Alaska has reached a kind of preliminary final stage in its every-ten-year redrawing of election districts, an intensely political process that defines which political parties and regions control the strings of power in Juneau. the state capitol.

So-called “redistricting” follows the census done every 10 years. House and Senate district lines are changed to accommodate shifts in population. House districts hold 18,300 people. Two House districts make a Senate district, which therefore hold about 36,600.

Depending on who is governor at the time and appoints the redistricting board that draws new district boundaries there are always charges that politics are involved in how the lines are drawn, so that either Republicans or Democrats are favored or disadvantaged.

The process can’t be overtly political or arbitrary, in theory, because under recent laws and court decisions the districts have to be reasonably compact, although that is sometimes ignored. They can also not be drawn in a way that isolates and splits minority voters, an old trick from the segregationist U.S. south that blocked black voters from gaining political clout.

Alaska was to have its “final” redistricting maps finished Wednesday, Nov. 10, and the redistricting board met the deadline. Still, haggling over the lines and who is in what district continued almost to the last minute. However, this is not likely the final work. 

Lawsuits can be filed within the next 30 days and the final results may depend on judges’ decisions in the law cases, assuming they come. In some past years the outcomes were uncertain right up to the August primary elections. Whether that will happen this year remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, one point of controversy that may well bring challenges is a decision by the board to combine part of Anchorage’s Muldoon district, populated heavily be people of color, with the mostly-caucasian Eagle River community. 

There may be allegations that this disadvantages Anchorage residents who are black, Alaska Native, Hispanic or of Pacific island origin in representation in the Legislature and that may be contrary to federal law.   by former President Trump, may have weakened the federal vo

Meanwhile, it may not rise to the potential for equal-representation lawsuits, but in Fairbanks another part of the redistricting plan combines the Democrat-leaning Goldstream Creek area in the west part of the Interior city, with strongly Republican districts east of the city near North Pole and Eielson Air Force Base.

This could be interpreted as a ploy to help defeat Democrat or independent legislators and elect Republican candidates, thereby strengthening the Republican hand in the Legislature. In this lineup, one incumbent affected c could be Rep. Grier Hopkins, a Democrat with strong support in Fairbanks’ Democrat-leaning university and Goldstream areas. 

Inner-Fairbanks districts may also have been changed to the possible disadvantage of incumbent Sen. Scott Kawaski, another Democrat. Kawasaki won in this traditional Republican-leaning area and originally defeated a former Republican Senate President, Pete Kelly.

In other areas such as Anchorage the redistricting board, whose members lean Republican, appear to have been even handed in drawing new district lines. There are examples of veteran Democratic legislators lumped together in redrawn districts so they have to run against each other, thereby eliminating one. 

However, this seems balanced with the new districts created where there are no incumbents but where the voters seem to lean Democrat or independent. Individual legislators may be disadvantaged but the overall political color appears unchanged.

Still, the redrawing of lines creates some odd configurations that hardly seem compact. One is now being called “the duck district” because it looks like a duck. It includes the university and medical district in midtown Anchorage with other parts of the city.

Combining districts to have incumbents face each other happened in the Matanuska-Susitna region, too. Two strongly conservative House members, Rep. David Eastman and Rep. Chris Kurka, both Republican of Wasilla, must run against each other if both stay in the race. 

However, a new House district created, with no incumbent, would appear to favor a conservative candidate based on voting history. Jesse Sumner, a conservative borough assembly member, lives in the soon-to-form district and has already indicated an interest in running for a House seat.

An interesting Senate race to watch in Anchorage will be between Republican senators Natasha von Imhof and Mia Costello who are now in one Senate district. One point of disagreement between the two is that Costello favors Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s plan for large Permanent Fund Dividends, or PFDs, while von Imhof argues these would be financially risky and that PFDs of moderate amounts like the $1,100 dividend paid in 2021 are more affordable.

 

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