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Alaska's latest redistricting plan pits GOP incumbents against each other

Alaska's every-10-years redistricting process is happening again, just two years after it was last done.

The Alaska Redistricting Board is making its second major attempt at drafting a redistricting plan for legislative district boundaries, hoping this one meets constitutional muster.

The new plan, called the "concept" plan to differentiate it from other plans, is scheduled for final adoption this Sunday.

It is already coming in for criticism from some who fear it doesn’t appropriately group voters together by "communities of interest" as required under the Alaska Constitution. But it is receiving some praise, too.

The current plan was found to be unconstitutional by the courts, but was allowed to be used once, in the 2012 election.

In North Pole, two incumbent Republican representatives have been placed in the same district by the concept plan, while in Anchorage, two veteran Republican senators have may have to square off.

Former North Pole mayor Doug Isaacson is objecting to separating the Eielson Air Force Base from the rest of the local community, contending the military base is an integral part of that community.

"The issue is not if incumbents are pitted against each other but whether residents are represented constitutionally," Isaacson said, in a statement relayed through staff.

The people who work at Eielson live in North Pole and Salcha, but the base has been put in a district dominated by other communities, he said.

"It's almost like they've moved Eielson already," Isaacson said, referring to the bitterly-opposed proposal to relocate some of the Interior base's staff and jets to the bigger Joint Base Elemendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.

Two-term Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, said she's not as much concerned about having two representatives in the same district as splitting off an important part of the community from its neighbors.

"I think there would have been a way to keep the Fairbanks North Star Borough more intact in terms of representation than what this map shows," she said.

Wilson said she's resigned to the redistricting board moving ahead with the concept plan. "As far as I know this is the map they're going forward with," she said.

That may set up a Republican primary battle between the two North Pole representatives, who are also two of the Legislature's most conservative members.

"I haven't spoken to Rep. Isaacson, but I am filing with my intent to run again. If he does the same thing, it will be a good race in the (Republican) primary," Wilson said.

Isaacson said he, too, is planning to run to keep the seat.

In Anchorage, two senators find themselves in the same district at well.

Sen. Anna Fairclough, R-Eagle River, is serving her first term in the Senate, but previously was elected to the House of Representatives three times.

In the concept plan, Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, is in the same district as Fairclough. He, too, served three terms in the House, and is now in his fourth term in the Senate. Neither Fairclough nor Dyson were available for comment Friday.

In Southeast Alaska, the current legislative districts were drawn so the Haines home of former Rep. Bill Thomas, a Republican, was not part of nearby and much bigger Juneau, giving him a fighting chance to hold onto his seat. He lost one of the state's closest races in 2012, to young rookie Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka.

Now that Thomas isn't in office, the redistricting Board was able to combine Haines with nearby Skagway and Juneau for a more compact district.

"The current map, at least for Southeast, makes much more sense," said Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka. "Its much more compact, integrated, and geographically logical."

One of the communities most unhappy with the current plan was Petersburg, which felt overwhelmed by being grouped into a Juneau legislative district, and wanted to be back with its smaller Southeast neighbors.

While Juneau is dominated by government, tourism and mining, Petersburg is all about fishing.

Petersburg challenged the old plan in court more than once, and the new concept plan puts Petersburg in a district with Sitka instead of Juneau.

"I think we like it," said Petersburg Mayor Mark Jensen. "I think we're happy to have it back like it was."

Petersburg Borough Clerk Kathy O'Rear said that while they wish close neighbor Wrangell was also in the same district, Sitka has a strong focus on fishing, much like Petersburg.

"I think we've got much more in common with Sitka," she said. We'd like to be with Wrangell as well, but you can't have everything."

And prospective new Petersburg Rep. Kreiss-Tomkins is already looking toward his next election, talking up his years as a deckhand on his dad's troller. He plans on running for re-election, no matter what the final boundaries of his district are.

Contact Pat Forgey at pat(at)alaskadispatch.com