For over six hours on Thursday, attorney Robin Brena tried in every way possible to get under the skin of Juneau-based Alaska Redistricting Board member Budd Simpson. Brena, law partner to former Gov. Bill Walker, insulted Simpson’s intelligence, ethics, and finally he insulted Simpson’s wife.
Brena, in fact, spent well over a half an hour talking about Simpson’s wife, Paulette Simpson, a well-known supporter of a road north out of Juneau. Brena brought up the fact that Paulette is a Republican. He entered into evidence a letter to the editor from Paulette, dated 14 years ago, which promoted a road from Juneau to Skagway. Brena brought up Paulette’s activism in the Juneau Access project as proof that the map that Budd Simpson drew for the political boundaries in Juneau, Haines, and Skagway was but a thinly veiled attempt to build the road between the communities.
Brena, a multi-millionaire who made his money suing oil companies, pointed out that 22 years ago, a ballot measure asked people if they wanted a road. Voters in the Mendenhall Valley leaned yes, while downtown voters leaned no. He said polls show Skagway aligns on that topic with downtown Juneau, and therefore, those communities are better together.
The attack on Paulette Simpson, rather than the map itself, revealed that Brena thinks wives should be seen but not heard, and certainly are not independent of their husband’s work in any way.
Brena did not reveal to the judge that his own law partner, former Gov. Bill Walker, had killed the road in 2016, citing the state’s financial crisis.
In 2016, Must Read Alaska wrote, almost prophetically, “The option the governor chose is the most expensive alternative: Running slow, mainline ferries that are unreliable and woefully inadequate to the transportation needs and are expensive for working class families. Ferry worker union contracts will continue to explode the cost of operations and require ever-expanding subsidies. Eventually service will have to be cut. “The access road would have allowed the state’s new shuttle ferries to make a 27-min run between Haines and the road ending at Katzehin, cutting travel time, costs, fees, and enabling service throughout the day. The current sailing from Auke Bay takes 4.5 hours. Today’s decision ensures that the people who will be able to afford to get in and out of Juneau will be the monied class.”
The road is dead, but Brena would not let the topic die, so long as it served his purpose to prove that Skagway should be politically connected with road opponents in downtown Juneau.
When Budd Simpson drew the Southeast political boundaries map last year that was eventually adopted by the Alaska Redistricting Board, he didn’t take into consideration the Juneau road project, he said.
The rules are that districts must be contiguous, compact, and have roughly equal numbers of residents. There is no map more contiguous geographically than the Northern Juneau to Skagway map. The ferry terminal in Auke Bay, 12 miles north of Juneau, is the water link between the communities, and the airport, also in the Mendenhall Valley, is the only air link. Skagway has a road to Whitehorse, a Canadian town that is slightly smaller than Juneau where its residents do a lot of their shopping.
On cross examination by attorney Matt Singer, Simpson said a road between Juneau and Skagway will likely not be built any time in the future, and there will be other redistricting exercises between now and whatever may happen with the road. Budd Simpson agreed with that.
Brena also told Judge Thomas Matthews that Skagway residents want to be linked to downtown Juneau, jumping over the more contiguous Mendenhall Valley, because that is where they shop. The truth is that people from communities in the region shop all over Juneau, but Skagway residents are least likely to shop in the downtown corridor since they have the same tourist trap gift shops in their own community. People shopping in Juneau are more likely to be going to Home Depot, Valley Lumber, Don Abel Building Supply, Fred Meyer, and Costco, or heating, automotive, or other supply stores all over the Juneau area.
Brena also repeatedly attacked Budd Simpson because he is an attorney with various clients who may have interests in lines being drawn a certain way. Brena did not reveal to the judge that he and his family have property in Skagway, and that he has economic interests there.
The hearing about the new political lines in northern Southeast Alaska went on all day, with breaks and an hour for lunch. Several people appeared before the judge, including the mayor of Skagway, who opposes having his community linked politically with the Mendenhall Valley, saying it marginalizes the people of Skagway, and local Skagway business owner Jan Wrentmore, who said Skagway is more like downtown Juneau and the people of the Mendenhall Valley, 10 miles north of the downtown area, can’t possibly be educated about the needs of a tourism economy.
Redistricting in Southeast Alaska has proven tricky because the region has lost population and the maps are having to adjust to compensate.
This one of several redistricting challenges being heard over the final maps. Court challenges to the maps are the norm. In the Southcentral region, the Mat-Su Borough and the Valdez Borough are also challenging the way the map links Valdez with the Mat-Su.
The final redistricting maps, some now being litigated, are at the map gallery at this link.