Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How Could Redistricting Board NOT Hire Laurel Hummel? Political Neutrality Appears Ripped To Shreds - Part 2

In Part 1, I went through a chronology leading up to the Board's decision to not hire anyone including a brief explanation of why I thought Laurel Hummel was a perfect candidate for the job.  In Part 1.5 I looked at the 1982 Supreme Court decision on public meetings the Anchorage Daily News used to get the candidate interviews public.  It appears they didn't follow the law completely in this process.

In this post I'm going to explore some reasons why she wasn't selected.

So, why did the Board not choose Hummel (or anyone)?

Explanation 1.   The Board wanted to hire someone they knew would do their partisan bidding and keep it all confidential. 

The Board had lined up a Republican party loyalist they would hire for this $95.000 - $113,000 position who would do their bidding and keep the partisan tampering with the district borders confidential.  They did go through a public search and had six applicants.  They were set to keep the names of the applicants confidential as well as their resumes.  They would then interview them in executive session and announce the new executive director, who would be a Republican loyalist.

But then at the last minute, the Anchorage Daily News challenged the process of keeping the names and resumes secret as well as the secrecy of the interviews.  This has all been hashed out in a 1982 Supreme Court case and the Board didn’t have much choice.

If they cancelled the interviews because they were required to do things publicly, it would look like they were trying to hide something.  In the end they interviewed three candidates. 

  • The first was ok, but didn't have particular expertise in this area.  
  • The second candidate turned out to be a superstar perfectly matched for the position in terms of technical GIS experience,  Alaska Native experience, and management experience.  And a vet!  What could be better?  
  • The third candidate, a former Republican legislative staffer,  who chaired his unsuccessful primary candidacy in 2012, totally bombed the interview - his answers showed no preparation or ability to think well on his feet. 

Clearly Dr. Laural Hummel was by far the best applicant and fully qualified for the job.

And then the bombshell.  Suddenly they decided, out of public view, that they wouldn’t hire anyone.  The only reason an organization doesn't hire after they've interviewed candidates is that none of the candidates was good enough.  But in this case, they had a super candidate based on their job description. 

The only explanation that makes sense to me is that they had assumed that they would simply be able to pick their preordained candidate.   As an anonymous commenter on the previous post noted - they didn’t want someone truly competent who they couldn’t control inside the sausage factory when they made the districts.  Not only was the super-applicant very skilled in all aspects of the job which meant she might be able to figure out totally fair districts, the Anchorage Daily News found out she was a Democrat.  There was no way they wanted a competent Democrat in the middle of the process. (They seemed to have worked out something with the lone Democrat on the Board - if they work with her on the Native districts, she'll ignore other issues.  I'm not blaming her; she had a very difficult job here.  And her cultural norms likely are to avoid public conflict.)

So, they just decided to not hire anyone.  Without an open interview, we wouldn’t have been any wiser and they could have hired their political crony. 

Of course, this is all conjecture, but it seems to make the most sense. All the facts are consistent with this narrative and the other explanations (see below) don't make sense.

The Board hasn’t publicly offered any more plausible alternative explanation.  Actually, as I pointed out in the previous post, the decision to not hire anyone should have - by law - been made in a public session and the reasons and the vote should have been public.  But they weren’t. 

I emailed the Board Chair and several other Board members to get some explanation but no one has replied, even though this blog has covered the Board meetings since they first got the 2010 census data in March 2011.  It's been more than three days now with no reply.   
Rich Mauer at the Anchorage Daily News got a couple of short responses from two Board members.

Explanation 2:  "there wasn't much need for an executive director now because of a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court that could influence Alaska's redistricting."  from Board member Bob Brodie.

Let's see now.  They've known about the Supreme Court case since at least October or November.  The Board met February 12.   Their attorney discussed the Supreme Court case at length with the Board and they went on with planning to hire an Executive Director.  The March dates were right on schedule based on their plan.

