Friday, June 07, 2013

ADN Says Toss Em. Board Says They Did Nothing Wrong And Sets Schedule To Comply With Court

As a backdrop to today's Alaska Redistricting Board, this morning's editorial in the Anchorage Daily News had two points to make about the Board:
  • It's too late for this board. They've had their chances. It's time to heed opponents of the redistricting plan who have said they'll ask the state Supreme Court to appoint independent masters to draw a new plan.
  • That leads to the second point. Let's take the partisanship out of this process and create a more independent redistricting board law, for boards that have no eye to the results of the next election but aim to draw districts that abide by the Alaska Constitution first. Force of law should make these boards beholden only to the constitution and the people of Alaska.  [Yes, there's more than that, go to the link for the rest.]
Fortunately for me, I'm back in town, and on this beautiful day I was able to bike to the meeting.  Fortunately because the teleconferencing didn't work, though there was a phone in number to listen in.  

My rough running notes on the meeting are below.  Let's see if I can pull out the key points.
  1. The Board set up a schedule for getting the Hickel Plan going. The schedule is flexible, but gets them done by July. (See schedule below)
  2. There will be public hearings
  3. Third party plans will be accepted by June 21.
  4. Starting will not set a precedent of allowing the Court to set the Board's schedule because
    1. The Court didn't actually give them a schedule, it just said to hurry up
    2. They can still appeal this later
  5. The Board is waiting still for the US Supreme Court's decision on Shelby County v. Holder.
  6. They've got Voting Rights Act (VRA) consultant Lisa Hanley on contract again to advise them if the US Supreme Court doesn't go their way.
  7. They've confirmed that the benchmark for VRA districts is the Interim Plan because it was used for the last election.  (That has to do with how many Native districts are required to meet VRA standards.  It's also one less, I think, than last time.)
  8. The Board has done nothing wrong, several members' opinion is that the trial court and  Supreme Court are wrong.  Also wanted to clear up popular misconceptions:
    1. There was no gerrymandering - the courts found no evidence and it wasn't in the complaints that were filed (though it was brought up at trial)
    2. The whole plan is not unconstitutional, just a couple of districts
  9. The Board gave the chair and the attorney the power to file any necessary appeal if there isn't enough time to have five days notice for a meeting and a deadline would be missed.
(l-r) Stenographer, White, Corr, Torgerson, and Core

I'd also note that only Chair John Torgerson was present.  Three other members - Jim Holm, Bob Brodie, and PeggyAnn McConnochie - were there by phone.  Marie Green was caught by delayed flights between New Orleans and Chicago and only managed to send a message that she had to rush to her next flight because of the delay. 

Here's the scheduled copied from the handout at the meeting. 

June 7:  Notice Board work session (5 day notice requirement)  Notice tht third party plans will be accepted no later that 12:00 (noon) on June 21.
Wed:  June 12:  Start mapping sessions
Thur:  June 13
Fri:  June 14
Sat:  June 15
Sun:  June 16
Mon: June 17
Tue:  June 18
Wed:  June 19
Thur: June 20
Fri:  June 21; Board meeting to adopt draft plan or plans;  Staff will place all third party plans and board adopted draft plans on the we site for public distribution.
Fri:  June 28: Public hearing to present third party plans:  Anchorage testimony and state wide teleconference
Mon: July 1:  Public hearing in Fairbanks:  Teleconference for northern Alaska
Tue:  July 2: Public hearing Juneau:  Teleconference for south east Alaska
Thur:  4th of July
Mon:  July 8th*:  Board meeting Anchorage
Tue:  July 9:  Board Meeting Anchorage
Wed:  July 10: Board Meeting Anchorage
Thur:  July 11:  Board Meeting Anchorage
 Friday  July 12:  Board Meeting Anchorage
*I understood the Chair to say that board members had suggested preference for the weekend following July 4, and all this was flexible depending on Board members' needs and flight and hotel availability. 

Below are my rough notes.  CAUTION - these notes are a close approximation of what was said, but many words are missing, some are close but not exact.  This should, though, give an idea of what was covered until the official transcripts are available.  If I can escape the temptation of this gorgeous day, I'll try to add some of my own questions and thoughts about what happened at the meeting in a later post. [One more added to the list of posts to write up.]

