Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Iditarod Winner Is In - Next Event Redistricting The Legislature

The Iditarod winners have crossed the finish line in Nome today. Kotzebue's John Baker, an Alaska Native, won in record time. He was followed by Ramey Smyth of Willow and later Hans Gatt.

The next big race in Alaska begins as the Alaska Redistricting Board received the Official US Census Data today. While this race won't get the widespread attention of the Iditarod, it is arguably of far more consequence to Alaskans and the nation.


The Objective:
To create House and Senate Districts that are roughly equal in population and meet legal prohibitions against discrimination.  Alaska is one of 16 states monitored under the Federal Voting Rights Act.
Section 5 is a special provision of the statute (42 U.S.C. 1973c) that requires state and local governments in certain parts of the country to get federal approval (known as"preclearance") before implementing any changes they want to make in their voting procedures: anything from moving a polling place to changing district lines in the county. [emphasis added]
In Alaska's case, we are in this category because of violations of voting rights for Alaska Natives.  And the districts that would lose votes are in the rural areas with larger Alaska Native populations.  So, any changes in those districts will get special federal scrutiny to be sure that Alaska Native voting rights are not diminished.
Last spring I wrote about this while covering a proposed Constitutional Amendment that would have increased the number of representatives in Alaska.  There are a lot more details about the parameters of redistricting there.

The Time:

The State Constitution gives the Board 30 days to submit the redistricting plan after they receive the Census data, which came March 15, 2011.  But, as in the past, there are sure to be challenges to whatever they come up with.

Within thirty days after the official reporting of the decennial census of the United States or thirty days after being duly appointed, whichever occurs last, the board shall adopt one or more proposed redistricting plans. The board shall hold public hearings on the proposed plan, or, if no single proposed plan is agreed on, on all plans proposed by the board. No later than ninety days after the board has been appointed and the official reporting of the decennial census of the United States, the board shall adopt a final redistricting plan and issue a proclamation of redistricting. The final plan shall set out boundaries of house and senate districts and shall be effective for the election of members of the legislature until after the official reporting of the next decennial census of the United States. (b) Adoption of a final redistricting plan shall require the affirmative votes of three members of the Redistricting Board. [Amended 1998]

The Players:

The State Senate President got to appoint one member and he chose:
Robert B. Brodie, a real estate broker from Kodiak.

Photo from AKRepublicans
Speaker of the House appointed nursery owner and former Republican state rep from Fairbanks, Jim Holm.  Democrat Scott Kawasaki defeated him in 2006.  An old legislative page says he was born July 15, 1945 in Glendale, California and that he graduated from Lathrop High School in 1963 and attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks from 1964 - 1990.

Photo from Nana Website
Chief Justice  of the Alaska Supreme Court chose Marie Kasannaaluk Greene, Kotzebue, and President and CEO of the NANA Regional Corporation.  Maybe Baker can give her some winning advice. 

Photo: ACH Consulting
The Governor got to make two appointments.  PeggyAnn McConnochie of Juneau, is a real estate broker and President of ACH  Consulting, where it appears that she teaches seminars in real estate and does personal coaching to people in the real estate business.

From 1998 Election Guide
The governor's second appointment was former State Senator from the Kenai Peninsula, John C. Torgerson.  Torgeson was born October 21, 1947 in Iowa City, Iowa and got his GED through the US Army High School in 1966.  (There's a lot more easily accessible information on former legislators.)  His occupation is listed as Retail Business Owner/Operator.  You can see all his government and association affiliations (at least older ones) here.

There are a lot of other interested parties, but the Board officially makes the decisions.  If you pay attention to Alaskan politics, you might have already figured out that this event is pretty well greased.  The State Senate President, the State House Chair, and the Governor are all Republicans.  State Supreme Court Justices aren't identified by party, but my sense of Chief Justice John Carpenetti is that he's somewhat to the left of the other four.  But it means Republicans chose at least four of the five board members.

What are the Rules?