It's true that they did make their decision before the case was heard on February 27 and before the press speculated that there was a good chance that the conservative majority on the Court would take action to somehow modify Sec. 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

But then why didn't they just cancel the search earlier?  Why wait until after the interviews?  Because in the interviews it became clear that, because the interviews were, at the last minute, forced into public view, they wouldn't be able to hire their pre-ordained candidate.  He just came off so poorly - both his experience and how he related it - that even they knew they couldn't be that blatant.  Dr. Hummel was just way too good to pick anyone else over her.  But deciding not to hire anyone is almost as blatant.

They actually do need an Executive Director but they didn't want to hire someone who could make their partisan machinations harder to pull off.  Deciding they didn't want a director was just an excuse for not having to hire Hummel.

Whatever the US Supreme Court decides on Shelby County v. Holder, the Board does have to first make a map of the districts based only on the criteria in the Alaska Constitution.  Only then, do they adjust those districts to also meet the Voting Rights Act.  So, a director who knows about mapping and has great management, supervisory, and coalition building skills would be a great asset. If the Court changes the Sec. 5 requirements, then they could still use a competent director to wrap up all the work they have left. 

Explanation 3.   "the most important job now is mapping, and that requires an expert in geographic information systems software." - from Board member PeggyAnn McConochie

Again, the obvious flaw in this argument is that they waited to make this decision until after they'd interviewed the candidates.  If all they needed was a GIS expert, they should have cancelled the Executive Director search earlier.  It is true they need someone who can do the GIS mapping.  And they told each applicant that they plan to hire one.  But last time around they relied on their Executive Director to do a lot of this work.  And Dr. Laurel Hummel can do this.  She's got a PhD in geography and knows the software.  They need an Executive Director - to mange all the day-to-day things like keep the website working and deal with all the administrative stuff the Board needs taken care of.

This sounds way too much like an after-the-fact cover up explanation as does Brodie's.  

I've pounded my head to figure out other possible explanations.  Maybe they'd offered her the job, but couldn't offer her enough pay and she turned them down.  But that makes no sense for several reasons:
  1. The pay was on the job announcement so she would have known what was available before applying, and it's a very good salary for this position.
  2. It's a temporary job.  And for Dr. Hummel a perfect job for her skill set.  The money is more than sufficient.  She wouldn't have turned it down. 
  3. If she had turned down the job, they would have told us that and avoided this bizarre turn of events.

So, Steve, (you ask) how can you be so confident this is about partisan gerrymandering?

It's no secret that redistricting is highly political.  The stakes are no less than who wins the elections and thus gets to make policy.  The New York Times wrote as the census data was coming out  in spring 2011:
"Beyond hiring lobbyists, major players in Washington — including high-priced lawyers, union officials, House leaders and national party operatives — are spending time and money to influence how officials in state capitals design the political maps that will affect the balance of power in Congress for the next decade.
The stakes are enormous, with Republicans looking to use their control of a majority of statehouses to cement their hold on the House in 2012 and beyond."
Alaska's redistricting doesn't affect Congress since we only have one member of the House of Representatives, but it does affect how the oil companies are taxed and that's a giant issue here.

The Charleston Tea Party website stated it more bluntly:
"Activists should lobby their governor and their state legislatures.  Demand that they exact the full price of reapportionment.  Demand that they exact the full price of their newly gained redistricting powers.  Nothing less is acceptable." 

Yet, the Board's guidelines, set out by their attorney Michael White early in the process, and approved by the Board, included four federal Constitutional principles, including no political gerrymandering.

The Alaska Redistricting Board shall use the following criteria in order of priority listed  in adopting a redistricting plan for the State of Alaska. 
1.   Federal Constitutional Redistricting Principles

A.  One Person, One Vote”. Standard established by US Supreme Court in Baker v. Carr & Reynolds v. Sims. According to “one person, one vote”, legislative seats must be apportioned exclusively on the basis of population and the populations of the respective legislative districts must be substantially equal.