Redistricting Board June 7, 2013  11am

11:01 - There is one Board member present - Chair John Torgerson.  Attorney Michael White is dressed for court - in a suit and tie, and it's horribly hot in here. Also here are his legal colleague Nichole Corr,  Mary Core, the Board's administrative assistant, the transcriber, and the other attorney. The All Caps numbered headings are from the official agenda handed out. 

1.  CALL TO ORDER [I don't actually remember this ever happening, it just started.]
Bob Brodie is on the phone, PeggyAnn McConnochie, Holm,  Marie Green is on a plane from New Orleans and may or may not join us.

Please identify yourselves so the transcriber can keep track. 

PeggyAnn McConnochie  I move to approve the agenda, Holm seconded. 
Torgerson: roll call since on the phone - all approve.
Last year SC approved the interim plan.  Then December 28 issued their decision.  Then Board appealed.  Court ruled Feb 15.  We asked for Clarification March 18.  SC ruled April 17?.  Plaintiffs filed seven days later.  Trial court issued order and set briefing schedule.  Trial court on May 30 disagreed with Board’s decision saying to start meeting and to hole public hearings.  Trial court anticipates an appeal and recommends a 30 day time schedule be set.  Next day, the Board began polling members and on June 3 noticed today’s meeting.  May 30 SC said it didn’t retain jurisdiction and sent to trial court.  Plaintiffs petitioned to have SC set a schedule.  Set to meet Monday June 10.
1. The Board could [I think he said do nothing yet]
2. It could appeal and file petition for review - for process
3.  Board could move forward and pursue the appeal.  Disagree about interpretation of constitution, not so much for this board, but for other boards.
4.  Board could move forward and not file petition for review, it could be done after the Board’s adoption of the plan

Torgerson: #2 again.  We could set a schedule and move forward, working on Hickel plan and following time line and at the same time pursue the appeal because we think the legal precedent is wrong.  We never said we wouldn’t hold hearings, but making constitutional point it’s not required.  I personally think that public input is important and this Board thinks public input is important.  I recall PeggyAnn McConnochie and Marie Green working so hard to meet the public concerns.
We can move forward, but need compliance. 

Torgerson:  I meant another one
#1.  Do nothing and appeal. 
#3  Was what I just said as #2.

