Monday, January 31, 2022

Day 7 AK Redistricting Trial: Calista Challenging Board's Maps So They Can Control A Senate Seat

[The title is more provocative than normal here, but this was said very clearly yesterday and today in the trial.  Read on.]

What are findings of fact and conclusions of law and what is their purpose?
Findings of fact take the place of a jury’s verdict and provide the factual framework for the court’s judgment. In cases tried without a jury, findings of fact delineate the facts that support the judgment. As they are often described, findings of fact in a bench trial have the “same force and dignity” as a jury’s answers to jury questions. . . . Conclusions of law, as the name suggests, identify the legal basis for the judgment based on the facts found.  From "How To Draft Good Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law"

Court started with 'housekeeping' items, a key one was when findings of facts and conclusions of law would be due to Judge Matthews.  February 9.  Closing arguments will be February 11.  

Then there was testimony from Calista witnesses:  Harvey Sundown and Myron Naneng, plaintiffs in this case.  They testified from Scammon Bay and Bethel respectively.  Testimony for the two was less than an hour including technical difficulties hooking up and getting unmuted.  We learned that all the villages in the area are closely linked to Bethel, all speak Central Yup'ik, and basketball is big.  For the nearby villages the families and players go by snow machine, if further, the players fly.  

From what I could tell the Board's attorney was just trying to establish that all the villages are socio-economically integrated.  Calista is trying to switch three villages into the Bethel district  (38) and three out of 38 and into D37.  Speciically tthat Scammon Bay, Hooper Bay, and Chevak be included in District 38 and that Kwigillingok, Kongiganak, and Quinhagak be included in District 37.

The reason for all this didn't become clear until Randy Ruedrich was on the stand.  Eventually was clearly stated that the goal was to increase the percentage of Calista shareholders in District 37 so that Calista would have more power to elect (between the two house districts) the Senator of their choice.  Ruedrich was clear that while Calista has enough population for 1.5 districts, they are spread over three districts.  The Calista map Ruedrich made gave Calista 10% of D37 while the Board's map only made the 1% of the district.  

Singer pointed out that Sen. Hoffman is the longest serving Senator in Alaska history and won his last election with 90% of the vote.  Ruedrich countered with what Andrew Guy had said Friday, that Hoffman wasn't going to be the Senator forever.  He added that once a well know and popular incumbent is gone, it's risky and no telling what will happen.

Singer pursued other parts of the AFFER map for Alaska trying to point out that it would have ripple effects all over the state map.  

Ruedrich was on the longest - over an hour I think - [I used PT when I started because that's what my computer is on, but I think I switched to Alaska time part way into the hearing].  

The final witness was Thomas Leonard, Calista Corporate Communications and Shareholder Services.  His questioning didn't last more than five minutes. 

I'd recommend a look at the Calista website. It's much more focused on corporate business than culture and history found on the Doyon and Ahtna websites I linked to the other day.  

Today they clearly said what I've been thinking about for several weeks now:  what does it mean to have a corporate district?  I don't know, just asking the question.  Clearly, Native Corporations have social obligations to their people, but they are also large for profit corporations that are driven also by the need to make profits for their shareholders - for dividends and for social services.  

How would people react if Exxon wanted its own district?  Well, that's a silly question since they have their own Senators without needing to bother with elections - just the elimination of caps on campaign contributions.  Calista's website strongly supports building the Donlin Gold mine.

“Calista Corporation’s priority is supporting Shareholders by protecting our land, our traditional way of life and promoting economic opportunities that benefit our people. We support the Donlin Gold Project because strict environmental oversight, good-paying jobs and affordable energy brought by the project will allow us to grow healthy communities.”

Robert Beans, Calista Corp. Board Chair

I don't want to second guess Calista's corporate leaders.  I know they believe that they have the best interests of their people in mind.  But the promise of huge wealth often makes it easier to overlook the damage that acquiring it causes.  It's a human failing world wide.  So far the fear of of the impact on salmon has kept Pebble Mine at bay, but backers haven't given up. I listened to their engineers who said they'd learned from previous mining failures.  But I know before those previous mining failures happened, there were engineers who had said the same thing about those mines that came before them.  Canadian mining doesn't have a great environmental record.  

I'm excited that Alaska Natives are gaining more power and control over their lands. I think that's a good thing.  My concerns are the same I have for any large for profit corporation.  I know that requiring Alaska Natives to become capitalists meant requiring them to acquire a way of seeing the world that is antithetical to traditional native culture.  I'm sure Andrew Guy could tell me why I'm wrong. And he might have a good balance of values.  But the corporations pushing the Donlin mine don't.  

And given what I wrote yesterday about Valdez' case, aligning socio-economically integrated populations into districts so they can elect legislators who will strongly support their interests is why that criterion is in the Constitution.  Valdez' complaint was that Mat-Su would own their Legislator, not Valdez.  

Redistricting Board members will be on the stand tomorrow.     

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Follow Up Making Sense of Redistricting Trial Post - "Socio-Economic Integration"

[NOTE:  This post is trying to dig a little deeper into the meaning and purpose of the redistricting criterion of 'socio-economically integrated.'  That takes me to some of the testimony on what SEI means, the Hickel decision, what Boroughs are.  It's a little behind the scenes of the trial.  And I'm rushing it out because tomorrow starts another day in court.  So excuse the typos and other errors and just focus on the basic points.  Thanks.]

 In Thursday's post, there were some issues I raised but didn't say much about at the time, but promised  I'd address them soon. Two - 

  • 4000 pop exchange between Fairbanks and Valdez into 36
  • Importance of hearing the wishes of Alaska Natives and understanding the cultures relationships, and differences 

I discussed a little further in the previous post on the four districts and two district clusters and how they're all intertwined.  

That leaves three more and I think the one on Socio-Economic Integration (SEI) is the most important given that that criterion is the hardest to prove, yet every one of the cases is based at least partially on it and the Valdez/Ma-Su cases are based heavily on it.  

Here's how I left it in the Thursday post:

Bahnke pretty much tells us that SEI (Socio-Economic Integration) is in the eye of the beholder SEI has been used to support and to challenge districting decisions by just about every party so far.  SEI is one of the Constitutional requirements for districts in Alaska.  One Supreme Court ruling concluded that everyone within a Borough boundary can be considered SEI.  That seems like a pretty broad conclusion.  The Fairview neighborhood (with a high level of diversity and relatively low income) is socio-economically integrated with the much whiter and wealthier hillside or other south Anchorage neighborhoods?   I don't think that's true. 

So, does that mean my interpretation of SEI is wrong?  Is merely different from the Supreme Court's?  Or that the decision of the court which is now 30 years old, is ready for a fresh look?  

First, what did Melanie Bahnke say on Thursday.  From my very imperfect notes.  The Board's attorney, Matt Singer, is following up on the questions from the previous attorney, Tanner Amdur-Clark (who is intervening on behalf of the Board) who had asked Bahnke the difference between issues that were statewide issues (ie everyone in Alaska no matter where they lived would agree on) such as salmon, by-catch, oil revenues, and whether these would count as SEI since everyone in Alaska would agree.  [That in itself is a big assumption.] And it by-passes the fact that Valdez' oil concerns are different from Mat-Su's.  But Bahnke agrees there are issues that are too generally held by most Alaskans to be used to assess SEI connections for redistricting.   Then we get this  

Bahnke: It was all relative to the part of the state we were looking at, do best we could without doing harm to other places.  May not live together, but live similarly.  Urban/rural;  subsistence, REAA [Regional Educational Attendance Area]  school district, cultures, customs, traditions.  Many factors going into this,  Short hand is live, work, and play together, but many factors that go into this.  

Singer:  Is it possible to come up with a utopian plan where everyone is in equal districts where everyone is happy?   

Since the definition of utopian is 

"having impossibly ideal conditions especially of social organization"

the answer to this question is clearly a 'No' and that's what Bahnke gives him. 

Bahnke:  No, we’re the biggest state geographically."

I'm not faulting Bahnke here.  In fact her answer is refreshingly candid.  While the attorneys kept asking "Do the people in X live, work, and play with the people in Y?"  Bahnke tells us that it's more complicated than that.  And as it gets more complicated and there isn't much guidance, then it sounds like it boils down to the opinions of the Board members.  

But it points out the problem of taking such vague concepts and trying to apply them.  Is there a better definition?

