A Wednesday visit from representatives of the Alaska Redistricting Board centered on what to do with Juneau as new district lines are drawn across the state.
"Juneau has to go somewhere," said resident Kathleen Menke, who endorsed a Rights Coalition plan supported by the Alaska Democratic Party.
That plan drew much of the discussion Wednesday and puts Haines and Skagway in a House district with north Juneau.
The Haines Borough Assembly by resolution has backed a plan that keeps Haines and Skagway separate from Juneau. The plan is similar to the one proposed by Alaskans for Fair and Equitable Redistricting, a private group led by Randy Ruedrich, head of Alaska’s Republican Party, that splits Sitka in half.
PeggyAnn McConnochie of Juneau and Marie Greene of Kotzebue serve on the Alaska Redistricting Board and attended Wednesday’s meeting at the Haines Borough Public Library. Fifteen people testified at the two-hour meeting, including superintendent Michael Byer and borough manager Mark Earnest.
"I think that our community would best be served with a district that included like-sized communities and like-composed communities in Southeast, and not be added on to Mendenhall Valley," Byer said.
McConnochie said the targeted population is 17,755 people per House district, based on 2010 census figures. The latest numbers put Juneau’s population at 31,275, and the Haines Borough’s at 2,508. Southeast’s overall population declined, leading to reduced representation at the state level.
The Alaska Redistricting Board last month prepared two statewide draft plans, with different state Senate district pairings. Public hearings across the state also have considered alternative board plans and a few options submitted by private groups.
The board has announced its intention to form nine Alaska Native-influenced districts to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act requirement to avoid worsening minority voting strength with the new lines.
Attorney Deborah Vogt said she thinks some of the proposed plans are unconstitutional due to failing to meet the standard of being compact and contiguous.
"The Rights Coalition plan, which I support, compactly and contiguously creates four districts in Southeast and pairs those districts as districts one, two, three and four," Vogt said. "All of the plans presented by the redistricting board go outside Southeast for a Senate pairing, and that is primarily my objection to them."
Resident Mike Van Note said the Rights Coalition plan would be more efficient for elected officials.
"I feel it’s very hard for somebody to fairly represent all the communities in that district over such a huge distance, both for practical reasons of travel and communications, but also I think it’s difficult to really understand those communities unless you live somewhat closer to them," he said.
Kimberley Strong of Klukwan said she is concerned that the Rights Coalition would weaken connections between Southeast Native villages. The plan discussed Wednesday includes Klukwan and Yakutat, but other villages would join with Sitka in a second House district that would be designated as a Native-influenced district.
"We’re a very small Native community, and though I understand the Rights Coalition and the concept is very good – it compacts the districts into geographical, regional closeness – I have a difficult time getting past the iceworm that we’ve been part of for so many years," Strong said. "I really feel a cultural tie to the other Native communities."
Resident Tim June also said he thought Klukwan and Yakutat Natives would be under-represented in the Rights Coalition plan. He said the Rights Coalition does meet another one of his priorities, to keep Excursion Inlet in the same House district as the rest of the Haines Borough.
Former state representative Peter Goll said Haines would be greatly weakened in a House district with Juneau and referred to past experiences with the issue.
"You were of no political value to the elected officials, you were small numbers or minority interests by definition, you were excluded from all significant decision making, except for when it’s convenient for one party or another," he said.
The Alaska Redistricting Board’s draft plans can be viewed at www.akredistricting.org. A statewide teleconference for further discussion is scheduled for 9 a.m.-noon and 2-6 p.m. Friday, at (855) 463-5009.
The board will continue with public work sessions May 16 in Anchorage, to draft a final plan for adoption by June 13.