PeggyAnn McConnochie - Motion to ?? they’re trying to impose timelines on us?  Is that right?  Riley Plaintiffs asked for a specific timeline and to hold hearings.  McConahy says that public hearings are required on the Hickel Process.  If VRA is removed, then I’m not sure we would still have to do that since we wouldn’t follow Hickel plan.  We will ask for clarification.  The Board is only required to hold public hearings on its draft plan, but not on its final plan.  Nothing after final plan is adopted. 
PeggyAnn McConnochie  One option is to do two things at once.  Some kind of plan for public hearings while we file the motion.
White:  Yes, we’d have to give notice, opportunity for 3rd parties to present plans, reasonable for them to have enough time to prepare. 
PeggyAnn McConnochie - lost me at the end - if we waited, until rule on Petersburg?
White:  We don’t have to file at all and could raise it later in appeal of any challenges.  Adopt our plan, expect legal challenges, get ruling, the go back to SC and then this issue could be raised.  Don’t have to do it on petition of review at this time. 
PeggyAnn McConnochie - Pros and cons of doing it now or later - maybe something for executive session.
White:  pausing - we don’t have Executive Session scheduled.  I think should be in Executive session.  It’s my understanding the Board always planned for public hearings anyway.  Waiting would only be for future Boards.  We know there will be litigation.  Perception percolating in public is that Board’s entire plan was thrown out.  That’s not the case.  First time only two districts he didn’t uphold, which we admitted because we could meet both VRA and Constitution and trial court said no, SC reversed it but said we can’t determine if you met the standard because you didn’t follow the Hickel Process.
Depending on the Board’s wishes, you might want to do it, or worth waiting, or fifth option to authorize the Chair to work with me and take appropriate action as necessary.
Torgerson:  We made a motion similar to that on something else.  Since we don’t have the court order coming out Monday.
Holm:  To Michael but part of discussion.  I’m more inclined to move forward and to do something as soon as practical.  But my concern about setting precedence that a judge can set the schedule for any Board outside the Constitutional requirements.  I’m concerned that our following this makes us complicit, not sure I agree with judge’s opinion in the first place.  Will it set a precedence for future boards.
White:  Good question, something I thought about.  If you proceed but then appeal, I don’t think you are setting any precedent.  Our opinion is that Court can set its schedule and follow the Constitution.  It can say ‘get to work’ and the judge hasn’t actually set a schedule yet.  If, when, and where, and how many, and that could be appealed as you move forward, so no precedent.  We need you to decide this and we aren’t setting a precedent because we need to move forward.  There are ways to move forward without losing our final appeal on this. 
Holm:  Thank you for the clarification.  I think I agree with that assessment.
PeggyAnn McConnochie I agree, this is the first thing we have to do.  I’m loath to do just one thing at a time.  I’d say, let’s set the schedule, it’s not because we are required to, but because we want to.  I don’t want any other board to have to deal with the stuff we have to deal with, without having some outsiders come in and dictate what we have to do.  Give the Chairman and Michael the latitude to figure out what needs to be done.
Torgerson: Mr. Brodie any comments?
Brodie:  Not at this time.
White:  I’d like to see you get the authority to work with me to determine any legal work we need to do.  We will have public hearings because we want to, and reply to Monday’s decision.  We have ten days appeal time, but changes when motion for reconsideration.  Court doesn’t have to rule, if not reaction after 30 days, it’s denied.  Under no time line now.
PeggyAnn McConnochie - I appreciate that Michael.  Make a stab, tell me if off-base.  I move Chair and counsel to work on appeal on the judge’s ruling, keep the Board informed, but they get to decide the timing of appeal. 
Torgerson: Was that a motion?
Holm:  Second for purpose of discussion.
White:  Motion well stated, but one little tweak - “if a petition should be filed and when.”
PeggyAnn McConnochie I agree wholeheartedly,
Holm:  Yes
Brodie:  My question. If there is a time we decide to file one day or another, is the 5 days notice for a board to meet prohibitive if we decide to wait several months and things need to be challenged or will you need to act sooner than five days.  I don’t see the urgency.
Torgerson:  good point.  Michael.  I don’t mind having another Board meeting.  A little difficult tog et people together for this one.  We have people in Chicago and all over the state.  How hard to do executive session over the hone.
White;  could be ES, but don’t see a reason to.  Whatever the Board wants to do, after we have ruling from the trial court, bottom line is we think everyone’s position is clear, fine that your raising the concerns that you are.  I think that can be done if that’s what you want to do.  If we file our responses Monday the 12th and Judge McConahy will respond quickly - shown his ability to do that.  Wait until later and determine to have another meeting    .
PeggyAnn McConnochie - John knows we all want to know what’s going on and we also need a schedule, what our needs for five days notice are, and you could determine the whether there is a need to file before we can meet . . . I’m comfortable.
Torgerson: If judge rules on 11h, there’s time . .
White:  yes
Torgerson:  Asking people to meet on the 21st - Friday June 21.  That’s 8 days, so we could go for approval then. 
White:  I would expect, I would like a couple of days for petition of review  . .
Torgerson:  I’d have you start before, but Bob wants to be able to look at.  If we couldn’t get together on the 21st I’d be bothered, but if you start, we could get Board’s approval on the 21st.
PeggyAnn McConnochie I’m comfortable with that.
Torgerson:  Want to remove your motion?
PeggyAnn McConnochie I see no need to remove it.  If we can afford the time for a notice, then we will.
Brodie:  I’m comfortable with that.  As long as we have a chance to look at it.
Torgerson:  We authorize the chair and legal to write an appeal, but want the Board to pull the trigger.
Brodie: If it proves impractical, then you should have the authority, but we’d like at least a cursory review. 
Vote:  All yes

