Proposed redistricting would cut Haines from Douglas, Juneau
September 16, 2021
A legislative map change proposed last week by Alaska’s redistricting board would link Haines to northern Juneau, severing the borough’s tie to downtown Juneau and Douglas Island, where state House Rep. Sara Hannan lives.
“I’m heartbroken that I would not continue to represent (upper Lynn Canal residents),” Hannan said. “It’s a piece of my representation that I’ve really enjoyed.”
The proposed redistricting, which occurs every 10 years to keep up with U.S. Census data, wouldn’t affect Haines’ representation in the state senate — a seat held currently by Jesse Kiehl.
No longer paired with the Democratic downtown Juneau, Haines would join the more populated and more Republican Mendenhall Valley.
Due to the state legislature’s special session, Hannan hasn’t had time to watch the redistricting board’s public meetings and assess the process so far, she said. She was struck by an “obvious grab of a very specific house,” which belongs to Rep. Andi Story. Story’s house falls within a small but clear protrusion of the proposed seat boundary. Some of Story’s neighbors would be in a different district.
The jagged new line would put Story and Hannan, both second-term Democrats, in the same district. Putting two incumbents in the same district is a frequent outcome of the process, sometimes due to population shifts but also as result of “gerrymandering,” a term to describe using boundary changes as a political tool.
Hannan said she doesn’t know why the line would loop around Story’s house but not her entire neighborhood, if not for political reasons. If the map is adopted and upheld, Story and Hannan would have to run against each other, or one of the lawmakers could choose to move into the other district or leave the job.
Hannan encouraged constituents to engage in the public review process. The redistricting board will evaluate public comments and maps submitted by third parties, such as political parties, Native corporations and others, which are due this week. On Friday the board will announce which maps it will forward for review during a month-long series of public meetings around the state.
In accordance with state and federal laws, Alaska’s redistricting board redraws the map every 10 years, after the U.S. Census, to ensure districts match population changes. The 2020 census showed a 17% population decrease over 10 years in the Haines Borough, although state and local officials question the accuracy of the data.
The redistricting board includes two members appointed by the governor, one each appointed by the state House speaker and Senate president, and one appointed by the chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court.
According to Alaska’s constitution, “each house district shall be formed of contiguous and compact territory containing as nearly as practicable a relatively integrated socio-economic area.”
The redrawn district that includes Haines is arguably more contiguous and compact than the current district. But as it redraws the map, the redistricting board must balance a slew of factors, including population, socioeconomics, race and ethnicity and the district’s shape on the map.
The board’s proposed plan also separates Gustavus from Haines’ district, adding it to a district spanning 600 miles along the outer coast from Yakutat to Metlakatla, including Kake, Hoonah, Angoon, Gustavus, Pelican, Elfin Cove, Prince of Wales Island and Hyder. That would pull Yakutat out of the Prince William Sound district, where it has resided the past decade. It also would pull Metlakatla, Prince of Wales Island and Hyder out of the district they have shared with Ketchikan.
Even once the redistricting board finalizes a map, which they must do by Nov. 10, the boundaries can be litigated. Multiple lawsuits over district boundaries are common after a final map is adopted.
During the last redistricting process, which started in 2011, the board proposed a Haines district similar to the one being proposed now: a pairing with northern Juneau. But the Alaska Supreme Court rejected the map and ordered a redrawing of several districts, including Haines. The current districts were adopted after the legal process culminated in 2013.
Barring prolonged litigation, the new boundaries would take effect for the 2022 legislative elections.
Larry Persily contributed to this report.