Redistricting Board approves all but Democratic Party’s plan for roadshow

The Alaska Redistricting Board hears from Randy Ruedrich on a plan that would pair much of South Anchorage with the Kenai Peninsula, including Nikiski, during its hearing on Sept. 20, 2021. This plan was among the six approved for an upcoming roadshow. The only plan that was rejected was authored by the Alaska Democratic Party.

The Alaska Redistricting Board will be taking six different proposals on the road ahead of its November deadline to redraw Alaska’s election district maps, but a proposal submitted by the Alaska Democratic Party will not be among them.

At its Monday meeting, the Alaska Redistricting Board adopted updated versions of its initial member-drawn maps as well as four maps submitted by the public—including a plan presented by longtime Republican operative Randy Ruedrich and the Democratic Senate Minority caucus—for its upcoming roadshow.

The precise layouts of the six adopted plans—and thus their potential impact on the layout of Alaska’s Legislature—are not immediately clear because the Alaska Redistricting Board is still processing the plans into a format suitable for sharing. Once they are available, though, they will be posted here.

Following tough questioning from the board, members approved updated draft plans drawn by its members as well as drafts submitted by coalition of Doyon, Limited, the progressive Alaskans for Fair Redistricting, the conservative Alaskans for Fair and Equitable Redistricting (the group headed by Ruedrich), and the Democratic Senate Minority Caucus.

On a 3-2 vote, the board effectively declined to bring along the draft map drawn by the Alaska Democratic Party.

Board Chair John Binkley and Melanie Bahnke were the lone votes in support of the plan. Binkley argued they should present the public with as many options as possible.

“It’s taken a lot of time and effort for all of these entities to put these together and even though we may not personally agree with them, or we think there’s a better option out there. The public in the next 60 days will really be able to dig in and understand this more clearly when we go out into the communities and see how they’re affected,” he said. “It may be that overall, we don’t feel it’s as good, as compact or contiguous or has the right deviation as some other plans, but maybe there’s one area of it that as we go through the state people in a particular community like about it. That may better inform us when we have to come up with a final plan.”

Board member Nicole Borromeo agreed that the part had some merits but argued that it made sense to pare down the options with time fast ticking down.

“There are particular parts of this plan that are agreeable to me. That said, the plan on balance is not going to survive the type of constitutional scrutiny that our Supreme Court is going to weigh our plan on,” she said. “We have less than 60 days to adopt the final plan and I believe it’s in the board’s best interest to narrow down a manageable number of plans to take across the state of Alaska. This does nothing to prohibit the Democratic party or its membership from weighing in our public hearing.”

She was joined by Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s appointees—Bethany Marcum and Budd Simpson—in nixing the plan. Simpson supported rejecting the plan submitted by the Alaska Democratic Party, suggesting that plans submitted by the Senate Minority and Alaskans for Fair Redistricting “better reflect the Democratic point of view on redistricting.” Marcum said the public has already had ample opportunities to sound off on the plans.

Borromeo, who was appointed by former House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, didn’t speak directly to her problems with the Alaska Democratic Party plan during the vote other than raising constitutional concerns (concerns she also raised with Ruedrich’s proposal), but she had raised several specific concerns with the plan during a question session with backers of the publicly submitted plans.

Throughout the morning’s questioning, Borromeo pointed out “very strange appendages” and “problematic drawing” she saw in all the maps and asked the presenters for the rationalization behind their decisions. While she had frequently found those answers lacking—particularly when it came to the Alaskans for Fair and Equitable Redistricting plan presented by Ruedrich, where she pointed out much of his reasoning as just plain wrong based on her own personal experience—the presenters of the Alaska Democratic Party plan sometimes struggled to provide answers.

Why it matters

The rejection of the Alaska Democratic Party’s plan is not entirely surprising given the board’s problems with the plan and the group’s inability to fully explain the rationalization behind some of the decisions. While other plans had similar decisions and their rationalization was deeply flawed—as was the case with Ruedrich’s explanation of some of his proposals for Southeast Alaska—they still had some rationalization to present. Still, it’s not a great look for a Republican-leaning board that has already faced accusations of putting a finger on the scales in order to go after members of the bipartisan House Majority Coalition with plans that overtly attempt to lump together coalition incumbents.

In the big picture, Monday’s questioning led by Borromeo and Bahnke laid down a good record of the thinking and rationalization behind the plans that may serve useful once the legal challenges start rolling in. It’s a healthy dose of sunlight that’s needed in a process that’s been long dominated by some particularly shady stuff. That shade clearly hasn’t been entirely washed away as evidenced by Simpson’s slip in labeling certain plans as “Democratic,” a signal that partisan thinking is still driving some members’ thinking in what is ostensibly a process that has held politics, voting records and incumbent homes at arm’s length.

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