The Alaska Redistricting Board approved new legislative districts for Alaska on Sunday and declared its work done, assuming its boundaries pass muster with the Alaska Supreme Court.
Two years behind schedule, the redrawn districts offer some significant changes from the 2012 election, held under an interim plan that had been ruled unconstitutional.
If the current plan goes ahead, former Republican Party chair Randy Ruedrich said it will pit two sets of incumbent Republican legislators from conservative districts against each other: Two senators from Eagle River, Fred Dyson and Anna Fairclough, and two House members from North Pole, Tammie Wilson and Doug Isaacson. Fairclough and Isaacson are both freshmen, although Fairclough served three House terms before moving to the Senate in 2012.
That would also mean at least one Senate district and one House district with no incumbent for the 2014 election -- and no legislator for the 2013 Legislative session, except for the incumbents elected under the old boundaries.
The Alaska Constitution requires new legislative district boundaries every decade to coincide with population shifts recorded in the U.S. Census. The state Supreme Court ruled against the first plan by the board, but allowed the 2012 election to proceed under it because there wasn't enough time to produce new districts.
Political opponents Ruedrich and Tom Begich, brother of the Democratic senator, expressed satisfaction with the newest plan after the board concluded its meeting in Anchorage. Begich, Ruedrich and Marcia Davis, general counsel for Calista Corp., the Native corporation for the Bethel region, posed arm-in-arm while board member Robert Brodie and others snapped pictures.
While the three said they each had something to dislike about the plan, they said they recognized it as a compromise that likely conforms with the state constitution.
"The map looks like an improvement over the map we're currently under," said Begich, a consultant to Calista, which, like Ruedrich, drew up its own plan. Begich predicted the board's plan would lead to more competitive Democratic-Republican races in 2014 than in 2012, when Democrats were left as all but toothless minorities in both legislative chambers.
Ruedrich said the new districts are in strong compliance with the one-person, one-vote mandate of both the state and U.S. constitutions because they are closely matched in population.
"I think everybody had to make a lot of compromises," Davis said. "The challenge was trying to do with the least amount of impact, from Calista's perspective to the Native boundaries."
Davis said the new boundaries will ensure Alaska Natives will determine the outcomes in four House and two Senate seats, and give them substantial voice in one or two more. That's important, she said, given the decision last month by the U.S. Supreme Court striking down the section of the U.S. Voting Rights Act that required changes in Alaska's election districts to be scrutinized by the U.S. Justice Department to ensure Natives continue to have a political presence in Juneau.
Board attorney Michael D. White said he hoped to submit the plan for approval to the courts no later than Thursday. It's unclear how much time the courts will allow for legal challenges, he said.
Fairbanks attorney Michael Walleri, who successfully challenged the previous plan on behalf of two voters from Ester, couldn't be reached for comment.
Reach Richard Mauer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4345.
By RICHARD MAUER