Attorneys refer frequently to The Hickel Decision in the trial.  When it comes to SEI we learned early in the redistricting process that the Hickel Decision says that inside a Borough, everyone is socio-economically integrated.  So I thought I should pull out that language from that case in 1992. [However this comes from a later case.]

From Justia Law - 2001 (Alaska) Redistricting Cases footnote 8

"[8] See In re 2001 Redistricting Cases, 44 P.3d at 146 ("Anchorage is by definition socio-economically integrated."); see also Hickel v. Southeast Conference, 846 P.2d 38, 52 (Alaska 1992) ("[A] borough is by definition socio-economically integrated."); id. at 51 (quoting AS 29.05.031) ("By statute, a borough must have a population which `is interrelated and integrated as to its social, cultural, and economic activities.'")."

Let's backtrack a bit further to that statue about Boroughs:

"Section 29.05.031 - Incorporation of a borough or unified municipality

(a) An area that meets the following standards may incorporate as a home rule, first class, or second class borough, or as a unified municipality:

(1) the population of the area is interrelated and integrated as to its social, cultural, and economic activities, and is large and stable enough to support borough government;" 

This probably was true when Alaska established boroughs, but how long ago was that?  I did find  a document from the Local Boundary Commission  that suggests it was 1961:

To ostensibly carry out the constitutional mandate that the entire state be divided into boroughs, organized or unorganized, the 1961 Legislature enacted a law providing that all areas not within the boundaries of an organized borough constitute a single unorganized borough. (AS 29.03.010)

In 1960, the population was just over 200,000.  I would imagine that the writers of the Constitution envisioned that the interests of various boroughs were relatively unified.  Though I suspect they weren't taking in to account of the  interests of Alaska Native groups within the state.

In fact, that Local Boundary Commission (LBC) document which was written in 2004  raises this very question about the unorganized borough area in Alaska in a footnote.

"Most recently, the LBC recently expressed the view that the 1961 law creating the single residual unorganized borough, “disregarded the constitutional requirement that each borough must embrace an area of common interests.” , Local Boundary Commission and Department of Education and Early Development, School Consolidation: Public Policy Considerations and a Review of Opportunities for Consolidation, February 2004, p. 30."

They are saying the areas of Alaska in the unorganized borough did NOT have common interests.  

I dare say that most Alaskans who don't work with local governments have only the haziest notion of Boroughs.  Maybe they know 'it's like a county in other states.'  I myself wasn't sure how many boroughs Alaska has.  I did find this list and this map in a Local Government Primer put out by the Alaska Municipal League (can't find the date):  [The format is different in the original]

Alaska has 18 organized boroughs and a single unorganized borough. The organized boroughs are:

1. Aleutians East Borough
2. Bristol Bay Borough
3. City & Borough of Juneau 

4. City & Borough of Sitka
5. City & Borough of Wrangell

 6. City & Borough of Yakutat

7. Denali Borough
8. Fairbanks North Star Borough 9. Haines Borough

10. Kenai Peninsula Borough 

11. Ketchikan Gateway Borough 

12. Kodiak Island Borough

13. Lake & Peninsula Borough 

14. Matanuska-Susitna Borough 

15. Municipality of Anchorage 

16. Municipality of Skagway

17. North Slope Borough

18. Northwest Arctic Borough 19. Petersburg Borough

Source: DCCED


I'd note on January 26, Amdur-Clark asked Valdez expert witness Brace about whether he thought Valdez was in a Borough. Perhaps the Chugach Borough? (He and others also asked about whether you could drive from Cordova to Valdez - presumably to prove they weren't connected - and no one ever brought up the fact that while there is no road, the marine highway connects them, so technically, you can take your car from Cordova to Valdez.  That's a side issue but it does show the attorneys asking misleading questions.)

The point Amdur-Clark was suggestion, I'm guessing, is that perhaps Mat-Su going to Valdez was not breaking a borough boundary.  Or maybe that Cordova and Valdez are not in the same Borough. Or in any borough?  Or he was just setting Brace up for an Alaska gotcha.  From the map above, it does appear that Cordova and Valdez are in the unorganized Borough.  Brace responded that on the census maps they are in a borough.  Wikipedia says:

"Valdez–Cordova Census Area was a census area located in the state of Alaska, United States.[3] As of the 2010 census, the population was 9,636.[4] It was part of the Unorganized Borough and therefore has no borough seat. On January 2, 2019, it was abolished and replaced by the Chugach Census Area and the Copper River Census Area"

But back to my point about SEI and Boroughs.  Let's look at what the Supreme Court has said in more detail: 

From Hickel v Southeast Council 1992

"3. Socio-economic Integration.

In addition to preventing gerrymandering, the requirement that districts be composed of relatively integrated socio-economic areas helps to ensure that a voter is not denied his or her right to an equally powerful vote. 

[W]e should not lose sight of the fundamental principle involved in reapportionment truly representative government where the interests of the people are reflected in their elected legislators. Inherent in the concept of geographical legislative districts is a recognition that areas of a state differ economically, socially and culturally and that a truly representative government exists only when those areas of the state which share significant common interests are able to elect legislators representing those interests. Thus, the goal of reapportionment should not only be to achieve numerical equality but also to assure representation of those areas of the state having common interests."  [emphasis added]

 This was my point when I said (yesterday) that the most persuasive SEI argument that I've heard is from Valdez.  They point out that their interests in oil are different from Mat-Su's interest in oil.  Board members have argued this is a common interest between the two communities that have been put in the same district.  They say "Valdez has the pipeline and Mat-Su has oil workers."  Valdez responds, "Valdez people work on the pipeline and Mat-Su oil workers work on the slope."  Valdez also says that they get over 90% of their revenues from taxes on the pipeline and Mat-Su has other sources of revenue.  And most persuasive to me is that Mat-Su and Valdez are competitors on two major infrastructure projects where they compete for money from the state: on ports and on a competing natural gas pipeline corridors.

That seems to be the point that was being made in the Hickel decision:  

". . . a recognition that areas of a state differ economically, socially and culturally and that a truly representative government exists only when those areas of the state which share significant common interests are able to elect legislators representing those interests."

Valdez' key argument is that they don't share mutual significant common interests.  Most of the other arguments about SEI don't talk about how their interests need unified support from their legislators.  They are more about people feeling a district doesn't represent the neighborhood they self identify with, not how that would hurt them in the legislature.

But Valdez made that argument loud and clear:  If 76% of the voters in their district live in the suburbs of Palmer and Wasilla, then their representative is a) not going to be from Valdez  and b) not going to put Valdez' interests over Mat-Su's interests on key issues.

Truly, I don't have vested interests in Valdez.  I'm just pointing out what I see after all is said and done about socio-economic integration, the most logical arguments I've heard so far come from Valdez.  

There are two left over issues from the Thursday post:  

A lot of communication between the Board and the public was not on the record - Bahnke said that, Simpson said that, Torkelson said that, and we had the text message put on the record yesterday from Amdur-Clark to Borromeo and other emails.  Mostly they said there was just a lot of communication through conversations with the public and between Board members while traveling that ever got recorded.  Partly that's the tension between gathering enough information and documenting it.  For me the test is whether there were communications that were not documented or otherwise publicly acknowledged, that changed the outcome of the maps.  

^Reporting and the relationships you develop with your subjects - Another point I want to save for later, but it particularly relates to someone like me reporting on a governmental body over a long period of time - long enough to develop at least a professional relationship and getting to know people as more than just a role on a Board.  It's particularly apt today because of  my comments about Peter Torkelson.  This one can probably wait until after the trial is over.

I'll address these later.  Probably the last one after this part of the trial is over.   Tomorrow is more Calista.  

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Day 6 AK Redistricting Trial: Putting The Puzzle Pieces Together

I've spent over a year now attending on line or in person almost all the Alaska Redistricting Board meetings.  An old overview of the Redistricting project and an index of all my posts is here and also at the AK Redistricting tap under the blog banner up top.  

Today we heard the end of the Valdez case and the beginning of the Calista case. 

  • Stephen Colligan, Mat-Su's Redistricting Contractor again
  • Sheri Pierce, the Valdez City Clerk on the stand again
  • Kimball Brace, the Valdez Redistricting Expert again
  • Andrew Guy, President and CEO of Calista, Calista Witness

The first three have all been on the stand before.  This was Guy's first appearance as we move into the Calista part of the trial.  But I'm going to hold off on that until I catch up  with other things.  This post is intended to try to make sense, from a macro view, of what's going on.