B.   Districts of as nearly as equal size as practicable. Maximum overall deviation of no more than 10%, (i.e., plus or minus 5%).  Deviation is the measure of how much a district or plan varies from the ideal. Good faith efforts to make deviations as small as practicable must be made.

C.  No purposeful discrimination against a group that has been consistently excluded from the political process.

D.   No political or racial gerrymandering.

So, if gerrymandering is part of the equation, the Board can't talk about it, because it's illegal.  But it's also hard to prove.  Unless you have a professional on the staff, who is also a registered Democrat who might be willing to blow the whistle if they illegally give Republicans an edge in the mapping. 

I wasn't watching previous redistricting boards ten or twenty years ago, so I don't know how this board operated compared to previous boards.

There were some actions that suggested this board was tinkering with district lines to give Republicans an advantage.  Most notably in Fairbanks.  The first stab at Fairbanks was presented by Board member Holm and approved by the Board with almost no discussion.   Holm, a former Fairbanks legislator who'd lost the previous election to Democrat Scott Kawaski, claimed that he had no idea how the map affected incumbents.   Yet the map had carefully cut out from Kawaski's district, an address listed in the phone book as S. Kawaski.  (It turned out to be Scott's sister's place.  Her name is Sonia.)  Later Fairbanks maps split the City of Fairbanks into different Senate seats (for the first time ever) and had protrusions that included or excluded people in a way that clearly was intended to favor Republicans.

Anchorage's Democratic Senator Davis, Alaska's lone African-American legislator, had a  much more conservative Eagle River district added to her district and lost her reelection bid.  There were a number of other such little adjustments where intention is hard to prove, but the results - such as the toppling of the Senate bi-partisan coalition - would seem to demonstrate.

Plus, long time Republican party chair Randy Ruedrich was a regular presence at Board meetings and often hung around afterward discussing the political implications of district lines with the staff.  I know because I watched him do it on occasion.  The Democratic party chair was also at many meetings, but didn't seem to have the same rapport with the staff, including Executive Director Taylor Bickford who had worked as the 2010 Republican Victory Director for  Ruedrich, just before becoming the deputy director of the board. (He later became director after the unexpected death of director Ron Miller.)

So, given the close ties the previous Executive Director had to the Republican Party chair, it is not stretching it too far to think that the majority of the Board was looking for a similar type of person for the position now.  Not only would this mean that the new director would be amenable to tampering with district lines to favor Republicans, but it's also a good state job for a year or so for a party loyalist.  And the remuneration is nothing to sneeze at.  The job announcement lists the annual salary at "$95,316 to $113,364 depending on experience."

The Alaska Human Rights Commission  does not list political affiliation as an illegal reason to discriminate.   However, it is customary in labor relations that you cannot reject an applicant for a factor that is not listed in the job announcement or job description.  The Board's job announcement did not mention party affiliation as a required or even desired factor for the job.

And the  Alaska Constitution says:
"Appointments [to the Board] shall be made without regard to political affiliation."
This refers to appointing Board members, not staff, but if that standard is there for the board members, it would be reasonable for it to apply to the staff as well. 

Absent any more plausible explanation from the Board, I'm left to conclude that they expected to do this in private and the Daily News' demand that it be public caught them with their pants down.  With everything in view, everyone could see that Dr. Hummel was not only the best qualified, but a perfect fit for the job.  They could also see the political choice they most likely were expecting to hire after a secret process without names made public, was clearly the least qualified of the three.

That meant they couldn't pick their favored candidate and they were afraid to have such a competent Democrat in their inner workings so they wouldn't be able to diddle with the lines enough to keep a healthy Republican majority in the legislature.

I hope the Supreme Court keeps this in mind when they have to evaluate whether this Board can do their job without political gerrymandering. 

Someone I talked to suggested that perhaps the Board would do another search later, waiting for Dr. Hummel to take another job first. We should all be watching. 


