Saturday, July 23, 2011

Judge Rules Against Redistricting Board and Keeps Cases in Fairbanks

Chris Eshleman at the Fairbanks News-Miner reports that Judge McConahy ruled the court challenges to the Alaska Redistricting Board's redistricting plan will be heard in Fairbanks in January.

The board's attorney, Michael White, sounded fairly confident at last Monday's meeting that the case would be consolidated (the two Fairbanks challenges and the Petersburg challenge) and was hoping the trial would be in Anchorage.  When I talked to him after the meeting Monday he said he was hoping a decision to move to Anchorage would come before the Friday hearing in Fairbanks.  In the memo to the board on the lawsuits he concluded with:

We recently filed a Motion to Consolidate and Change Venue of City of Petersburg, et al. v. State of Alaska, Alaska Redistricting Board, to move the case to Anchorage.  The Petersburg plaintiffs do not oppose this motion.  Plaintiffs in both Fairbanks cases oppose changing venue to Anchorage.  The motion also requests the court consolidate the Fairbanks proceedings with the Petersburg case in Anchorage.  We asked for expedited consolidation of this motion requesting a decision by Thursday, July 21.  [bold emphasis added]
But based on the FNM article, the judge is going to hear the case in Fairbanks in January.
A judge said this morning he’ll consolidate challenges to state redistricting plans and plans to hold a January trial in Fairbanks.

Three parties, including the Fairbanks North Star Borough, are suing over the Alaska Redistricting Board’s map of tentative state House and Senate districts.

Superior Court Judge Michael McConahy met today for the first time with attorneys for all three parties. The state, after any appeals to the Alaska Supreme Court, will need final jurisdictional maps in place by early summer to guide residents interested in running for public office.

Clearly, having the case in Fairbanks gives the Fairbanks plaintiffs home court advantage.  That doesn't change the legal basis of the challenge, but it does have an impact.  Board attorney White, for example, will have to either commute by air to Fairbanks or stay there in a hotel or with friends. He won't be able to drop into his office as easily.  The Petersburg plaintiffs will have an even further commute.  But according to the Eshleman piece, the court will accommodate them:
McConahy said the trial will travel to Petersburg for witness testimony before returning to Fairbanks.
But, the attorneys still need to go to Fairbanks to keep up on all the details. And Fairbanks residents will be able to attend the trial. 

Having a Fairbanks jury that understands the neighborhoods involved does mean that the deliberations will be made by well informed jurors which would not be the case in Anchorage.  As much as I listened and watched, I simply could not absorb what was said about Fairbanks the way I could about what was said about Anchorage.  It's just the way the human brain works.

In fact, only one board member was from Fairbanks (none were from Anchorage).  Bill [Jim] Holm is a former Republican legislator who lost his 2006 reelection bid to Democratic representative Scott Kawazaki.  For both the draft plan and the final plan, Holm was the one who prepared the Fairbanks plans (outside of the public meeting) which was then presented to the board who made no substantative changes.  Already in the draft plan, Holm had cut off the communities of Ester and Goldstream.  I already knew that Ester (nicknamed the Ester Republic*) was considered a liberal bastion and from the discussions it sounds like Goldstream may lean left of the rest of Fairbanks too.

*From the blog Ester Republic:
"Ester earned its moniker when a former Fairbanks North Star Borough assemblyman, Joe Ryan, proposed that downvillage Ester be zoned for mining only, as opposed to the General Use zoning still current. While it is true that there are many mines in the area (three right in the village and one nearby), there are also other endeavors (such as residences, bars, rentals, artists' studios, etc.), so Ester showed up en masse to the pertinent borough assembly meeting and told Mr. Ryan and his compatriots just what they thought he could do with his idea. The measure failed, Mr. Ryan got annoyed and, in a letter to the editor, accused Esteroids of living in the People's Republic of Ester. Ester generally (and the capitalists in particular) thought this was pretty funny, and took to referring to their village by this new title. The name stuck, and Ryan became known, in the village at least, as the Father of the Republic. (So now you have an idea of what Ester humor is like.) He was later invited to judge the 4th of July Parade one year, but, alas, declined."

In the final plan, Ester and Goldstream were still amputated from the rest of Fairbanks and put into a district (38) that stretches out to the Aleutians, creating a district that combines surban Fairbanks residents who live a short drive from shopping malls and the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus,  to Native villages off the road system, like Hooper Bay, where people use 'honey buckets' instead of sewers.  Below is a video tape made by local resident Jacqueline Agnew in 2004 and 2005 showing the how they empty the honey buckets and offering a tour of Hooper Bay.

In the video, she discusses a future water and wastewater system, so I checked online to see if it is complete. I found this state budget item. You can see the yourself it's not scheduled for completion until 2016.  And this is a only budget request.  Let me check if it was funded.

I checked the FY 2011 budget and the only item listed for Hooper Bay was for Boat Harbor and Barge Loading Reconnaissance for $300,000.   The FY 2012 budget doesn't seem to have it either.  Just more Boat Harbor funding for Hooper Bay. Since I had a video for Hooper Bay, I decided to see what I could find on Ester.  This is audio over slides of the Fourth of July parade in 2009.

I believe that we humans have a lot more in common with other human beings who live in different cultures than we generally think.  Surely living in a remote Thai province for two years helped me come to this conclusion.  And as I look at the videos, while it is clear that residents of Ester and Hooper Bay live in very different worlds and have very different needs from their legislators, they also have some very human similarities.  But the state constitution says the districts should be socio-economically integrated and clearly that is not the case here. The question before the court will be whether there was any way to follow the Voting rights Act  which requires keeping the nine Native districts without creating a district that is so clearly in violation of the Alaska Constitution. I guess I should also note that while it appears district 38 is the focus of the Fairbanks' challenges there are other issues and, of course, Petersburg's challenge is totally different.


  1. Another good report, Steve. Without your work we'd not be able to stay current on redistricting; the ADN "big deals" seem to have no interest in assigning a reporter to cover this. One small point: the person responsible for the Fairbanks plan is JIM Holm (not Bill). I know you know this. It's just a simple typo.

    We appreciate your efforts at keeping Alaskans up to date on this topic! Barbara

  2. Barbara, thanks for catching the error ("Typo" was generous.) This one happened in the brain. It took me a few seconds to figure it out. Writer Bill Holm wrote a book called "Coming Home Crazy" after he spent a year teaching English in China around 1990. I read it as I was coming home from a year in Hong Kong (it was still British) and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in exploring cross-cultural ways of knowing the world.

    So, his name is in my brain before Jim Holm's. I guess my braincells grabbed Bill off the shelf instead of Jim. I've been fighting this throughout the board meetings. I wonder how many times Bill slipped in unnoticed. Again, thanks for the heads-up and the nice words.


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