The Puzzle Pieces - D36, D29, Mat-Su and Fairbanks pieces

[There are three other areas of complaint (Eagle River senate pairings, Skagway, and Calista villages), but they don't seem to spill over into other areas so much.  So I'm not focusing on them right now.  I'd also note, if there is significant partisan consequences to this fight, I haven't figured that out yet.]

The trial is bringing out some of the things that weren't so obvious in the mapping process we saw.  I'm still trying to make sense of what was going on behind the scenes.  It's sort of like putting a jigsaw puzzle together with two exceptions:

  1. All the pieces have to be within 3 or 4% of 18,335 people
  2. The images on the pieces aren't that obvious 

Those images on the pieces are only slowly becoming visible - sort of like rubbing a pencil on a paper to get the image of a coin below.  They're showing up as the socio-economic ties that exist among the people in the districts, or at least that mappers claim exist.  

So let me tell you what's becoming clear.  There are two districts (D29 and D39) and two clusters of districts (Mat-Su and Fairbanks) whose population needs and  socio-economic integration claims conflict and are competing for the same territory.  The losers in this competition - Mat-Su and Valdez - have challenged the plan.  

Piece 1:  District 36 - Doyon Trying to Get Doyon and Ahtna Villages All Into One District 

The Doyon Coalition has been part of the redistricting process from early on.  They had a team that was preparing maps of the state well before the Board got the final census numbers in August and they submitted one of the Third Party maps that were adopted by the Board and taken around the state for comments.  

But what was their goal?  Through the testimony it's now clear that the goal was to get all their shareholders - Doyon and Ahtna - into one district.  If I understand this right, these are basically Athabascan villages.  
D36 & surround districts 29, FB, and Mat-Su

This has come out clearly in the testimony.  

D36 is, according to the redistricting expert for Valdez, the largest election district in the United States.  If it were a state it would be about the 8th largest in the US by size.  It goes from Holy Cross on the lower Yukon up and around Fairbanks and then back down the other side with a long straight edge against the Canadian border including Glennallen and the Copper River and the Richardson Highway communities but not Valdez.  And at the end they were able to carve out an arm reaching along the Denali Highway to reach Cantwell which as Michelle Anderson, President of Ahtna, explained has "about 30 shareholders with a Cantwell address." (It was later mentioned that there were more Athabascans in Cantwell, just not Ahtna shareholders.) 

D36 contains 4000 'excess' Fairbanks people, so it's one of the Fairbanks districts in a sense.  The others are circled in white. The Magenta outlines the Mat-Su districts and the Denali Borough, except the Cantwell cutout.  I'd note there were questions like how are Holy Cross and Glennallen socio-economically integrated?  I did notice doing this that Ahtna's headquarters are in Glennallen.  Another fact about this district: despite getting all the Doyon and Ahtna villages in, the population is 30% Native and 70% non-Native.  

Note:  You can see all the districts I write about in this post on the D36 map.

Piece 2:  District 36 - Valdez Cut Off From Traditional District With Richardson Highway Communities Partners Up Toward Fairbanks and/or PWS and now Paired With Palmer-Matsu Suburbs Instead 

This is the piece of the puzzle that doesn't fit according to the Valdez court challenge.  They argue they were the last piece for the Redistricting Board  and forced to fit in ways they argued against but lost.  75% of the population is in the Mat-Su, particularly the suburbs of Wasilla and Palmer.  Valdez has about 4000 people.  A key number in this story.  

In previous decades the Valdez district  had various parts of the Richardson Highway corridor and sometimes were joined with Prince William Sound. But in this map all the Richardson Highway communities were cut out and they have to drive over 100 miles outside the district to get to Palmer and Wasilla on the other side.  I'd note D29-0 (Valdez) is paired with 30-O to form a Senate seat.  30-O is the green district on the left and goes all the way to the edge of Fairbanks.  So after you drive to Palmer, it's another 300 mies or so to the other end of their Senate district.  

Valdez has made the most persuasive (to me) argument about why they are economically (if not socially) integrated with the pipeline corridor and that they are actually in competition with Palmer.  They argue that the port at Point McKenzie is competitive with the Valdez port for state money.  And they have competing natural gas pipeline proposals.  Thus having a Palmer/Wasilla based representative means their interests won't be represented as strongly (if at all) by their rep in Juneau.

Piece 3:  Mat-Su Cluster: Mat-Su Wanted To Keep All Their Districts In Mat-Su and Denali Boroughs - Did Not Want to be paired with Valdez

Mat-Su Borough had enough population for 5.84 districts.  They testified they'd been planning for this for five years.  They knew how to do this.  They said they gave their map to the Board, but it was ignored.   They wanted to be paired with Denali Borough to the north and along the Glenn Highway out to about Glennallen and surrounding communities.  (Can you see where this is going?)

Cantwell was eventually cut out of Denali Borough and  put into D36, though that's only about 200 people.  On the other end, Glennallen and the nearby Ahtna villages along the Glenn Highway also went to D36.  And so Mat-Su got paired with Valdez to fill out their numbers.  

Note:  You can see all of the Mat-Su/Denali/Valdez districts on the D36 map at the top of this post.

Piece 4 - Fairbanks Cluster - Board Chair John Binkley, of Fairbanks, Wanted To Keep All Five Fairbanks Districts Inside The Borough Boundaries Even Though They Were Overpopulated By 4000 People

While Mat-Su gained population, Fairbanks lost population.  They were down to enough population for 5.2 districts.  They had about 4000 people more than five districts.  Remember that number?  According to a few people who testified, Board Chair John Binkley, who was born and raised in Fairbanks and lives there now (though he spent some time in St Mary's and Bethel), didn't want to break the Fairbanks Borough boundaries.  Which meant that the five Fairbanks districts in his original map, were overpopulated.  They all were well over the 18,335 ideal size for a district, but not unconstitutionally over.  But probably too much for an urban area.  That means they would be underrepresented in the House because districts with more people have one rep and other districts with fewer people also have one rep.  Board member Nicole Borromeo and others reported Binkley was firm about this. 

Binkley testified he wanted to keep the Borough intact because, "Would I like to be moved out into a large rural district?"  

So that was the choice he saw.  People in Fairbanks would be taken out of the Borough and put into a large rural district -  D36.  But there were other options.  There had been districts in the past that paired Fairbanks to Valdez along the pipeline corridor. I don't know how much Binkley knew about Doyon's plan to have a district with all the Ahtna and Doyon villages. There was even a text presented in court from a Doyon team member to Board member Borromeo that seemed to show that they'd orchestrated a resolution from the Fairbanks Borough Assembly asking that the 4000 excess votes be moved to another district.  The question was from where in Fairbanks do you take the people?   

So when Fairbanks was broken on the west - causing an uproar from the people of Goldstream who were being moved into D36 - 4000 people went to D36.   Valdez' chances of their own 4000 people being put into  either D36 or a pipeline corridor district with the excess Fairbanks population were dashed.  


From what I can tell, and I'm far from certain, these are some of the consequences.

Athabascan Identity and Pride Was A Winner
Doyon and Ahtna won in the sense that their goal was to get all their villages into one district.  I think they've done that.  The main benefit that I see is symbolic and maybe even spiritual:  their territory, so to speak, is represented in a political subdivision of the State of Alaska. The political map matches the ANCSA (Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act) map.  As Ahtna president Michelle Anderson testified about the people of Cantwell, they don't feel excluded from their people any more.  While white urban folks might see a protuberance jutting into the Denali borough, that clashes with their ideal of district compactness, Athabascans see their brothers and sisters back as part of the family.  It's an important connection that is invisible to most people living in Anchorage.  

One thing that became clear to me in this trial is that most non-Native (particularly urban) Alaskans don't have a clue about rural Native Alaska. Even Judge Matthews had to be corrected on his pronunciation of the the word Calista (A ch sound, not a k sound.)  When most non-Native urban folk look at rural Alaska, we don't see all the differences between languages, dialects, family ties, types of traditional foods, and a myriad more factors that are important to the people urban non-Natives  lump together as "Alaska Natives."   These are similar to the religious, national origin, economic, racial, educational, political differences urban folk see among ourselves. Sometimes these are merely interesting, at other times they are significant.  

In this round of redistricting Alaska's Native peoples have had more input and impact on how Alaska's political maps treat the socio-economic factors that are important to Alaska Native peoples than ever before.  