The official goal is simply to create districts that have roughly equal populations. The Census report says the:
2010 ideal district size of 17,755 is determined by dividing the Census 2010 statewide population (710,231) by Alaska's 40 house districts (710,231/40 = 17,755)
So they are aiming to put together 40 districts with 17,755 people in each.  That, of course, isn't all that easy.  There are some rules for the districts.

The Alaska Constitution, Article 6, spells out requirements for house and senate districts.

[NOTE:  I like these boxes because they highlight key points for people, but they aren't accessible to the blind because they are images, but the technology they have can only read text.  For any blind readers, the text of this box is from Article 6, Section 6 of the Alaska Constitution.  Also, ignore the last bracketed information.  The box is from the post I did last year when the Legislature passed a Constitutional Amendment to increase the size of the House to 44.  But the Amendment was defeated in the August primary.]

And for the Senate:

What does 'integrated socio-economic area" mean?  The Brennan Center lists the language above from the Alaska Constitution along with language from 23 other states and says they are versions of the idea of "community of interest."
Several redistricting criteria — like following county or municipal lines, or drawing districts that are compact — are in some ways proxies for finding communities of common interest. These are groups of individuals who are likely to have similar legislative concerns, and who might therefore benefit from cohesive representation in the legislature.
 I'm not sure how this criterion can even be met in Anchorage where many different types of communities - ethnically, politically, economically, etc. - live side by side.   Maybe they are united in their urban view of the world.

You can go to all of Article VI of the Constitution with all the rules for the reapportionment.
[The Constitution calls it Reapportionment, but it's done by the Redistricting Board.]

Anyway, you can see this isn't going to be easy.

But there is one more catch.  Whichever party is in charge - and this time the Republicans have at least a four to one majority - will try to shape the districts so that as many of them as possible will elect representatives or senators from their party.  This tradition goes back a long way in the United States and is called gerrymandering.  Wikipedia tells us where the name comes from:
The word gerrymander (originally written Gerry-mander) was used for the first time in the Boston Gazette newspaper on March 26, 1812. The word was created in reaction to a redrawing of Massachusetts state senate election districts under the then governor Elbridge Gerry (pronounced /ˈɡɛri/; 1744–1814). In 1812, Governor Gerry signed a bill that redistricted Massachusetts to benefit his Democratic-Republican Party. When mapped, one of the contorted districts in the Boston area was said to resemble the shape of a salamander.

So, What Are The Numbers?

That comes in the next post on this.

What Are The Stakes?

We can assume that although Wikipedia says
Gerrymandering is a practice of political corruption that attempts to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating geographic boundaries to create partisan, incumbent-protected, and neutral districts
we cam be sure this very partisan board (at least in numbers, I really don't know any of the players)  will do its best to add to the Republican majority in the House and attempt to break the 10-10 tie in the Senate.

There is also the looming loss of rural representatives.  Alaska already has the largest House district and Senate district in the U.S.  Traveling to meet constituents in these large, roadless districts is extremely expensive.  In contrast, some Anchorage legislators can walk across their districts in a couple of hours.  There is also concern by some that Alaska Natives will lose some of their representation in the legislature.  They do have the Federal government watching out on their behalf through the Voting Rights Act.

So, now that the Iditarod's top winners have crossed the finish line, it's now time to start focusing on the next great race:  REDISTRICTING.

How to Participate
The Alaska Redistricting Board website says they meet

Wednesday morning March 16, 10:30am – 12:30pm

411 W 4th Avenue Suite 302, Anchorage, AK 99501 (map)

The meeting will be open to the public. If you plan to attend and need special accommodations, please contact 907-269-7402.
 If you can't come, but can call in, here are the numbers:
Instructions for Teleconference Connection: Dial (907) 465-4648 or toll-free at (800) 478-4648. Ask the operator to connect you with the "Alaska Redistricting Board meeting." The operator will require each participant to state their name and indicate whether they intend to offer public comment or join the meeting as a listener only. Please call no later than 10:25 a.m.

They also have a Facebook page.

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