controlled Legislature, has asked an Anchorage Superior Court judge to be allowed to join the lawsuit.

 

The Alaska Redistricting Board approved the 2001 map in June by a 3-2 vote. Board members Michael Lessmeir and Bert Sharp, who were appointed by Republican legislative leaders, called the plan blatantly partisan.

 

Two other board members appointed by Gov. Tony Knowles and one by Supreme Court Chief Justice Dana Fabe, herself a Knowles appointment, voted in favor of the plan.

 

Ken Jacobus, a Republican attorney involved in the lawsuit, said the Justice Department pre-clearance will have little bearing on the legal fight.

 

"The Justice Department looks at it in a very limited way," Jacobus said. "If they would have rejected the map, it would have been very significant."

 

 

Anchorage Daily News
Assembly Stumbles on Joining Suit; Redistricting: Vote misses deadline and faces mayoral veto.
By S.J. Komarnitsky
September 20, 2001

 

The Mat-Su Borough Assembly wants to join the list of communities challenging a state plan to redraw election district boundaries. But it's not clear if they'll be able to.

 

The Assembly voted 4 to 3 Tuesday to spend $30,000 to try to intervene in the lawsuit challenging the redistricting plan. However, the deadline for doing so passed last Friday. And Mayor Tim Anderson said he may veto the Assembly's action because it was not properly advertised to the public.

 

The Assembly was scheduled to debate whether to file an amicus, or friend of the court, brief. But Assemblyman Larry Devilbiss changed that to direct borough officials to first try to intervene in the lawsuit, and if that failed, to then file an amicus brief. He was supported by Assemblymembers Colberg, Kelly Ladere and Dan Kelly.

 

An amicus filing would allow the borough to state a position on the redistricting dispute, without making it a party to the suit. Intervening gives the borough greater standing, but is more expensive.

 

If the borough and the other communities lost, the borough could end up paying attorneys' fees for the state, said Colberg, who is a lawyer.

 

Several communities including Wasilla, Valdez, and Cordova have sued. Superior Court Judge Mark Rindner has consolidated those cases and ordered a trial to start in January.

 

Anchorage Daily News
Legislators vote to join redistricting suits; Legislative Council Vote to challenge plan follows party lines
By Martha Bellisle
September 6, 2001

A Republican-dominated legislative committee voted along party lines Wednesday to join the lawsuits challenging the plan that redraws the state's political boundaries.

The Legislative Council, meeting in Anchorage, also unanimously agreed to appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court a lawsuit against Gov. Tony Knowles over a bill that transferred 260,000 acres of public land to the University of Alaska.

The redistricting plan was "lopsided" in favor of Democrats, said Rep. Joe Green, an Anchorage Republican who chairs the committee. The committee represents the Legislature's interests when lawmakers are not in session.

The plan would have forced 20 Republican incumbents to run against each other, "including myself," said Green, if they chose to run. But no Democrats were pushed together, he said. Green has since filed with the state Division of Elections to run for the Senate.

Plus, Green argued, the attorney general's office filed to intervene in the case in August, so the Legislature should as well. "If they have an oar in the water, we should have an oar in the water," he said.

For the committee to join the suit, Superior Court Judge Mark Rindner must approve its request. Costs could reach $30,000 for filing and may run up to $250,000 if the Legislature is allowed to participate, Green said.

Rindner approved the attorney general's request to intervene on Wednesday, said James Baldwin, an assistant attorney general. Baldwin said he filed the motion to defend the redistricting board's plan, but also to support the Division of Elections.

"We're concerned about the scheduling of the case," he said. "We want to make sure the rulings can be implemented in time for the elections to occur (next year)."

The state's legislative districts are reshuffled every 10 years in response to the latest U.S. census. Communities and Republican leaders filed nine lawsuits objecting to the new plan, released in June. Rindner consolidated the suits and ordered the trial to start in January.

Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau and a member of the Legislative Council, said joining the suit may be seen as self-serving. "There is nobody more interested in the outcome of this than we are," he said.

Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage, argued that House Speaker Brian Porter and Senate President Rick Halford are already named in one lawsuit, so it's a waste of money for the Legislature to get in the game.

"The Legislature's interests are already represented," Berkowitz said.

Halford, R-Chugiak, said he and Porter were asked to be named in the Republican Party's lawsuit because they were looking for "high-profile Republicans." "We're not representing the Legislature," he said.

To that Berkowitz responded: "It's unclear where Halford and Porter's interests diverge with the Legislature's."

"I can't articulate it at this point," Halford said.

Democrats joined with Republicans on the committee on the vote to appeal the case against Knowles over the university lands bill.

The council sued Knowles in July 2000 when he refused to implement Senate Bill 7 after lawmakers voted 41-19 to override the governor's veto. Knowles argued they needed 45 votes, a three-fourths majority, to override the veto because the bill was an appropriations measure.

Last month, Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins agreed with Knowles, saying the land transfer would result in a sum of money -- income from UA's sale of the land.

James Crawford, the council's attorney, told the panel that the bill only initiates the appropriation by allowing the land transfer. It doesn't actually make an appropriation, he said. The judge's ruling stretched the definition of appropriations, he said, so the case should go to the high court.

Halford agreed, saying changing the definition will "change the balance and structure of the way the Legislature operates."

Reporter Martha Bellisle can be reached at mbellisle@adn.com and 907-586-1531.

Anchorage Daily News
Political boundary lawsuits progress
: Attorneys hope to end disputes by end of January.
By Martha Bellisle
August 21, 2001

The effort to quickly settle the legal challenges to the state's new redistricting plan inched forward Monday when a judge consolidated the nine lawsuits and sent the case to an Anchorage court.

Presiding Judge Elaine Andrews also made an important concession to some of the communities and individuals who filed the suits, according to the lawyers involved. She allowed Anchorage Superior Court Judge Mark Rindner to hold hearings in Fairbanks and Ketchikan to save travel time and costs.

Rindner also can travel to other communities to take testimony if needed, according to the court order.

Lawsuits came in from all over the state after the Alaska Redistricting Board released the state's new political maps in June.

Residents and the cities of Craig, Cordova, Valdez, Delta Junction, Wasilla, Anchorage and the Aleutians East Borough filed suits. Four Republican leaders and a woman from Fairbanks also filed legal challenges to the plan.

Philip Volland, the board's attorney, said Andrews issued the court order on Monday after meeting with attorneys on Friday. Everyone agreed to the Anchorage court, he said, as long as people in other parts of Alaska could be accommodated.

Rindner is expected to set trial dates by the end of this week, Volland said.

Ken Jacobus, an attorney for Anchorage, Delta Junction and a handful of individuals said: "There's going to be a lot of cooperation to move this along so it doesn't interfere with the election process in 2002."

The state, by law, must redraw its political boundaries every 10 years after the U.S. Census releases new population estimates. Historically, lawsuits follow.

The 1992 primary was postponed from August 25 until Sept. 8 because of court battles over the 1990 redistricting plan. The court also changed the filing deadline for candidates twice from the original June 1, 1992 to June 26 and finally July 8, according to the Division of Elections.

The division hopes to see a final redistricting plan by the end of February 2002. That way they can stay on next year's election schedule of a June 1 filing deadline and an Aug. 27 primary, said Virginia Breeze, an elections projects coordinator.

"We have a timetable for when we need to start work on the primary -- the boundaries need to be set," Breeze said.

Elections officials must draw new precincts, notify voters of changes and find new polling places, she said. Plus, everything must be cleared by the U.S. Department of Justice, she added.

The state Department of Law plans to ask the court for even more time, said Assistant Attorney General Jim Baldwin.

"We're looking at mid-February," he said. If the court orders the board to make any changes to the plan, the new maps would need justice department approval, "and that takes time," he said.

The board already sent the current plan to the department on July 26, Volland said. It has 60 days to respond.

Volland said he has an optimistic timeline: "Trial in December. To the Alaska Supreme Court in January. A decision by end of January."

Reporter Martha Bellisle can be reached at mbellisle@adn.com and 907-586-1531.

The Associated Press
Split board issues new plan for legislative areas
Cathy Brown
June 19, 2001

The Alaska Redistricting Board issued its official proclamation of the state's new legislative districts Monday, but two dissenting board members put out their own report criticizing the plan. Board members Michael Lessmeier and Bert Sharp, who were appointed by Republican legislative leaders, say the plan is blatantly partisan. "They destroyed neighborhoods, and they put 20 Republican incumbents against each other and not one Democrat," said Sharp, a former state senator from Fairbanks.

Board member Julian Mason of Anchorage defended the plan. He said it unites neighborhoods in Anchorage split by a 1990 redistricting plan drawn up by a Republican board appointed by then Gov. Wally Hickel. Trying to draw lines more along neighborhood boundaries made it inevitable that incumbents would be forced into the same districts, Mason said. "We didn't put the incumbents up there and draw lines around them," board Chairwoman Vicki Otte said. She and Mason were appointed to the board by Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democrat, though both said their voter registration is nonpartisan.

Joining them in voting for the plan was Leona Okakok of Barrow, who was appointed by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Dana Fabe. Sharp and Lessmeier said instead of drawing its own plan, the board adopted a map proposed by Alaskans for Fair Redistricting, an interest group including Native, labor and environmental groups and trial lawyers. "It was presented to the board in a canned process," Sharp said.

He said the board ignored public comments collected in hearings around the state and rejected better proposals that deviated less from the ideal district population. "The one-man, one-vote rule is really strained on this," Sharp said. Mason, an Anchorage attorney, said board members did not ignore public comment but weren't always able to accommodate it. What makes sense for a community of 4,000 may cause boundary shifts that create bigger problems elsewhere in the state, he said.

Two districts -- the Kenai-Soldotna House district and a North Slope-Northwest Arctic House district -- deviate from the ideal population of 15,670 by more than 5 percent, but Mason said that's better than under the 1990 plan. One of the more controversial elements of the plan, putting Valdez in a district with South Anchorage, was difficult to avoid, Mason said. Valdez had been in a Richardson Highway district that included Cordova, Glennallen and Delta Junction, and that district was short of population, he said.

People who disagree with the plan have 30 days to challenge it in court. Three senators would get to finish out their four-year terms because their district boundaries changed less than 10 percent under the new plan, redistricting board attorney Philip Volland said. They are Donny Olson, D-Nome, Robin Taylor, R-Wrangell, and Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage. Seven other senators elected in 2000 will have to run again in 2002 because their district boundaries changed so much that they would be representing a different constituency from the one that elected them. Ten senators are up for election in 2002 anyway.



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