A couple of notes here:
1.   While I'm pretty sure that Doyon is mainly Athabascan, I believe there was mention in the testimony that there are people from other groups mixed into the Doyon area.  Looking at Doyon's website (which everyone should do), I don't see claims that all their members are Athabascans, though it does include Athabascan history.  Ahtna's website explicitly tells us:
"Ahtna, Inc. shareholders are mainly comprised of the Ahtna Athabascan people of the Copper River and Cantwell regions of Southcentral Alaska."

2.  My spellcheck thinks Athabascan should be spelled Athabaskan.  I was confused when it changed my spelling, but I let it be.  But now as I look at the Doyon and Ahtna websites, I'm adding Athabascan with a c to my laptop's dictionary and taking out Athabaskan with a k.

Valdez Was The Biggest Loser

In yesterday's trial session, Intervenor attorney, Tanner Amdur-Clark, questioned Valdez City Clerk Sheri Pierce.  He challenged her assertion that the Board didn't really consider Valdez until the very end when everything else was locked in and there weren't any options left that Valdez wanted.  
He asked her if she had been to the September 17 session or the September 20 session.  Like any normal person, she couldn't tell for sure about random dates like that, but didn't recall hearing discussion of Valdez.  
But fortunately I have all my posts about the 2020 Redistricting Cycle indexed on a tab on the top of this blog.  So I went there, scrolled down, and checked those dates, pulled up the posts, and searched for 'Valdez.'   September 17 was when the third parties presented their maps and were questioned by the Board.  I don't have any details, just links to the proposals.  Mostly the third parties made presentations.  On September 20 the board questioned the third parties about their maps.  Amdur-Clark asserted that Nicole Borromeo talked about Valdez that day.  She did.  But she was merely questioning Tom Begich about the Senate Minority's decision to put Valdez in with Cordova and Kodiak. (The Board's final map puts Cordova with Kodiak, but leaves out Valdez which is also on Prince Willam Sound..)  When the Board spoke about Valdez, it was in the context of other districts.  The focus wasn't on Valdez until the end.  

Valdez made the best case I've heard at the trial on socio-economic integration (one of the Constitutional requirements for districts and a topic covered exhaustingly in this trial).  While others talk about why people are similar or different, Valdez is the only one I've heard that argues why it matters for their district.  The argue there are key economic issues - competing ports and competing natural gas pipeline proposals - where Valdez and Mat-Su are in competition.  A legislator representing both communities will be hard pressed to represent the interests of both communities fairly.   75% of the population of D29 live in the suburbs of Palmer and Mat-Su.  Valdez knows that means 
  • it will be almost impossible for someone from Valdez to become the representative and 
  • on the key issues of major infrastructure funding, the D29 rep will lean for the Mat-Su proposals.  
In a pipeline corridor district that Valdez wanted to be part of, the whole district would have the same interests as Valdez in these major projects.  (Valdez lists a lot of other issues they have in common with the pipeline corridor folks.)

Mat-Su Didn't Get What They Wanted, But Didn't Lose That Much Either  

I don't really see any serious legislative problem for Mat-Su.  It's true they are over populated by an average of 2-3% overall, but that's well within the limits.  There are some issues about parts of districts that, say Palmer thinks belong to them (the hospital) but are in another district.  However, they didn't make clear how that would hurt them in the legislature.  
They don't want to be paired with Valdez, and it certainly makes it trickier for a representative to have such spread out population centers, but Mat-Su has 75% of the voters in that district and should get what they want from their legislator.  
Some of the complaint I heard from Steve Colligan, their mapping expert, was frustration that although Mat-Su had begun planning for this five years, had gotten professional mappers and software, had prepared districts that met with their local needs (the hospital was together with Palmer, roads were divided in ways that made sense to the population living on them, etc.) the Board seemed to ignore all  that and did what it wanted, creating less perfect districts.  There's may well be more that I missed or wasn't stated.  

The pairings may also impact who runs for office.  Mat-Su has some of the most conservative legislators in the state, including lifetime Oath Keepers Member, David Eastman, whom the Alaska legislature is investigating for belonging to a group that advocates overthrowing the government  

Where the lines are drawn affects which potential candidates are in which districts, but I'm not up on those details and couldn't tell you.   


I know the least about the implications of Fairbanks.  The fact that the population that went to D36 came from the west Fairbanks community of Goldstream seems like a political decision.  Goldstream itself has almost 3600 people (notice how close that is to the 4000 number that keeps popping up) and it's a left leaning community.  In the testimony they said they were a short drive from the University, and many people work there.  Dermot Cole, a journalist from Fairbanks, says that cutting off the Goldstream community takes a strongly liberal leaning community out of the Fairbanks voting mix and puts them into the rural district that Doyon created, diluting liberal voting in Fairbanks.  The Division of Elections shows that the two Goldstream precincts voted for Biden 54%- 46% for Trump.

OK, that's enough for people to chew on.  It's just my take and I may have missed things.  Doing all this online and not in person means I can't easily chat with people mingling around the courtroom to get other insights.  But it also lowers everyone's risk of COVID.  But since we're near Seattle now being grandparents, the electronic connection is the only way I can keep track.  

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Making Sense of Today's Redistricting Board Trial Testimony [UPDATED Formatting]

 [UPDATE Sat. Jan 29, 2022 - The numbering got messed up horribly in the original posting and I'm fixing that now.  Blogger is tricky with outlines and if you break them accidentally anywhere it screws them all up.  Peter should be #3 overall, not #5 of the new narratives. So I've also bolded the headings of each discrete point.]

I jotted down notes today about things I thought I should write about.  I do have 14 1/2 pages of single spaced typed notes, but you really don't want that, I'm sure.  So let me talk about what struck me as meaningful  from today's testimony.  

