Just hours after two Democratic legislators said it was time for the courts to push aside the Alaska Redistricting Board for failing to do its job, the board announced a new meeting and said it was rehiring its former executive director.
"This has been in the works for a few weeks," said Taylor Bickford, the former executive director, explaining that his rehiring on a part-time basis had nothing to do with the Democratic legislators, Sen. Hollis French and Rep. Les Gara. Both are from Anchorage.
The Alaska Redistricting Board, dominated 4-1 by Republicans, was supposed to have drawn new legislative districts for the 2012 election. The Alaska Supreme Court ruled its plan was unconstitutional but allowed the 2012 election to be held with the faulty districts because time had run out.
Now, after several back and forths with the courts, the board still hasn't begun drafting a new plan for the 2014 election. Attorneys for two plaintiffs from the Fairbanks area who had sued over the district lines have suggested that the courts declare the board a failure and replace it with a master to complete the project. French and Gara joined in that call Tuesday.
But Bickford said the board should complete its work. It scheduled a meeting for Friday "to receive a report on legal issues and discuss a schedule for future Board work sessions and meetings."
After Bickford left his job with the board in October, he joined the public relations firm Strategies 360 as its director of Alaska operations. He's still keeping that job and will work part-time with redistricting. He said his firm has no clients directly affected by redistricting and doesn't work for political candidates.
In a prepared statement, Bickford said the redistricting process was made "incredibly difficult" by the "complicated interplay" between the laws of Alaska and the United States. He criticized "partisan talking heads" for claiming the board engaged in "partisan malfeasance."
Gara and French, in their own statement Tuesday, said the board had indeed acted in a partisan manner that "forced Alaskans to vote under an unconstitutional plan in 2012."
"I'm a person who just survived an election in a tough district, but that's not really the point," French said in an interview. "You've got to have districts in place so you can have a fair election. Many people look back on this last election as having been illegitimate since the districts that we ran under were now ruled unconstitutional."
French and Gara said they plan to propose legislation next year that would take partisan politics out of redistricting. Currently, two members of the five-member board are appointed by the governor, the House Speaker and the Senate President each pick one, and the fifth is chosen by the Chief Justice of the Alaska Supreme Court.
Reach Richard Mauer at email@example.com or 257-4345.
By RICHARD MAUER