Mayor's email reflects Mat-su redistricting battle

Zaz Hollander

Mat-Su Assembly member Warren Keogh hoped to give Mayor Larry DeVilbiss a slap on the wrist.

Instead, Keogh got clobbered.

The mayor emailed the Alaska Redistricting Board in late June expressing his support for its proposal that Valley legislative districts extend beyond the north and south borough borders.

Keogh contends the mayor overstepped his bounds and shouldn't have sent the message without Assembly approval. He put forward a resolution to rescind the email.

But at a crowded meeting Tuesday night at the Palmer Depot, the Assembly unceremoniously voted to flat-out remove the resolution from the night's agenda, eliminating any opportunity to debate the idea, much less vote on it.

A few minutes later, the Assembly backed member Steve Colligan's directive that the borough send the state board a letter backing the new legislative map as providing "six compact districts and three senate seats for the borough population and our neighbors."

Keogh was the lone no vote.

"This proposed directive epitomizes the public process gone haywire," he said.

Political drama aside, the borough's stance on redistricting really doesn't matter any more. The board approved a final redistricting plan in mid-July, though it remains under court challenge.

The map extends Mat-Su districts north to the Richardson Highway and south to include Chugiak. It creates a third open Senate seat for the Mat-Su and parts of the Anchorage Municipality -- a move that opens the door for an ambitious politician in the Mat-Su, where voters trend Republican.

In a phone interview before Tuesday night's meeting, the mayor said he'd heard speculation he backed the new map so he could run for Senate.

"We've got an opening," he said. "They will find I'm not applying for it."

Here's a brief history of the email issue:

DeVilbiss in late June emailed the Redistricting Board as the board neared the end of a tumultuous process redrawing state legislative maps, a process normally done every 10 years using U.S. Census data. The Alaska Supreme Court in 2011 ruled the new maps unconstitutional, but they stood through 2012 elections because time ran out to change them.

Keogh, at a meeting in mid-July, took the mayor to task for sending out the email without getting the approval of the assembly as a whole. That violated borough code and its communications policy, Keogh said.

Responding in writing to Keogh's criticism, DeVilbiss said he twice asked the Assembly for guidance as the redistricting process unfolded earlier this year and heard no comments.

As the state neared the end of the mapping process, DeVilbiss said he got a call "in the middle of the night" from somebody affiliated with redistricting asking which proposal the borough preferred. He asked to see all the maps and drafted his email.

On Tuesday, DeVilbiss said he wasn't sure who contacted him.

The mayor's June email -- sent on his personal email -- said the borough supported the plan put forward by Alaskans for Fair and Equitable Redistricting with some revisions to reflect major roads as boundaries. AFFER, as it's called, is led by former Republican Party chairman Randy Ruedrich.

In his email, DeVilbiss included a map drawn up by Colligan, whose company eTerra also worked on redistricting maps for clients Calista Corp. and AFFER.

The final map -- and the Mat-Su boundaries -- remains the subject of a court challenge in Fairbanks. Part of the challenge: the state's final map "unnecessarily includes populations outside" the Mat-Su which do no meet constitutional requirements for socio-economic integration or compact population areas, a July 25 filing charges.

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