Clockwige: Judge Matthews, Peter Torkelson,
Tanner Amdur-Clark, Matt Singer

Take aways

  1. While I, like others, was worried about political gerrymandering in Eagle River, I  missed the coordinated efforts to put all the Doyon and Ahtna villages into one district.  Well, I didn't totally miss it.  Doyon reps were there at most meetings, including attorney Tanner Amdur-Clark who is now the attorney for the intervenors.  
    1. the text messages revealed yesterday and today - a few, I expect we'll be seeing more - reveal communications between Amdur-Clark and Nicole Borromeo over the efforts to get all Doyon and Ahtna villages together.  And another text shows coordination between Borromeo and Marna Sanford, a member of the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly, trying to get the Assembly to pass a resolution saying that because they were overpopulated (their five districts were each considerably above the 18,335 ideal district size) to get Chair John Binkley to back off on his strong attachment to the idea that Fairbanks should just absorb the the excess 4000 people over 5 districts to keep Fairbanks intact.  This also relates to the Valdez case, because by putting those 4000 people into D36, it meant that Valdez' 4000 people couldn't be in D36 where they wanted to be.  
    2. Are thsee bad things?  Human beings follow two different sets of rules - human, rules of loyalty to family and community and people versus the rule of law - those rules that government sets up for us.  These often come into conflict with each other.  That's why, for example, spouses are not compelled to testify against each other in courts of law and why we have nepotism rules. When I lived in rural Thailand, the loyalty rules took precedence over the legal rules. What I realized in Thailand was that the people in my town depended on each other for many things, including helping each other plant and harvest rice.  Survival over the centuries had depended on community cooperation.  When I got to Alaska I slowly began to realize there were a lot of similarities to that sort of communal culture among Alaska Native peoples.   
    3. Doyon was working openly and explaining its objectives in public meetings.  They weren't trying to get more politicians elected from any particular party.  They seem to have been trying to get the electoral districts to match how the people of Ahtna and Doyon see themselves.  
    4. There were a lot of assumptions on my part about how the GOP appointed Board members seemed to be getting advice from people outside the public participation process.  Advice that wasn't reflected in the public testimony.  Particularly on how to draw lines in Anchorage and then with the Senate pairings and the allocation of staggered terms.  If there are similar text messages or emails from the Board members, we haven't seen them yet.  And while I missed this behind the scenes communications by Borromeo, it fits in with the testimony of Budd Simpson and others today who said that there was a lot of feedback from the public that wasn't on the record because it came in discussion between two Board members, say while traveling, or in conversations about the maps with the public on the tour around the state with the maps
    5. Again, what Doyon was doing was what every other community and local governmental unit was doing - lobbying for what they thought was best for their people.  That's different from lobbying to impact which party dominates in the legislature.  
  2. The new narratives.  At the end of the debates over the House districts, there was a lot of concern that Bethany Marcum had changed the Anchorage House districts at the last minute and created a district that put an East Anchorage neighborhood with Eagle River.  There was a great deal of surprise in the end when Budd Simpson voted in favor of the previous map that didn't have that new Muldoon-ER district,  while Marcum and Binkley no.  
    1. What had happened? Why had Simpson voted against his team on the Board?  He said later that he'd been convinced by the overwhelming testimony against putting ER and Muldoon together that way.   Though he no longer felt that way when Marcum did the same thing with the Senate pairings.   
    2. Today we got a new narrative about Marcum's no vote on the House plan (that passed 3-2)  Marcum’s new explanation for voting against the successful House map was that her vote was a signal to the people of the state that she knew there were issues and not everyone was happy.  She knew it was going to pass anyway, so didn't matter.   
    3. Maybe that's true.  Maybe Budd Simpson had said he was going to vote yes on the map.  Or maybe Simpson surprised Binkley and Marcum the way he surprised everyone else.  Or maybe they agreed that he would vote no on the House districts, but then vote yes on a Muldoon-East Anchorage Senate pairings, which he did.  Even though the testimony from Eagle River and from East Anchorage was still overwhelmingly against the pairing.  
    4. More likely in my mind, this is the new narrative to explain that first vote. Let's see what comes out in the next few days. 
  3. Peter Torkelson and the Deviation Number Mistake - Torkelson has been the Board's Executive Director since December 2020, about the same time I started monitoring the Board.  From my very first contact with Torkelson  he's been very open, receptive to my suggestions for making the website easier for the public, and he's given me information and documents I've asked for.  He was always ready to help out.  He and his staff created a very helpful website and populated it with all sorts of information for the public.  Including getting the videos and audios of Board meetings up within days at most.  He's also gotten all the public testimony up very quickly.  And even though I wrote the other day, reflecting on the third party mapping teams and Stephen Colligan's testimony - and before the outside expert Kimball Brace testified - that next time the Board really needs people with more experience and expertise with GIS and mapping software, I think that Torkelson has a great sense for the tech side and did reasonably well as did the Board.  But I'd echo Chair John Binkley today when he was asked how well he thought the Board's final map was.  He said it was as good as any of the proposed maps. Maybe.  But it wasn't the best possible map that they might have achieved with a team of really skilled technicians.  
      1. That said, Torkelson was grilled today about not having a degree in computer science or training in GIS before this job.  Steve Jobs and Bill Gates never finished their degrees either.  Not comparing Torkelson to them.  Just saying that people with natural aptitude and drive can achieve a lot.  And Torkelson had a rarer skill - the ability to work well with people and keep his cool under pressure.  He also has a strong public service ethic.  He wanted to make the best maps possible, knowing that ultimately he took direction from the Board. I didn't have as much contact with the Deputy Director TJ Presley, but I only had positive experiences when I did.  And Eric Sandberg, who I knew when he worked with the 2010 Board, is also a dedicated and talented tech.  
      2. I also have to note that there was mention the other day, from Outside expert for Valdez, Kimball Brace, that there was a problem with the numbers on the deviation table* that was part of the Final Proclamation Plan.  He explained something about when they changed the numbers of the districts at the end, a bunch of the districts - Calista's attorney Schecter said 28 - had wrong numbers.  Today Schecter followed up on that.  He was very concerned that these numbers were up on the website and were incorrect.  This was at a time when attorneys were gathering data for their lawsuits.  He was particularly concerned that when Torkelson discovered and corrected the numbers that the site didn't say anything about the numbers being corrected.  It would have been hard for someone working with the numbers to realize that they had been changed without such notice.
      3. I know how hard Torkelson worked and how dedicated he was to accuracy.  He explained to me at one point how he and (I think) Eric Sandberg had duplicated the Census data separately to make sure they had downloaded it correctly and they really had the true numbers.  (They didn't get a hard copy, they had to download from the internet and then later got the hard copy, which they then checked to be sure the original had downloaded correctly.)  So I'm sure part of Torkelson was mortified at the problem with the deviation table.  The Board's attorney Singer in redirect tried to repair some of the damage.
        1. The numbers were correct in the original list on November 5 when there was a lot of clamor for them from local governments and the media.  It was only four days later, when that had died down, that the new district numbers were applied to the districts and the new deviation table made, that something happened to some of the numbers for many of the districts.
        2. The numbers for the districts that Schecter's client - Calista - is interested in, were not affected.
      4. It's not clear to me how the error was discovered.  Brace (Valdez' hired expert) seem to imply that he had discovered the problem when he testified the other day.  But today it sounded like Torkelson told Valdez attorney Brena in the deposition.  In which case it would seem Torkelson found the error and fixed it, but didn't widely announce it, but he did say he told the Board's attorney and assumed he would notify people if that was necessary.
        1. (I would say that on this blog when I change substantive comments, I try to always make that clear.)
  4. The East Anchorage plaintiffs have a race based argument that they want to add to the record that is opposed by Board’s counsel, presumably about the affect of the ER pairings.  This is just an alert.  There have been some cryptic comments about this yesterday and today.  The last court documents added to the Most Requested Cases page on their website are dated 1/20/22, so the public (including me) hasn't had access to them, so I don't know what East Anchorage attorney has asked of the judge.  I just know that the Board's attorney is strongly opposed to whatever it is.  
  5. ^Bahnke pretty much tells us that SEI (Socio-Economic Integration) is in the eye of the beholder - I think I'll leave this for a post on the weekend.  But it is significant because it's one of the key criteria for whether a district is constitutional and there's been a lot of discussion based on whether key disputed districts meet that requirement.  
  6. A lot of communication between the Board and the public was not on the record - Bahnke said that, Simpson said that, Torkelson said that, and we had the text message put on the record yesterday from Amdur-Clark to Borromeo and other emails.  Mostly they said there was just a lot of communication through conversations with the public and between Board members while traveling that ever got recorded.  Partly that's the tension between gathering enough information and documenting it.  For me the test is whether there were communications that were not documented or otherwise publicly acknowledged, that changed the outcome of the maps.  
  7. Can you drive to Cordova from to Valdez?  This was a question that was asked of a number of witnesses today (and I think yesterday).  Everyone said no.  But I would point out that the Marine Highway goes from Cordova to Valdez and, yes, you can take your car or truck on the ferry and 'drive' to Valdez and the Richardson Highway. That's why it's called the Marine Highway.  
  8. ^4000 pop exchange between Fairbanks and Valdez into 36 - This one I'll save until the weekend too. It's important to understand these cases.
  9. ^Reporting and the relationships you develop with your subjects - Another point I want to save for later, but it particularly relates to someone like me reporting on a governmental body over a long period of time - long enough to develop at least a professional relationship and getting to know people as more than just a role on a Board.  It's particularly apt today because of  my comments about Peter Torkelson.  This one can probably wait until after the trial is over.
  10. ^Importance of hearing the wishes of Alaska Natives and understanding the cultures relationships, and differences - another biggie that needs to wait

*The deviation table is the list of each district and how much each deviated from the ideal district size of 18335 shown in actual numbers and in percentages.  This would be used to determine if a district was over or under populated and by how much.

^I've marked those topics I'm postponing discussion on with the carat so I can find them easier and remember to expand on them.  

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Blogging The Redistricting Trial Is Not A Sustainable Activity

[Note:  I'm wiped.  Please excuse typos and other problems. I need some sleep.] 

The trial goes from about 9am to 4:30, with a morning break, lunch break and afternoon break.  If we're lucking there will be a technical glitch (today they had trouble getting the audio to work on a video) and I had time to just let my brain drift.  

So, it's Wednesday which means our weekly video call with the SF grandkids.  I've got about 14 pages of notes of today's trial which would take at least 90 minutes to clean up enough to post as rough.  And I'm not sure many people would get much out of it.  

So I'm going to give reactions again.  Thoughts.  [Turns out there are two main points.  And if you get bored during the first one, then scroll down to number 2.  It's a whole new ball game.  

Best part of today's trial for me:  Testimony of Miranda Wright.  

She was born at her family's winter camp at Mud River where her family traveled to by boat from Nulato.  Now she lives in Fairbanks.  She was asked about her education by Lee Baxter, one of the Board's attorneys, "Educational background?"