Torgerson:  It seems like we’ve won some issues in the court, but they seem to keep coming up.  Even this one from McConahy isn’t against the Board.  Just because the Court doesn’t have time to do its job, not because we aren’t doing our job.
White:  Some issues hanging around:
1.  political gerrymandering - no political gerrymandering claim made in the filings.  In trial, Riley raised them.  I’ve looked at the orders.  SEpt. 23rd order - there is not evidence in the record to find partisan gerrymandering occurred.  . . . It finds the allegations regarding political motivation are speculative, but not persuasive.
Later:  allegations that John, you said, political paybacks.
Court agrees with Board, that alleged gerrymandering unpersuasive.
Torgerson, Holm, and Bickford all said proud and not persuaded by partisan… and court finds this persuasive.
Made changes for Native districts, result lowest possible deviation.  p. 134 proclamation plan is not based on impermissible partisan . . .  Court ruled over and over again.  Dean and not an issue.

2.  Somehow the whole plan was illegal.  The whole plan never declared illegal.  Specific rulings on specific districts.  SC said on HP by not following that, we can’t tell if you properly balanced between the VRA and constitution we can’t do our job.  Just a couple of districts - trial court said some issue on influence district, 2006 amendments and DOJ don’t rule out influence districts, SC you may want to look. 
Torgerson:  Told board this would just be an hour.
White:  Only two districts 32 in SE which we changed and SC said never mind use your original.  And 38 . . .. can’t keep up. 
Hear people saying things about illegal plan.  Only ten out of 60 challenged.  4 that were ?? and only 2 ????
Torgerson:  Any other questions
Brodie:  Thanks for the clarification.  Keep reading that the plan is unconstitutional.  They didn’t say unconstitutional, only that they couldn’t see how we reached our conclusion.  I think we did constitutional.
PeggyAnn McConnochie:  I agree. It was constitutional and good to hear that from you Michael.
Torgerson:  I didn’t talk to any one of you if you can make it or not, but everyone has conflicts.  Eric Sandberg will be here June 12.  DNR GIS person, had two possible to loan, not sure which one we get.  That will happen.  That person will be here on the 12.  We’ll RSA money from our budget to DNR. 
We have Marie will be here 14,15, 16 Fri, Sat. Sun.  Dates she could be here to help formulate districts.
Ask Michael for update - contract with Dr. Hanley set.  Last time didn’t have that in place and lost time waiting on that data.  Trying to prepare that in case VRA is not thrown out, we’ll be ready to rock and roll.
White:  Working, I and Lisa, on what is now the benchmark now that we have a new plan and election held on it, and agreement appears to be the benchmark is now the 2012 plan.  What that means if the VRA is upheld and we have to go through other steps.  She’s crunching numbers, but nothing to work on.  Continues to be complicated, even more complicated based on . . . 
Torgerson:  I asked Eric to give her the data she needs.
Back to the schedule.  Court order on Thursday.  To Mary Core to set up meeting, five day  requirements.  five day notice, work sessions begin on the 12.  I plan to be here every day.  mr. Brodie you have pretty open period of time.  Anyone who can come, just talk to Mary for travel.  take home piece, this afternoon we’ll send out email to 3rd party groups to submit Hickel plans, they would be do on the 21st as well as our plan. 
PeggyAnn McConnochie Can we require that they submit with proper information to actually document what their variations and deviations are?
Torgerson:  I would hope they would, we can ask, but we have to do some quarterbacking, good idea.
White, Corr, Torgerson
White:  Clarification.  I don’t think the proposal has been distributed.
Torgerson:  I sent it to board and hour ago.
Hickel ??? about ten days we’ll be working - notice them all as work sessions.  on ?? a short time to adopt a plan to go out to public hearing and at the same time post the third party plan, then 28th public hearings - Anchorage, Juneau, teleconference to Fairbanks, Juneau, Board meet July 8, start drawing plan, taking into consideration the public testimony.  Somewhere around July 12 have board adopt a plan and have Eric do metes and bounds.  A couple of folks said they’d rather work on the weekend July 5,6,7, and I’m fine with that.  Sort of dropping this on everyone, just have to side a bit.  Haven’t called LIO or anything, it may slide a day.  21st shouldn’t slide much.  Public hearing might to find location and airlines.  Day trips out of anchorage to go to Fairbanks.  Done nothing on reservations.  4th of July worst day - middle of the week.  That’s my suggestion. 
Brodie:  I guess, plan draft plan, 21st, then the 3rd party plan.  Clarification for me - will the plan be drafted in deference to Constitution and then wait to change it to comply with VRA which could be a significantly changed plan.  Will third party do without consideration of VRA and then change theirs too?
Torgerson: I’m only talking Hickel process and we’d ask the third party proposals to also be Hickel Plans.  Never been required to have public hearing on Hickel plan.  I’m treating this as we did in the first 30 days.  As for the VRA even though the Court didn’t see the wisdom of waiting the judge’s plan waited 30 days.  By July 8 we’d have everything to meet the process.
White:  We are in the Hickel process phase.  1.  Just draw as if Alaska is own independent country and there is no federal law.  That’s what this is about and let the public do the same thing.  Then on 21st.  Get the 3rd party plans noon that day.  Week for public comment, and 28th public hearings.  When Board comes in on July 8, I believe conclusively the SC would have ruled.  If not we have to do VRA part of Hickel Plan. 
Torgerson:  Some dates may have to slide, but we needed a starting point.  Want to start Wed. the 12th? ?
PeggyAnn McConnochie:  I can come in 17, 18, 19, after that a few where I could do evening or call in.  Schedule works, but we have to be flexible.
Torgerson:  It may be the 20th works better for Board.  We need a draft plan before we go on the road. 
Legal says there might be another hour meeting, but need a starting point.
PeggyAnn McConnochie - I appreciate getting something on paper.  I move we accept the timelines, understanding it can and will be changed as necessary.
Holm:  second
Torgerson: other discussion?  I’ll send out email later today.  Remember planes are full and flying might be difficult.  Hotels full.  Another restraint.  Suns out. Tourists in town.  Other discussion? 
White:  We have two spare bedrooms, so if the wife oks, we have room. 
Torgerson:  Maybe we can all do that.  I plan on being most of these days.  Some other board meetings.  We’ll notice these as work sessions, not ?board meetings?.  Work here in the conference room.  Get GIS person and individuals can go in their offices.  Further discussion?  Roll call vote:
12:05  All vote yes.  Marie still missing.
Torgerson: Got message from Marie, apologies.  Plane got in late and rushed to get the next one.  Any other comments?  Mr. White?
White:  No, we can comply with this.  Summer time in alaska, doing our best. 

