April 7, 2011 |

Redistricting position gets 2nd look; Language about group's map raises questions

The Haines Borough Assembly voted 4-1 Tuesday in support of a redistricting plan that includes Haines and Skagway in a state House district with Petersburg, Wrangell, Kake, Hoonah, Angoon, Pelican, Yakutat, Metlakatla and Prince of Wales Island.

Assemblyman Steve Vick cast the dissenting vote, asking to eliminate language in the resolution that tilted the borough’s support toward a map similar to one proposed by Alaskans for Equitable Redistricting. Member Greg Goodman was absent.

Tuesday’s vote came two weeks after the assembly unanimously passed a resolution on redistricting that was more generic in its wording. It asked only that Haines be in a House district that is “a relatively integrated socio-economic area” and not part of the City and Borough of Juneau.

Mayor Jan Hill, who helped draft the second resolution, said after the meeting that she didn’t know who the group was. She said she chose the map because it didn’t put Haines and Skagway in a district with Juneau and told the assembly it wasn’t written in stone.

Vick said Tuesday’s decision was hasty and that the assembly should be able to see other prospective redistricting maps. He questioned whether Haines was similar to other communities in the proposed district. “We’re a diverse economy, but I’m not seeing a lot of diverse communities here,” he said, adding that Haines was a closer fit to Sitka than to Prince of Wales.

Hill said the timing of the vote was necessary because action on the districts looms. The Alaska Redistricting Board is expected to issue its first draft of the redrawn lines April 14. “The whole process has been moving very quickly. They’re meeting non-stop,” Hill said.

 Former state House candidate Tim June also testified against the map referenced in the resolution, voicing support instead for a district that included Sitka, saying Haines’ connection to it was “much stronger in terms of shared values, a large Native community and jobs” than to southern Southeast.

June said he had “mixed feelings” about Haines being included in a district with Juneau’s Mendenhall Valley. A representative there “may have clout for overall funding that would spin off to Haines,” he said.

June and some assemblymen also questioned why the map showed the cannery community of Excursion Inlet – part of the Haines Borough – included in a district with downtown Juneau.

The assembly, in turn, struck language in the resolution that said the map “best describes the unique needs and desires of the communities.”

The assembly maintained language in the resolution that urged the state Redistricting Board to “adopt a map for Southeast Alaska similar to that proposed by the Alaskans for Equitable Redistricting which maintains Skagway and Haines in a House District that is a ‘relatively integrated socio-economic area’ with other similar communities and villages of similar size in Southeast Alaska.”

The resolution also references that the proposed district would be 32 percent Alaska Native, nearly matching the 36 percent Native House District 5, which it would replace.

The second resolution is intended to be a joint resolution with the Municipality of Skagway. Skagway leaders are scheduled to take up the question Thursday.

At the March 22 meeting, borough manager Mark Earnest said, “I think it’s important, I believe, to be on record, be very clear that we consider ourselves to be rural, and we consider Juneau to be urban, and we prefer to be a part of a district of rural communities.”

The redistricting board is working on new lines, following the March release of 2010 U.S. census figures. The board is holding work sessions in Anchorage.

The census showed the Haines Borough’s population has increased nearly 5 percent since 2000, to 2,508. Alaska’s population grew more than 13 percent, from 626,932 to 710,231, but Southeast Alaska did not keep pace, and is set to lose representation in the state legislature.

Saying he was playing “devil’s advocate,” member Jerry Lapp questioned if a district with Juneau would benefit the borough. “If we were part of Juneau’s district, would we get more money, because they seem to get more money than other districts, or not?”

Earnest, who previously managed Whittier, said being in a district with Anchorage “killed us.”