Redistricting Board starts mulling Southeast Alaska boundaries - Must Read Alaska
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Thursday, October 21, 2021
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Redistricting Board starts mulling Southeast Alaska boundaries

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On the second of a two-day meeting, the group tasked with redrawing Alaska’s political boundaries discussed how to add enough people to Southeast Alaska districts to make four legislative districts work best, considering the low population.

The redistricting process takes place every 10 years after the U.S. Census releases its granular population data that goes down to the precinct level. The Redistricting Board plans to have a draft plan available by Sept. 11, and a final map no later than Nov. 10.

As the five members of the board grappled with where to start in the state, beginning in Ketchikan emerged as the best idea, since that district can only stretch north, and has few choices. It didn’t appear the Petersburg Borough, which was just formed during the past decade, will be included in the Ketchikan District 36, because it would add too many people. District 36 stretches up to Wrangell at this point.

There are 13,948 in the Ketchikan Borough, which is 23 percent under the ideal size for a district to keep all districts the same size. The group’s target size for Southeast is 18,071 for each district.

At least one district, north Juneau, will have to stretch up to Yakutat, but not likely Cordova. Where Gustavus and Tenakee go is a decision in play. Both have strong Juneau connections.

This target number of 18,071 would leave the districts in Southeast Alaska slightly underpopulated and overrepresented by about 1,200, but if the board included Cordova in the region, they would overpopulate Southeast by 1,400.

Since Southeast is growing slower than the state as a whole, this math problem could open the redistricting map up to a legal challenge, especially if they end up overpopulating a fast-growing area of the state, such as the Mat-Su, which has grown by over 20 percent. The board needs to be careful to not intentionally underrepresent or overrepresent regions.

The overall goal for representation for each district across the state is 18,335, plus or minus 5 percent. This calculation is set by both the state constitution and by statute and is based on the state’s overall population divided by 40.

The map can have as much as a 10 percent disparity between the lowest and the highest population district in the state. To do that, however, it needs strong justification to hold up against a court challenge. Intentionally under representing a region of the state is a legal risk.

A short period of public testimony featured James Squyres from District 9, and Sen. Tom Begich, both of whom offered perspectives on how to proceed.

Squyers noted that people in Delta Junction have more in common with Fairbanks than they do with Palmer, where they are currently lumped as part of District 9. He said when they want shop at Fred Meyer, they do not cross the Alaska Range to head to Palmer, but they go to Fairbanks instead.

John Binkley, chair of the Redistricting Board, mused that he would add a “Fred Meyer” screening layer to the list of considerations, which drew laughter from the room.

Every initial redistricting plan in the past has been thrown out by the court, but there is a lot of hope among Alaskans that Binkley will be able to put together a plan that will survive a court challenge.

It’s likely that many of the districts will change boundaries and that even the numbers of some of the 40 House Districts will change, making it difficult for candidates to know what seat they might be running for next year.

To satisfy population changes since 2010, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough is expected to gain a legislative seat at the expense of Interior Alaska, Fairbanks and Anchorage, areas that lost population between 2010 and 2020.

The meeting continued into the afternoon, with the group discussing all kinds of theoretical map changes to try to even up areas that lost population with areas that gained. The focus was on the Interior areas including Hooper Bay, Chevak, Crooked Creek, Bethel, Napaskiak, Kwethluk, Quinhagak, Goodnews, Eek, Pribilof, and other rural communities.

Read more about the redistricting numbers at this link.

The Alaska Redistricting Board adopted the following meeting schedule and announced that public testimony will be taken at the beginning and end of each board meeting. The intent is to have full day meetings at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office, but that is subject to change based on availability.  Meetings times and more detailed agendas will be forthcoming as they are finalized. 

September 7 – 9, 2021: Map Drawing Work Sessions

September 10, 2021: Discussion and Adoption of Draft Plan(s)

September 17, 2021: Presentations of Submitted (3rd Party) Plan(s)

September 21, 2021: Discussion and Adoption of Additional Draft Plan(s)

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Give Kodiak to Southeast Alaska. We on the Kenai are sick of Stutes and Stevens!

    • You won’t like the trade. The only politically sane part of SE is Ketchikan

  • Geez, wonder if Binkley can redistrict enough people into Ward Cove and steer them into his gift shops, rather than the gift shops of downtown Ketchikan, where local residents have spent years developing their small businesses? The good people of Ketchikan must just love how Mr. Binkley conducts his personal business vis-a-vis Boards and Commissions.

  • “SoutheastERN Alaska”!
    .
    There is no such place as “Southeast Alaska”. Just as there is no such place as “Southcenter Alaska’.
    “East” is a direction, “eastern” is an adjective.
    I don’t know why that is so hard for people.

  • With all of the various hats that Mr. Binkley puts on his head, ….ie., Representative, Senator, Captain, Railroad CEO, Cruise Ship President, ADN owner publisher, owner of Binkley tour operations, candidate for Governor, US Senate hopeful, and now Redistricting Board President……doesn’t anyone see a bit of a conflict here? Supposedly, if you can corner markets with your positions in the tourist trade, influence politics through your newspaper, get the state of Alaska to market your business operations, get the federal government to dredge a hole in the river for your tour boats so they can make money, and now, …..politically carve up the state in a way that is favorable to your business plan, …. you have a huge and ambitious agenda. But does Mr. Binkley’s agenda consider other people’s chance to have a viable opportunity too? Is it all just for Mr. Binkley?

    • Great points. You’ve just identified the reasons why we never had a Governor Binkley, or a US Senator Binkley.

      • Just for the record, John Binkley has never been elected to any office outside of Bethel, Alaska. Probably because people outside of Bethel understand the way John Binkley operates.

  • The Anchorage Assembly has still not taken up the issue of reapportionment. They must reapportion as another Assembly seat will be on the ballot next April for the the downtown area bringing the number of Assembly members to twelve.

    • Tom, the school board should also be represented by districts versus at-large to give minority groups representation and provide more accountability to the board members.

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