PeggyAnn McConnochie move to adjourn
Holm: second
All approve.  12:07
I’ll send out an email and try to get travel schedules set. 


  1. The courts have several times ruled this board acted illegally.

    The courts should remove this board. No question.

  2. Your retirement has been good for Alaska, I must say. I will ask, though. Do you think you could have taken on this public reportage while still teaching at university?

    I am hoping that you may yet turn your expertise to assisting with the drafting of a bill that would transform this outdated political system to one that can and does respect that most critical right in a representative democracy -- the right to vote.

    If others read this post, please pose the question to Steve in person. He needs to put his years of thinking to good use now. It'd do him and all of you some good!

    Best from London.

  3. Anon, I'll have more to say about all this soon. I'm still processing the Board's comments and trying to put myself inside their heads to see the world from their perspective.

    Jacob, Could I do this if I weren't retired? I see two different questions in that.
    1. Would I have the time to do it? No. Not at the level I'm doing it.
    2. Would I have the academic freedom to do it the way I'm doing it? Yes. I've never backed off of something when I thought it was important and I was doing the right thing. It's not in my nature. It's not anything particularly praiseworthy, it's just how I am. Fortunately for me, my style is generally not confrontational and there aren't that many things I think are all that important. But a string of deans will tell you that I didn't hesitate to share my candid thoughts with them.

    On part 2: I've thought about how to use what I've learned. My attention span for long projects isn't all that good. You might say this is a long project, but it's really a lot of short ones. But I do have some thoughts that I still need to work on. There are ways to have less partisan action. The Alaska Judicial Council is a good example, but the first shots have already been taken at them. Objective doesn't sit well with some, who see it as against them.