Wright:  Life experience, construction.  She worked with her husband.  Then she got a degree in anthropology because of her interest in the culture of her people.  They had stories in books in the library about folklore>  She didn't view them as folklore.  They were part of her life.  She did her Masters  thesis on Nulato.  She talked about the ties between people along the Yukon and the Kuskokwim Rivers.  How there used to be lots of villages on the flats south of Nulato.  It was there homeland.  Small game, fish.  Then the pandemics came and everything was lost, including many of the people and villages.  The linguistic history shows ties to Holy Cross.  She talked about MTNT (McGrath, Takotna, Nikolai, and Telida), GASH (Grayling, Anvik, Shageluk, and Holy Cross), and GYL (The Gana-A’Yoo, Limited). 

Baxter:  What do they all have in common?

Wright:  All Athabaskan speaking.  Some variation in dialects, which happens when you're spread out like that.  Overarching kinship structure that unites us as one people of the Athabaskan nation.  Belief structures similar, How we prepare food is similar.  Intermarriages.

Interesting as it might be, you're saying, why are we hearing about Alaska Native anthropology at the Redistricting Trial?   Before I attempt to answer that, let's look at a map of the Board's House District 36R (R is the Senate seat it's in).  Nulato, is at the white #1 (middle to the left)  

For days now, the Valdez witness have been pummeled with questions like "how are Holy Cross (#2) and Valdez (#3) socially-economically integrated?  SEI is one of the criteria for combining communities into a house district.  Valdez (I know the 3 is hard to see - it's bottom to the right of center) has been arguing for a map that connects them up the Richardson Highway.  Even, if necessary to the huge purple district.  Valdez is in the Board's D29-O (pinkish lower right).  They've been complaining they aren't SEI with Mat-Su.  Valdez has been grilled about choices they made in their proposed map.  I've been thinking, "Wow, they're being grilled on how they justify their decisions, but no one has grilled the Board members how they made their decisions." (That actually began today with Nicole Borromeo being asked fairly gentle questions compared to what Valdez witnesses have endured.  It will continue tomorrow when Board members testify.)

Redistricting is an art where you have to balance (in Alaska) Compactness,  Contiguity, Socio-Economic Integrity, and getting 40 districts all as close to the same population.  Since there is no simple test for SEI, the lawyers are setting up all sorts of exaggerated tests and demonstrations of SEI and bringing in people to verify what is and is not SEI.  

The map above is the Board's D36.  This is, according to the redistricting expert, Kimball Brace, who testified yesterday and today, the largest electoral district in the country and would be something like the seventh or eighth largest state in the US.  

The Doyon Coalition that closely followed the redistricting process and submitted its own map for the process, and whose attorney, Tanner Amdur-Clark, is the Intervenor attorney at this trial (he's at the top right in the picture with Miranda Wright and Judge Matthews)STOP  That sentence was getting away from me.  Doyon pushed hard for a district that would pull all the Doyon villages together.  But there aren't enough people for a full district so they joined with Ahtna to get this huge D36R.  Including Ahtna is why there's a protuberance of dark blue (D36) between D29 (which includes Valdez) and D30.  That incursion into the Denali Borough pulls Cantwell - an Ahtna village - into D36.  

I also have Holy Cross numbered (2) and Glennallen listed (it wasn't on the original map so I had to write it in, because today the Valdez side returned the pummeling asking what was did Glennallen and Holy Cross have in common.  Do the live together?  Work together? Play together?  If not why are they in the same district?  

Have I lost you yet?  This is all the simple stuff so far.  You thinking you don't need to get into the more complicated stuff?  You're probably right.  Part of me thinks we have attorneys splitting hairs and then splitting them further and further.  They're trying to logically, almost quantitatively prove something that is qualitative and the more you work to prove it the more ridiculous it gets.  And that's one of the reasons I'm not trying to clean up my notes enough to drop them in here at the bottom.  It's just not worth it.  

But that is why I got to hear Miranda Wright's story.  She's part of proving that there are good reasons for all those villages in D36 to be together.  And I have to say she seems like an incredible woman who it would be fascinating to have dinner with.  

2.  Potentially the most impactful revelation at the trial today was the fact that the plaintiffs' attorneys have gotten access to at least some of the electronic communications between Board Members.  This is stuff the Board's attorney Matt Singer fought hard to prevent.  Whether they could be used went all the way up to the Supreme Court and Judge Matthews has been reviewing them to decide which can be released and which are protected by attorney-client privilege.  

Board member Nicole Borromeo was on the stand today and Valdez attorney Brena put up a number of texts she exchanged with people.  The Doyon attorney Tanner Amdur-Clark was texting her during Board work sessions about things I wrote about above.  Someone else was lobbying to get Fairbanks 'unlocked' because they were overpopulated but Board chair Binkley had decided from early on that Fairbanks houses should all be in Fairbanks.  It wasn't until the very end, when it seemed no longer possible, that he finally relented.  The Valdez folks are saying if that decision hadn't been locked in from the beginning, there would have been more flexibility for Valdez to have a better district.  

The question I'm sure everyone is asking is this:  What sort of messages are there between the three GOP appointed Board members and their friends about the Eagle River pairings?  There's good reason attorney Singer didn't want this information out.  It's a whole new world of open government now than it was ten years ago.  I have lots more thoughts, but the court is in session again in eleven hours.  

Tomorrow, when the Board members are testifying we could see more texts and emails.  

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

AK Redistricting Trial Day3: Including The Picasso of Gerrymandering

[As the judge keeps saying, we're all doing the best we can.  I feel like I should be doing more than I am, but I do want to get to bed so I can be up for court tomorrow. This should give you a sense of what happened today, but it's not complete.  And my notes just aren't good enough to post.]

In some way a trial is like a football or baseball game.  First one team may be doing well and pulling ahead, and then the other team scores. 

I started wrting during the lunch break, but it wasn't long enough, by the end of the day the other team was scoring points.  

But this is NOT a jury trial.  What might influence jurors isn't necessarily going to move a judge who has a lot more information than a jury would and is determined to render a verdict that is not only 'right', but that will be supported enough that a likely appeal to the Supreme Court will uphold his decision.  

Judge Matthews continues to convey a reasonable tone balancing the various demands of the attorneys, keeping one eye carefully on the clock, and praising everyone for the work they are doing under incredible pressure.  When he rejects an attorney's request, he does it with understanding and a brief explanation of his reasoning.  He's giving attorneys some leeway on timing because of the  time pressure.  He's trying to balance a break for one attorney with an equal break for the other.  He keeps telling them he's trying to gather the information he needs in order to make a good decision that he can support with facts.  

Here's what I wrote at lunch break:

Quick Thoughts During the Lunch Break:

1 Witnesses

Duval upper middle
Both witnesses were strong in different ways.  Nathan Duval, who works for City of Valdez, wasarticulate and able to say what he had to say succinctly.  He was able to voice what seems like an important point that hadn't been adequately discussed before:  How Valdez and Mat-Su have conflicting interests over ports and competing for money for their ports.  In the current district, Mat-Su has 40% of the population and getting to see the representative and Senator is hard.  The Senator doesn't come to Valdez.  Duval talks to them by phone or email.  Also mentioned they go to the Fairbanks reps and senators because they have more in common with Valdez and more likely to advocate for them.  

Pierce upper right

Sheri Pierce, the City Clerk for some 30 years, was not as articulate, but she knew what she wanted to say and despite a relatively silly set of questions from Tanner Amdur-Clark* asking about the Socio Economic ties between Valdez and various isolated villages, she didn't lose her cool and was able to get back to her main points:

  • Valdez when included in a district along the Richardson Highway was more likely to be better represented than when paired the way the new district pairs Valdez with Mat-Su.  Even if there were some places that were not very socio-economically compatible with all the  communities.  
  • The maps she preferred - like v1, or even Valdez option 1 - were maps that better met Valdez' needs and she wasn't looking at how they met other people's needs.  Valdez wasn't responsible for meeting the needs of the rest of the state, the Board was.  When she was saying she liked those maps she was specifically talking about how they handled Valdez and not the rest of the state.  
  • She also voiced the concern that the Board was using the trope that Valdez was hard to fit into a district (and I might be accused of falling for that and perpetuating it in this post, subtitled "How do deal with a problem like Valdez".)  She said the previous Boards had solved the problem, and while their current district is paired with Mat-Su, it also includes the nearby Richardson Highway communities.  40% of the district being Mat-Su voters was bad, but with 76% Mat-Su voters this time, it's worse. And it's like that, she claimed, because the Board waited til the end, when all the other districts were pretty much locked in, to figure out what to do with Valdez.  

