At the most critical juncture of Alaska’s redistricting process in November, an unknown, non-appointed shadow on the Alaska Redistricting Board was working from behind the curtains. It turns out it was Anchorage Democrat Sen. Tom Begich.
Tom Begich was texting in real time with board member Nicole Borromeo for several days as the board approached its Nov. 10 decision deadline. Her drawings of the House districts in Anchorage were ultimately the ones chosen by the board.
The texts between the two show that Tom Begich greatly helped her draw those maps.
The board has five appointed members — Budd Simpson and Bethany Marcum, appointed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy; John Binkley, appointed by former Sen. President Cathy Giessel; Nicole Borromeo, appointed by former House Speaker Bryce Edgmon; and Melanie Bahnke, appointed by former Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger.
Borromeo and Behnke, who align with Democrats, were taking direction from Tom Begich, who was watching the proceedings online and telling Borromeo what to do, how to try to manipulate the other members of the board, and especially how to defeat Republican Bethany Marcum.
The text messages, shown below, were obtained in a public records request after they came to light during last week’s Superior Court trial over the final maps approved by the board.
Tom Begich also testified multiple times over several months before the board, and he even had proposed one of the plans, called the Senate Minority Plan, which was one of four third-party draft maps adopted by the board and taken around the state to be shown to the public in the 20 public hearings that took place before final political boundaries were drawn.
At one point, Tom Begich wrote to Borromeo, “Try agreeing with Bud,” to see if Borromeo could manipulate Budd Simpson, the Juneau member of the board appointed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy.
At another point he sent her a map, and he directed her and Bahnke to ask the board, “what do you object to in Nicole’s Anchorage map” referring to a map he just sent. The purple lines on the map are the House district pairings for Senate district he apparently wanted.
Using his advice, that is exactly what Borromeo and Bahnke did that day, repeatedly asking the other board members what they objected to in Borromeo’s Anchorage map.
Begich wrote to Borromeo of the Eagle River pairings, “It’s a disaster.” He was meaning that it was a political disaster, since he went on to say that there appear to be no grounds for a lawsuit.
Borromeo responded, “How long will it take DOJ to sue? Are the[y] fast?”
“No,” Tom Begich replied. “And they may not. VRA [Voting Rights Act] is weak. Others might not have grounds.”
Then he said he would work on a map and get it to her the next day, “But it’s hard. Senate pairings always political.”
At another point, he encouraged her to use a racial argument, just to get it on the record.
In fact, there were several lawsuits and the Eagle River House pairings into a Senate district is one of the two parts of the redistricting map that the judge wanted the board to reconsider.
“Please don’t put Muldoon in Eagle River, as Bethany is suggesting,” he wrote.
“You should see her new version,” Borromeo responded, while in the middle of the meeting.
“I did. That’s why I texted,” Tom Begich wrote back.
Then Borromeo asked him for help on the Mat-Su and Valdez pairings, and he provided her with case law to support that grouping. Although that particular part of the map was also challenged by a lawsuit by the city of Valdez and from the Mat-Su Borough, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Thomas Matthews ignored the conservative lawsuits regarding the new political boundaries, and only ruled in favor of the liberal litigants who didn’t like the Muldoon-Eagle River and the Skagway-Juneau lines.
While Judge Matthews said in his ruling on the new political maps that there were too many executive sessions during the proceedings, he made no mention of the secretive side conversations between Tom and Nicole, even though he knew about them, since they were entered into the record. View some of the text messages in the slide show below: