Alaska Redistricting Board finishes work to adopt maps; opponents say courts could toss out portions

The Alaska Redistricting Board took the final legal steps to adopt this legislative district map on Nov. 10, 2021. (Screen capture from Redistricting Board website)
The Alaska Redistricting Board took the final legal steps to adopt this legislative district map on Wednesday. (Screen capture from Redistricting Board website)

Alaska Redistricting Board members took the final legal steps to adopt a legislative map on Wednesday but said they expect lawsuits to follow. 

The board split over the final map. All three members who were appointed by Republican elected officials supported the map; the two who were not appointed by Republicans opposed the map’s adoption. 

Board member Nicole Borromeo said the board could lose in court over the map. She was appointed by former House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, an independent nominated by Democrats. 

Borromeo was particularly concerned about the two Senate districts for Eagle River. She said having one Eagle River Senate district that combined the two House districts in the area would have been more reasonable. 

“These [House] districts share the same streets, neighborhoods, businesses, schools, watersheds and more, including electrical co-ops,” she said. She added that Eagle River is distinct from the rest of Anchorage because residents in the area have supported leaving the city for years. 

The Eagle River Senate map had been proposed by board member Bethany Marcum. She was one of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s two appointees to the board, along with E. Budd Simpson.

Marcum said on Monday that the board had ignored the connections between Eagle River and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson when it wrote the House map. Borromeo had proposed the Anchorage House map that the board adopted on Friday. She said her Senate proposal took those connections into account.

Most of the dozens of Redistricting Board meetings had been quiet. But board members expressed frustration and disappointment with each other this week. 

Aside from the changes in the Eagle River, there are many other changes as a result of the new map. 

Twelve incumbent legislators have been put in the same district as another incumbent: 10 in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate. 

The senators are Anchorage Republicans Mia Costello and Natasha von Imhof. 

The House members who are now in the same district include:

  • Eagle River Republicans Ken McCarty and Kelly Merrick are in a district mostly represented by McCarty now. Merrick has been a member of the mostly Democratic majority caucus this year. She switched caucuses after the chamber spent weeks deadlocked 20-20 over who would control it; 
  • Anchorage Democrats Harriet Drummond and Zack Fields are in a district mostly represented by Fields now, while fellow Anchorage Democrats Andy Josephson and Chris Tuck are in the district mostly represented by Tuck now; 
  • Anchorage Democrat Matt Claman and Republican Sara Rasmussen are in the district mostly represented by Claman now; 
  • and Wasilla Republicans David Eastman and Christopher Kurka are in a district largely represented by Kurka now. 

The changes to the rural Interior House district are among the most striking this cycle. All of the western Interior villages — currently spread across three districts — will be united with the other Interior villages, as well as those in the Copper River Valley. 

The map also includes a new House district in the North Muldoon neighborhood. 

It is typical for there to be lawsuits over redistricting maps. 

Borromeo expressed confidence that the Eagle River Senate districts would have to be revised as a result of a lawsuit. She was supported by fellow board member Melanie Bahnke, who was appointed by former Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger. 

Board chair John Binkley, while defending the map, also said it would likely be the subject of litigation. Binkley was appointed by former Senate President Cathy Giessel, a Republican. 

Binkley said redistricting was a difficult process. 

“I think the board earnestly — all board members — tried to put together a fair plan, a reasonable plan,” he said. “But sometimes, those are in the eyes of the beholder. And some people — reasonable people — can look at one plan and say it’s fair. Other people can look at it and say it’s not fair.”

Binkley, Marcum and Simpson supported the final redistricting proclamation. Bahnke and Borromeo opposed it. 

Of the 20 Senate seats, 19 will have elections next year under the map. Golovin Democrat Donny Olson is the only one who won’t have to run again. 

Normally, only 10 of the 20 Senate districts hold elections every other general election. But several districts changed so much that their senators must run again. 

Two Republican senators whose districts didn’t see many changes — Bert Stedman of Sitka and Gary Stevens of Kodiak — also face elections, despite being re-elected last year.

That’s a result of how the Senate districts were named. Each one was assigned a letter of the alphabet as a name. And alphabetically, every other Senate district runs every other election cycle. The board assigned Stedman’s District A and Stevens’ District C to have elections next year. 

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Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at akitchenman@alaskapublic.org.

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