Needless Lawyer Stuff

I've been, up to now, impressed with Tanner Amdur-Clark, the attorney who worked with the Doyon Coalition of Native related groups to come up with one of the third party maps.   But he seemed more focused on winning today than reaching an understanding of the issues.  He is, understandably, concerned that Alaska Natives are fairly represented in the legislature.  But it isn't an either/or situation.  He asked Pierce a string of questions about the socio-economic integration between Valdez and Cold Foot and Allakaket.  A couple of questions would have made his point but he kept at it over and over as though he'd caught her in a terrible inconsistency and he was going to make her suffer.  But I thought that not only was this line of questioning hollow, but it was based on a dubious assumption:  That the Valdez Option 1 map was intended to be an accurate map for the whole state. Or that Valdez was required to provide map of the whole state if they waned to give the Board feedback on what they wanted the Valdez district to look like.

There were valid points to make about Valdez' preferred maps having some questionable socio-economic pairings.  And it's also valid to point out that if they complain, they need to understand the Board has to make compromises somewhere and the maps that Pierce preferred had problems for other people.  But he piled on and tried to make her look terrible.  

Pierce explained that Valdez Option 1 map didn't pretend to be a final map since it doesn't even have 40 districts.  It was drawn up quickly, using the Board's online map making tool, to give the Board a sense of what kind of district they preferred,  
The judge understands all these points and pushing hard on Pierce isn't going to gain Amdur-Clark any points.  He'd have been much better off, in my opinion, making his points without trying to make her look like a fool.  
Singer, on the other hand, asked questions about similar issues, but did it in a much more respectful way..  

What Valdez Gained This Morning
  • Better establishing the close ties between Valdez and Fairbanks that result in representatives who understand and are aligned on issues that are dominant for Valdez -  on oil gas issues and port issues.  With Mat-Su, the witnesses explained, there is competition because of Mat-Su's  Point McKenzie's port aspirations and Mat-Su's interest in a competing gas pipeline.  And with the new district having 75% of its voters in Mat-Su, Valdez' interests just won't be represented strongly or at all in Juneau.  
  • Cleaned up weak points in court filings.  In an earlier post after I looked at the Valdez court case, I noticed they claimed that maps v1, v2, and v3 were all ok with Valdez.  But v4 was a surprise and they didn't have time to respond.  In fact v4 came out the same time as v3 which they thought was ok.  
    • Today, Brena added a new approach here.  
      • The v4 map boundaries on the wall maps at the Valdez public hearing weren't clear enough to see that the Richardson Highway communities had been cut out
      • The v3 and v4 maps weren't the maps completed in the 30 days time frame the Board has to get the maps out.  They were revisions of v1 and v2 after a lot of outcry over those maps.  But v3 and v4, not v1 and v2, were the maps that went on the road trip.  I understand the Board's view that they merely made adjustments based on the feedback with better maps for the road trips.  But Brena got out the points that
        • that the Board was required to get the proclamation maps out in 30 days, but the v3 and v4 maps that they used to take around the state for comment weren't completed in that 30 day period, so
        • the maps they took around the state weren't the proclamation maps and there wasn't the 60 days needed for the public to review the v3 and v4 maps.  This is a technical argument which may or may not appeal to the court, but it is, technically, a violation of the Constitutional requirements.  And it allows him to abandon the false claim that v4 only came out at the very end.  
There was more, but it got very tedious.  

The afternoon session was with national Redistricting Expert Kimball Brace.  Matt Singer in redirect pointed out Mr. Brace had been on the Jon Stewart show and was known as the Picasso of Gerrymandering.    
Brace and IL district

Brace came down hard on the Redistricting Board.  (Yesterday I posted my thoughts on how the Board was severely outgunned by the third party groups when it came to preparation before the Census data arrived and basic mapping skill level.  Glad I put that up before I heard this testimony.) 

It's getting late and I've been at the screen here most of the day.  There was a fair bit of jargon  - and I thought attorney Stone did a good job of stopping him and asking him to explain, but this is also a very experienced presenter who knows how to avoid yes-no answers and go on to explain instead.  So let me try to hit some highlights.  There will be more redirect of him tomorrow.  

Basically he said 
  • the Board had started preparing very late in the game and weren't prepared to do the mapping when the data arrived August 12.  He acknowledged that Alaska has a very short required turnaround time of 30 days to get the initial map out.  
  • they had race data turned on early on and got the Native districts settled first which is contrary to the Hickel decision to do the Alaska requirements before doing the Voting Rights Act adjustments
  • when he looked at the TIGER files there was a discrepancy in the population numbers for districts 11-29 and 31-33.  He thought this might have happened when the adjusted the numbers on the districts
  • there were issues of packing some of the Native districts
  • pointed out how the ANCSA borders seemed to be used rather than Borough borders

These are pretty major issues.  The Board's attorney, Singer, started off by raising issues about whether he was a hired gun, by asking his salary ($500/hour) and pointing out the Picasso quote and giving examples of what Singer thought were questionable districts.  Brace remained cheerful throughout.  Then he started challenging him about when the Board actually started mapping and some of the inferences he made based on the trails left behind on the files.  He also raised questions about taking Nicole Borromeo's response to a question out of context, pointing out he'd pulled together comments from various pages.  Brace's response was he was trying to put together a response that was spread out over several pages and he had footnotes with directions to which pages each quote came from.  He also questioned him over the packing charge, pointing out that his own (Brace's) Native districts were only a couple of percent different from the Board's.  

Amdur-Clark,one of the intervenors - focused more on Brace's lack of understanding of rural Alaskan culture and the differences between different cultures.  This sounded similar to the questioning Amdur-Clark did of Sheri Pierce in the morning as he asked a series of questions about different rural communities and whether Brace knew what language was spoken, what traditional foods different areas hunted, the difference between Coastal and Interior tribes.  To a certain extent this was more justified with a certified National expert coming in to Alaska and dividing up the state, particularly the rural areas, into districts.  But Amdur-Clark was taking too much pleasure, in my mind, making Brace squirm.  Brace is a professional and didn't lose his composure or  claim to know things he didn't know - it wouldn't have worked anyway - and finally said "I'm an expert on redistricting, not Alaska Native groups."  This was very different from his explanation of the the district he'd carved out in Chicago [see red district map above] where he explained there were Puerto Rican Hispanics to the north and Mexican Hispanics to the south with African Americans in the middle.  He had no sense of those kinds of nuances in Alaska.  

This will continue tomorrow.  

Monday, January 24, 2022

Redistricting Trial Day 2: Some Insights

[It's been a long day at the computer.  I'm putting this up now, but reserve the right to edit it later when I have more time.] 

On the surface today seemed more like a regular trial.  There were witnesses and attorneys questioned them.  Sometimes other attorneys objected and the judge had to decide whether to sustain it or overrule it.  

My rough notes are rougher than usual and it would be tedious for just about everyone if I posted them so I'll skip that today.  Instead I'll comment on what the testimony said to me about redistricting.  

I would like to make two observations on the Board's representation today after my comments yesterday.  Board attorney Matt Singer was, in my opinion, far more respectful of the witnesses than he was of the witnesses yesterday.  Also, I'd suggested he should have one of his associates take over some of the in court appearances so he can get a break, and Lee Baxter did much of the work today for the Board.  I'm sure that was arranged a while ago, but I want to let regular readers know there was a difference today.  

This was Mat-Su's day, though Valdez (which is doing the case with Mat-Su since they both object to being paired  with each other) had a witness - the Mayor - today as well because she was available today.  The district in question is 29-O  (O is the Senate seat.)

The Stated Issues

  • Is District 29 (the one that pairs Valdez with suburbs of Palmer) contiguous?
  • Is District 29 compact?
  • Is District 29 socio-economically integrated?
  • Is District 29 unconstitutionally over populated?
These are the  State and Federal constitutional requirements for a district.  
Questions and answers over these issues got just short of ridiculous, making it clear to me that it would be helpful if the Supreme Court offered some new advice on what these ideas mean and how you would test them - particularly contiguous and socio-economically integrated.

Types of Witnesses Today

Insights (if that's not too lofty a word for these thoughts)

1.  Redistricting Criteria

Throughout the Board's mapping process last year - including the public hearings - I was struck by how the board used the criteria listed above.  Too often they were NOT used as criteria to measure the districts they were making.  Rather they were used to justify the districts. Perhaps that sounds like double-talk on my part.  I mean that criteria were used to justify doing things, not to stop and check whether what they had done was correct.  

