Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has named Edward Budd Simpson of Juneau and Bethany Marcum of Anchorage, both Republicans, to the state’s redistricting board ahead of a Sept. 1 deadline.
Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, said she will name her choice on Wednesday and will pick a Republican. Combined with the governor’s selections, that will guarantee a Republican majority on the board.
Under a 1998 amendment to the state constitution, the redistricting board is charged with the once-per-decade job of redrawing the state’s political boundaries to accommodate changes in population. The borders chosen by the new board are scheduled to become effective with the 2022 election.
Giessel said a Republican majority doesn’t mean the process will favor her party.
“Just because someone has a political affiliation doesn’t mean that they’re biased,” she said.
In response to a series of questions about the governor’s picks, Dunleavy deputy communications director Jeff Turner wrote, “The governor is confident in his appointees’ ability to fairly represent the interests of all Alaskans throughout this once-in-a-decade process. Both individuals were selected for their extensive public policy experience. Together, they bring to the table decades of legislative and legal knowledge, having worked for and represented organizations ranging from the Alaska State Bar, the Sealaska Corporation, and the Alaska Legislature.”
Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, and Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger will name one person each to the board after Giessel makes her selection. Bolger declined to comment on Tuesday, and Edgmon said he has “no immediate timetable” for his decision but will discuss the issue with the House leadership team.
He said he wants “an Alaska Native voice” on the board.
The board must have at least one person from each of the state’s four judicial districts: The governor’s selections leave the Interior and Arctic/coastal seats open, plus one at-large seat.
Simpson, a Juneau attorney, said it’s reasonable to expect the governor and Giessel to appoint Republicans. He doesn’t expect boundaries to be redrawn to favor Republicans.
“My expectation is that a lot of it is just the numbers. It’s the demographics and the census count as governed by the law and fairness,” he said.
Marcum worked for Dunleavy as a legislative staffer between 2013 and 2017 and now is director of the Alaska Policy Forum, a think tank that promotes small-government ideas popular with the governor’s administration.
“Certainly we’re not going to look at this from a partisan perspective. At least, I’m not,” she said of redistricting.
When the U.S. Census Bureau releases final results in summer 2021, the board will have no more than 90 days to finalize a plan for new districts in the Alaska House and Alaska Senate. The board cannot add seats to the House or Senate, but it must redraw boundaries so each district has roughly equal population.
To avoid gerrymandering, the state constitution requires districts to be “formed of contiguous and compact territory containing as nearly as practicable a relatively integrated socio-economic area.”
According to interim population statistics compiled by the state, this year’s board will be required to draw a House district in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough at the expense of Fairbanks, Southeast and parts of rural Alaska.
“That’s what we’re going to be grappling with,” Simpson said.
The board’s actions are always politically fraught, and each decade since 1970, the redistricting process has ended with a court challenge in front of the Alaska Supreme Court.
In 2000, when Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles picked two members of the board, the resulting map pitted 20 incumbent legislative Republicans against one another. It was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
In 2010, four Republicans and one Democrat were chosen for the board. The result contributed to the dissolution of the bipartisan coalition that had controlled the Alaska Senate, then was thrown out by the Supreme Court after the 2012 election.
Correction: Census results will be available in summer 2021 due to a delay caused by COVID-19. The initial version of this article stated they would be available in spring.
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