  1. The districts were gerrymandered, let's not kid ourselves about that. The courts told them they had to do it over. We can be very sure they wish to gerrymander their do over too. It's a given.

    Someone should definitely file a complaint about the open meetings abuse.

    Someone should file on behalf of the citizens of this state and ask for an investigation into each of the numerous instances of abuse of the process.

    I'm not sure what the complaint procedure is, and I'm not even sure who has jurisdiction to adjudicate things if someone were to make the claim that this board has performed illegally. Might be the only avenue is to file suit, I don't know. Filing suit may be what's needed, because this board is going to continue to abuse the process and is going to continue to gerrymander.

    With a Republican controlled governor, a governor controlled attorney general, and a Republican controlled Legislature, I'm guessing you'd have to look to the feds for any kind of objective investigation. That or file suit.

    Some people saw this coming back when the board was formed. One look at the players, one look at their past history and there was no question that what has since occurred was not unexpected at all.

  2. Steve, fight the good fight.

    This board’s evident (mis)use of power shows little regard for ethics or for process. It necessarily presupposes one’s view of the world as best for all, justifying any means.

    The trouble is, we don't all agree. Today’s brand of Republicans seemingly tack to the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche and his atheistic übermensch – harboring what are neoclassicist hopes for Rome reborn, arguing that compassion is evil rather than unbridled power.

    They refuse to see that in governing, their misuse of power is a form of feral politics, something we can all agree is unjust when consent of the governed is required.

    National Republican party officials are now asking “what went wrong” in the last election cycle. I submit this Alaskan redistricting board as evidence of what is wrong.

    It’s the ancient sin of hubris.

  3. This whole mess has sleazeball Randy's fingerprints all over it. Good work, Steve. Keep it up!

    Let's hope someone sues, but if they didn't keep a record of their deliberations, there won't be much to find.

  4. January 3, 2012: Three judge panel vs. Wisconsin GOP in the Redistricting SmackDown.

    August 1, 2012: Wisconsin: Documents shed light on GOP redistricting efforts
    Newly released documents show Republican legislative leaders were looking at ways to increase the number of safe GOP districts and to protect conservative incumbents while redrawing political boundaries last year....

    In one email, state Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, suggests keeping parts of her district that are Republican and jettisoning those that are more Democratic.

    "Western Wauwatosa -- yes (more GOP)," she wrote. "West Milwaukee -- No (forgot to mention this part of current district -- VERY Dem."

    February 25, 2013: Federal panel opens GOP computers in Wisconsin redistricting case
    "A federal court gave groups suing the state broad access Monday to three computers used by the Legislature to develop Republican-friendly voting maps.

    The Legislature "must make these three computers available in their entirety immediately" to the groups suing the state, the three judges wrote.

    "The computers are extremely likely to contain relevant and responsive materials that should have been disclosed during pretrial discovery. Moreover, Plaintiffs have established that substantial numbers of documents were not disclosed, which satisfies the court that some form of 'fraud, misrepresentation, or misconduct' likely occurred," the unanimous opinion said, quoting from a procedural rule."

    March 13, 2013: New court filing: Documents were deleted from GOP redistricting computers
    Madison - Documents were deleted from state redistricting computers last year even after a lawyer for the Legislature told lawmakers' aides to preserve all records on the computers, according to documents filed Wednesday in federal court.

    Nine hard drives were recently given to groups suing the state because of questions about whether legislators and their attorneys had turned over all the documents they had been ordered to provide. One of the nine hard drives was unreadable and the outside of it was dented and scratched, which suggested its metal housing had been removed, according to affidavits in the case.

    In addition, some of the hard drives had a program installed on them that could remove electronic data and hide the fact that files had been deleted, according to the filing. So far, however, a computer expert has not been able to determine if the program was actually used.

    A lawyer representing the law firm that helped lawmakers with redistricting called the new allegations premature and unproven.

  5. Prince William Sound was also gerrymandered. How else to explain how the native communities out there ended up included into the Anchorage hillside? A voice out here? I don't think so.


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