This became more obvious as one criterion took precedence over another one that had been crucial earlier.  At one point we heard the all districts within a borough boundaries were socially-economically integrated (SEI) so they didn't have to consider, say community-councils in Anchorage, or whether neighborhoods were similar or different.  At other times, say when Bethany Marcum was trying to put part of East Anchorage into the same district as part of Eagle River, she was listing all the Socio-Economic Integration of the two areas.  

At one point getting low deviations was important until it fell by the wayside for other criteria.  

Today's discussion made some of the criteria look so malleable you could stretch them to mean whatever you wanted.  Let's look at three of them.  (I'm going to leave compactness out for now because that seemed to be abused the least.)

1.  Deviation - This is a federal requirement. In order for the one-person-one-vote concept to work, districts have to be as close to equal in population as possible.  In theory anyway.  Part of Mat-Su's complaint is that Mat-Su as a whole is over populated because it's districts range from 1.1% more than the ideal 2020 Alaska Redistricting population number of 18,335. (That comes from dividing the 2020 Census number for Alaska by 40 House seats.)  At one point, their challenge added up the percentages for each district and they claimed they were 13.7% above.  But as I pointed out in a post yesterday, you can't add up percentages.  If you take the population of the six Mat-Su districts and divide them by the ideal size of six districts, the deviation is 2.2 or so.  

The Supreme Court has ruled that in urban areas it should be less than two and the lower the better.  In rural areas there is more flexibility.  The absolute limit from the Supreme Court has been a 10% limit between the highest and lowest deviations.  So if the highest deviation is 5% above 18335, then the lowest allowable would be 5% below.  But even that number would have to be justified.  

Stephen Colligan, the challengers' expert today, complained about Mat-Su's overpopulation and said they didn't have as much influence in Juneau because of it.  But really, if they have 400 more people in their district out of 18,335 people, how much of a difference does that really make?  This is a theoretical equality.  At what point does it become really an equity issue?  Some districts have a much higher proportion of non-voters than other districts, such as children or non-citizens, or prisoners.  Don't get me wrong.  Equal size districts is an important criterion, but we shouldn't obsess over it.  It's become even more of an issue now that software is available to reduce the differences to 1% for most districts and under that for urban areas.  AFFER's maps did that.  And Colligan's point that Anchorage and other areas were uniformly underpopulated is a valid one.  Was that done intentionally?  I suspect not, but it probably didn't have to be that way if the Board had more professional mappers working on the maps.  But I'll pursue that later.

2.  Contiguity - This basically means that all parts of the house district are touching.  It's the main criterion for Senate pairings. (In Senate pairings the two House districts have to touch, somewhere.) Here the basic issue in District 29 is that there is no way to get from Valdez to Mat-Su by car without going through another district.  The Board argues that the land is contiguous, it doesn't matter if the road goes out of the district for 60 miles or more.  Board Attorney Lee Baxter seemed to mock witness Colligan's use of the term 'auto contiguity' which got changed then to 'transportation contiguity' which then no longer seemed to have any meaning when helicopters and chartered plane brought up.  

But I'm all for the 'auto contiguity' concept.  People should have to drive out of their district to reach other parts of their district.  Of course, there are exceptions in rural Alaska where there are no roads, or where there is water and island.  But in urban areas and in areas with roads, 'auto contiguity' makes perfect sense to me.  You shouldn't have to drive through nearer areas to get to the other side of your district.  In Valdez' case to where 75% of the population of the district is located a four hour drive away, in good weather.  But this should also apply in Anchorage and Fairbanks.  Last time a Fairbanks district was 'connected' by a military bombing range that was closed to the public.  It was done to dilute the vote of the main part of the district.  And in Anchorage this time, this same sort of thing is being done in the Eagle River Senate pairings.  Yes, the districts are contiguous by land, but not by land people can use to get to the other side.  Instead they have to drive through other districts and then eight or more miles to get to the other side of their district.  This too was for partisan reasons and if the Court recognizes 'auto contiguity' it would put an end to this sort of gerrymandering.  

3.  Socio-Economic Integration - This is the most ambiguous criterion.  In my mind, it means that there is an important relationship, a common interest, that makes it beneficial to be grouped together and be represented by on representative.  But the plaintiffs and the defendant alike are coming up with all sorts of ways areas are similar or different.  Do they use the same highways?  Where do they shop?  Do Valdez folks shop in Mat-Su or Anchorage?  The answer from the mayor of Valdez was, "if your 45 minutes from Anchorage, why stop in Mat-Su where you have to pay sales tax?"   I thought Valdez had a strong list of reasons they are connected with the Richardson Highway communities - from goods coming in the port going up to Fairbanks, to the pipeline, to electrical utilizes, to higher education, etc.  But the Board's attorney pointed out that Valdez sports teams play in Mat-Su once a year.  The Mayor pointed out they play in Kenai too, but mostly along the Richardson Highway.  The Board's attorney asked Valdez if they thought Mat-Su was socially-economically integrated with Tonsina?  Later the Board was challenged whether Holy Cross was socially-economically integrated with Glennallen?  Both had been paired in different maps that had been supported.  It just shows that not every pairing will work exactly and the different criteria have to be weighed and compromised here and there to get districts.

At the Board meetings we heard that Interior Native Groups have nothing in common with Coastal Native Groups.  I understand they can have different language traditions and other traditions, but does that mean they have more in common with the White folks who are relatively recent arrivals to Alaska than to other Alaska Natives?  It became clear to me over this process that we can  find all kinds of areas of commonality and differences.  But which ones are really important in terms of having a representative?  And if you put everyone who is different in a different district does this ultimately strengthen or weaken their representation?  Packing is the type of gerrymandering where you put a lot of one group into one district.  They'll elect their representative by 50% or more.  But that also means they had 50% excess votes that could have made another district more competitive.  Lots of think about here.  

Expert Mappers versus the Board

Third party groups like AFFR (Alaskans for Fair Redistricting) and AFFER (Alaskans for Fair and Equitable Redistricting), Doyon, the Democratic Party, and the Senate Democratic Minority  attended most of the public Board meetings.  As I listened to them testify and talked to them, it became clear that they had begun mapping months before the Board even started.  They had people trained in GIS (Geographic Information Systems) that is the basis of the mapping software.  Stephen Colligan, today's expert witness is the head of AFFER and said he has people with masters and PhD's in this field working on mapping.  He said that Mat-Su had begun working on this five years ago.  

In comparison, the Board is made up of people with little or no previous mapping experience.  They had basic classes for beginners to help them learn how to use the software.  At the time I was beginning to form thoughts like - "the board is way behind the third party groups" and "the board is learning on the job."  Colligan today said that the Board didn't start until September 7 and then gave themselves two days to come up with maps.  They actually started playing with the software on August 24, 2021.  Meanwhile the third party groups had professionals and had started making maps months earlier.  [UPDATE Jan 25, 2021: I tracked down my post "Redistricting Board Meets To Learn Software" which happened on June 30, 2021.  They had a three day workshop.]

This just tells me that for 2030, the Board needs to hire professional map makers and not be dilettantes trying to do a specialists work.  I don't blame the Board itself.  The technology has changed rapidly and they didn't know enough to know how in over their heads they were.  

I suspect this is something the legislature needs to work on, because we can't settle for amateurs doing the mapping and judging the maps next time.  We need people who are trained and experienced in this.  

You could tell by the level of detail Colligan went into.  It was a totally different kind of conversation than with the other witnesses and different from how the Board members talked about mapping.  You could also tell when Doyon attorney Tanner Amdur-Clark talked.  He too was very involved with the Doyon mapping and software.  This is like the difference between lay folks and doctors talking about medical issues.  

Should Local Areas Be Required To Submit Statewide Maps To Be Listened To By The Board?

This was a Valdez and a Mat-Su report.  The Board's attorney mocked is probably too strong a word, but was dismissive that Valdez submitted a map that only made appropriately sized districts for part of the state in the map they submitted to the Board.  "The Board has a responsibility to the whole state, not just your area."  Colligan said the same thing happened to Mat-Su who submitted maps for their districts.  

Colligan felt it was unfair to ask local areas to map out the whole state.  They should only be asked to do a map that shows their preferences and it's the Board's responsibility to do the whole state.  

I think this is an issue future Boards need to think carefully about.  It's expensive to hire experts to do a whole state map.  But I also understand it's easy to do one small area if you don't have to consider how it affects the rest of the state.  I raise here just to get it on the record for the future.  

Enough now.  It's late.  This isn't the he-said-she-said report of the trial, but I think it's just as meaningful if not more.  Take care.