A compass piece is limited to 700 words. That wasn't easy because there was so much background information to convey - it didn't leave much to say. I sent it in - much in outline form - and said I knew they might not like the style, but it seemed the most reader friendly way to get the facts. I got an email back from Editorial Writer, Frank Gerjevic, suggesting they post the background bullets in a box and that I write more opinion.
700 words. It's good discipline, but it also means you have to limit what you say, how you qualify things, the examples you give. I got it out Wednesday afternoon I think. It was published Friday. I had to sign a form saying it was an unpaid, one time affair and that the ADN had rights to it. And I was supposed to send a photo, but I forgot and they used an old one they had from the last time, which was probably six or seven years ago.
They added the headline, which is normal, but it was definitely one I wouldn't have chosen. It politicized the piece much more than I intended. Plus they highlighted a sentence I would have left buried at the end. If they changed anything in the piece itself, I didn't notice, except in the box they said the board would present its final plan. I had written, "Present Plans." This was for plans presented by interested parties, the board's final plan isn't due until June 14. Otherwise, the box contained the necessary background information - though I didn't see it in the online version.
I tried to be as objective as I could be. I would show where things were uncertain and give evidence for hunches. I set up the key criteria the board has to meet in creating the plan, then went through each one. There were others, but I was limited in words, so I chose the ones I thought most important. 700 words didn't give me space to even say that.
- One person, one vote - was fairly easy: they had the stats that showed their districts were well within the allowable deviation. (I didn't independently run the numbers to verify this, but I assumed what they said was true.)
- No retrogression - I gave the board a thumbs up on this one too. I did say that the DOJ had to approve it, so they were motivated to keep the nine Native 'majority/effective' seats. I doubt they would have tried that hard on this one without the DOJ watching. I don't think a Democratically controlled board would either. But when you know it won't be approved if you don't do it 'right', that does get your attention. I didn't have room to talk about why this isn't racial gerrymandering - as one or two board members suggested at one point - and how, in fact, it helped to make sure that Alaska Natives, who make up nearly 20% of the state population now, get their voice is heard in the legislature.
- Districts compact and contiguous - I noted that there was one humongous district (well I didn't use that word) but that the existing approved districts also had one.
- Socio-economically cohesive - hard to evaluate - there are some questions. Could be better, but probably a pass.
- Senate districts composed of contiguous house seats - one that doesn't pass this. But I pointed out that they couldn't find a way to have not retrogression without this non-contiguous pairing. (But at Friday's hearing some people found a way.)
- No political gerrymandering - I knew I needed to be totally factual here. I acknowledged it was hard to know intent. I gave an example of a board member saying he didn't know the impact of his plan on constituents. Given that he is an ex-politician who lost to a currently sitting politician, I said I found it hard to believe. I didn't say he lied, because I don't know that. I do know it is hard for me to believe he didn't know. That is definitely true. But I also acknowledged that the politician who beat him ended up in a safe district. I said watching them do the Anchorage map was like watching the pea under the walnut shells. That's how I felt when it happened. I simply couldn't keep track of whole districts as they moved neighborhoods back and forth trying to get the population numbers right. I mentioned some seats where, after the fact, it looked like the lines had been drawn to just get some Democratic incumbents into the same district so they'd have to run against each other. But I couldn't put up the maps in compass piece. [Hmmm, maybe I could have, I didn't ask.] But I can here.
I didn't have enough words to point out the Republicans who were paired with other incumbents and why I think these were either out of necessity (in Southeast they lost a seat and four of five house members are Republican) or into situations where they were likely to beat the Democrats, but I did mention that there are now 24 Republicans in the House and only 16 Democrats, yet 8 Democrats and only 6 Republicans were paired with incumbents. The fewer there are, the fewer one would expect to be paired.
I also pointed out that there were four Republicans and one Democrat on the Redistricting Board, so it was inevitable that the plan would have Republican fingerprints. I didn't say it would be gerrymandered or corrupt, though there is a hint of possible wrongdoing. I pointed out the circumstantial evidence - I don't think I left out anything significant that pointed in the other direction - and I left it open. Accident? Inevitable? Gerrymandering?
As I mentioned earlier, newspapers, not writers, pick the headlines. Of course, the Daily News chose a headline that would get readers' reading - "For Republicans, Redistricting Is All Good." And they highlighted the quote about the fingerprints. So, if readers thought that I had written the headline, I can understand they might think I was partisan. But then everyone is partisan to some extent, but I do think I stuck to the facts in my analysis of how the board was doing.
I did also ding the board a bit for their minimal website and poor public notice of meetings and the fact that there are no public computers available to try out the software they use for the mapping, and without which it is really difficult to get all the numbers matched up right.
What I'd forgotten about was the online version gets comments. I'd given up reading the comments for the online ADN a long time ago, because they are frequently so nasty and shallow. Here on the blog I let people say what they want, as long as they do it with some reasonable civility. I don't moderate comments before they are posted, but I reserve the right to take down comments. . . well you can read my criteria below the post. So, the next post will be on the phenomenon of trolls.