Home Statewide Politics Redistricting Board Strikes Back: Anchorage Edition

Redistricting Board Strikes Back: Anchorage Edition

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Yesterday, the Alaska Redistricting Board released their Concept Plan, crafted after reviewing well over a dozen proposals. The body canceled the rest of the week’s meetings, leaving only Sunday’s, in accordance with the court’s deadline. They’ll likely be the law until another census or court challenge says otherwise.
Per the “What Do I Know” blog, Redistricting Board Chairman Torgerson closed the meeting with a air of finality: “I anticipate that will be our final action, adopting, whatever we’re going to call this – Seconded Amended Proclamation.”
Here’s what the new plan means for Anchorage.
The new Senate District G was redrawn in a way that combines two incumbent senators, Republicans Anna Fairclough and Fred Dyson. Last year’s redistricting split Fairclough’s district between Eagle River and East Anchorage. The new proposal lops off the chunk of purple known as Muldoon and replaces it with a tiny, bright-red, new house district comprising snippets of JBER and surrounding housing.
District G would be one of 14 senate districts across the state up for grabs in next year’s election. It’s shaping up to possibly be the safest Republican stronghold in Anchorage, but the two senators currently living within its confines will have to figure out who benefits from the retooling. When all is said and done, expect the most controversial legislation next session to come from whoever represents the district, as it will provide all the necessary partisan cover needed.
To the east of the new Eagle River district is the new Senate District H. The borders here remain virtually unchanged, and, as a result, Democratic Senator Bill Wielechowski will not face reelection until 2016. It remains a competitive district, and Wielechowski remains a popular incumbent. He’s not likely to go anywhere unless he chooses to seek statewide office.
Also unlikely to change anytime soon is Senate District J, covering downtown, with parts of Government Hill, Fairview, Mountain View, and Russian Jack. Senator Johnny Ellis has held this seat for over a decade and enjoys wild majorities each election cycle. Just as Fairclough has essentially been politically quarantined out in conservative Eagle River, such is the case for Ellis in a solidly Democratic downtown area.
Directly south of Ellis’s district is District I, currently held by freshman senator Berta Gardner. The District includes Turnagain, Spenard, Midtown, Campbell Park, and the University, and wasn’t touched. It will be decided by the voters next year. While new to her seat in the upper chamber, the longtime state representative won the seat in 2012 by a near 20-point berth, and unless she faces a particularly competitive challenger can be expected to retain her seat in 2014.
Democratic Senator Hollis French faced a tough battle in 2012. His West Anchorage district (J in 2012; proposed as K in 2014) spans Turnagain, Sand Lake, and Bayshore/Klatt. The borders were left untouched, and will likely be hotly contested in the future. But French can breathe for now. The seat won’t be in contention for another four years.
South Anchorage Republican incumbent Senator Lesil McGuire has decided to run for Lt. Governor. Should she lose that bid, McGuire has the safety net of a safe and unchanging district. Not only have the lines remained the same, the population of her district has shifted by just one person, according to data put out by the redistricting board. Reelected for the first time in 2012, she wouldn’t appear on the ballot again until 2016. Her Republican colleague, Kevin Meyer, also retains his preexisting district lines, but will appear on the ballot next year. As a popular moderate, he isn’t likely to go anywhere.
Finally, on the eastern border, is a bit of an anomaly. District N (full disclosure, my district, with grumbling included) was lumped in with Eagle River during the 2012 redistricting, pitting long-time Anchorage state senator Bettye Davis, a Democrat, against Republican challenger and Eagle River state representative Anna Fairclough. If you read the first paragraph of this redistricting breakdown, you know how that turned out.
The current proposal liberates Muldoon from Eagle River, but does little better as an alternative. Instead, the new district combines East Anchorage house district 27 with South Anchorage, making Senator Giessel likely to inherit the district, should she survive a challenge in 2014.
The southern border of the senate district took the old line – a bit of Montagne Circle, off of Campbell Airstip Rd. (Basher Dr.) – and extended it to the coastline. Muldoon now shares a senate district with Rabbit Creek, Hillside, and Girdwood.
East Anchorage and Girdwood. Same district. For real.
I don’t envy the board for what many – myself included – believe to be an impossible task; to draw lines that follow these constitutional guidelines:

Each house district shall be formed of contiguous and compact territory containing as nearly as practicable a relatively integrated socio-economic area. Each shall contain a population as near as practicable to the quotient obtained by dividing the population of the state by forty. Each senate district shall be composed as near as practicable of two contiguous house districts. Consideration may be given to local government boundaries. Drainage and other geographical features shall be used in describing boundaries wherever possible. [Article 6, Section 6]

Alaska does a lot of things, but an ability to divide herself neatly along contiguous, compact territories and socio-economic lines is not one of our talents. With districts the size of the eastern seaboard and populations as diverse as the boundaries are wide, the ability to fit everyone into an easily represented box is impossible.
California, by comparison, has twice as many seats in each respective chamber. Texas has 32 state senators and a whopping 152 in the house! They obviously have incomparably larger populations than Alaska, but they also benefit from a population density within districts that we are not afforded. We need to expand the legislature. Until we muster the political courage to do so, we’re going to end up disappointed and under-represented.
View Larger Map
[Kudos to James Shewmake for the interactive map!]

1 COMMENT

  1. The only correction I would offer is that Senate K in the July 7 plan shows that seat up in 2014 (next year). That would be Sen. French up next year, not waiting 4 years as in the article.