    I appreciate your continued support and encouragement.

  4. Steve,

    Seeing the world from someone else's wholly deficient and demented perspective isn't recommended, ...nor would it be at all productive.

    Maintaining a healthy separation from an induced unreality is to be preferred.

  5. When you label someone you disagree with as having a "wholly deficient and demented perspective" one could argue you are in a more polite and intelligent than usual way violating my comment guideline of no "personal insults." I realize this sounds better than calling someone a jerk, but it probably functions the same way - implying they are just incorrigibly wrong and I'm totally right. It may feel good, but ends any further meaningful discussion.

    So I'd ask you to explain the basis for your conclusion.

    [Actually, I might use this comment as the basis of a post. For now I'm treating it the same way I would treat anyone else who uses insults. I'm doing this because if someone had commented that the Board was doing a great job and that my comments showed I had a "wholly deficient and demented perspective" I would ask them to explain why they think that.]

  6. Yep. Time to overturn this so called board of Repugnican shills who refuse to obey the law or the courts.

    And it really is time to have a new reapportionment board NOT controlled by the party or parties in power.

    Torgerson and Holm are particularly egregious, and should never be elected or appointed to any office. Period.

  7. If using concise language that correctly depicts evident reality gives rise to postulate that there may be some insult contained therein, what is problematic isn't the possibility of some insult being directed towards the board, it's chair or it's members.

    The board, especially the chair, has earned it's wholly appropriate descriptives through it's own conscious actions.

    What is actually problematic is the insult the board is perpetuating upon the public.

    The board seems to think there are no rules to remedy their being free to continue insulting the public.

    With that being the case, I"m not inclined to fret too much should the board members feel some slight because of some comments on a blog. Maybe it's exactly what's called for after too long a time of their being coddled and enabled.

    After all, the courts certainly have served to provide a very public insult to the board and it's chair. The board and the chair are likely to earn some fair share more of insults directed towards them. They've shown that they've earned them so far and I suspect they will deserve whatever comes their way next.

  8. Joe Blow, there are lots of different blogs with many different, overlapping goals. Some are personal blogs where someone can say whatever is on her mind however she wants. Some are very partisan - pushing a particular party, candidate, ideology. They want to stir their readers to action, through logical arguments as well as through emotion. Their conversation is mainly with people who already agree with them. If their readers get upset and vent, that's fine. This approach tends, though, to reinforce one's own viewpoint and demonize 'the other.'

    But my aim here is to understand. Think of it as a form of informal social-scientific inquiry - attempting to first describe the facts and then create some hypotheses that might explain how the facts relate, the cause and effect relations, etc. When I actually state a conclusion, it's usually tentative showing my evidence, with an explicit or implicit call for people who think I'm wrong to present their countering evidence.

    This doesn't mean I don't have feelings about what I write about, but I put them aside here. When I do share them here explicitly, I'll usually warn readers what I'm doing.

    Venting publicly, particularly calling folks names, may be cathartic for the person doing it, but it only makes the targets more defensive, less likely to listen, and reinforces their opinion that the 'other side' is unreasonable and not worth talking to. The same conclusion that you've made about them.

    That doesn't mean you can't criticize them, but do so with evidence, or at least links to the evidence.

    You've mentioned the courts. I'd note that the language of the court, too, tries carefully to explain objectively its disagreement and even displeasure with the Board's action while still treating the Board with respect.

    I know what I'm asking people to do - to leave their righteous indignation out of the comments - is difficult for some. It feels good to get it off one's chest. But it makes rational discussion that much harder.

    Think of this as a non-venting blog, where I'm asking readers who need to vent to do so outside the blog. Yes, you have the right to vent, but not here. This is my space on the internet and I'm asking you to respect my request; just as you wouldn't smoke in someone's house if asked not to.

    Just like smoke pollutes the air making it harder to breathe, insulting others - whether it's deserved or not - pollutes the public forum making it harder to have serious debates on hard issues.


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