Redistricting recap: Calista’s fight a Senate seat

The Calista Corporation lawsuit challenges the Alaska Redistricting Board's inclusion of Hooper Bay and Scammon Bay in House District 39 (purple). The group argues they should be united with other Calista region communities in House District 38 (green).

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Continuing on with our recap of the Alaska redistricting trial, today we’re focusing in on the lawsuit brought by the Calista Corporation. The complaint challenges the Alaska Redistricting Board’s handling of the communities that were included and excluded from House Districts 37 (Dillingham) and 38 (Bethel) that compose Senate District S, which has been held by Sen. Lyman Hoffman for about as long as anyone can remember. The complaint here is that the board erred when it excluded Calista region villages Hooper Bay and Scammon Bay from House District 38 and including the Athabascan community of Tyonek in House District 37. The lawsuit argues that these two actions essentially dilute the Calista Region’s representation in both the House and Senate.

The remedy sought here would see Hooper Bay and Scammon Bay moved into House District 38 and move Kwigillingok, Kongiganak, and Quinhagak from House District 38 into House District 37 in order to maintain the population balances of the two districts.

It’s one of the more straightforward challenges brought against the Alaska Redistricting Board but meshes into the arguments raised in the Mat-Su/Valdez case. Just what deference is the Alaska Redistricting Board required to give to the boundaries of the Alaska Native Corporations as set out under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. In defense against the case raised by Mat-Su and Valdez, the board argues that it was right to consider the socioeconomic boundaries between the Interior Athabascan communities and the Bering Strait communities. In the Calista Corporation case, which challenges the board’s decision not strictly follow ANC boundaries, the board argues that Alaska Native Corporations are not due any control of a Senate seat.

Here’s how the witness testimony played out:

Calista keeps it simple on Jan. 31, 2022

The Alaska Redistricting trial got underway with its seventh day. We heard several witnesses in the case brought forward by Calista Corporation, which is arguing that communities in its region should be mostly united into a single Senate district. Like with the previous witnesses in the Mat-Su and Valdez cases, much of the questioning centered around the relative socio-economic connections between various communities with the usual eye-test comparisons of which connections were more accurate than others.

Calista Corporation argues the board should have paid better attention to the corporation’s boundaries and that alternative maps proposed by Randy Ruedrich and the conservative Alaskans for Fair and Equitable Redistricting group are a better reflection of the region’s interests.

The defense by the board argues that the final maps satisfy the Alaska Constitution’s requirements for districts to be contiguous, compact and relatively socio-economically better than the maps proposed by the Calista Corporation/AFFER, with the argument that the impact the changes would have on the rest of the maps should be taken into consideration.

Ruedrich, who testified today, countered that the Calista/AFFER maps did a better job at meeting the ideal population of the districts. That alone isn’t likely to be a convincing argument for the court because the precedent puts population deviation well behind the other requirements, meaning that there can actually be pretty significant population deviations as long as the districts are contiguous, compact and relatively socio-economically integrated.

The main point by the board, though, was captured in Singer’s final question to Ruedrich:

“An Alaska Native Corporation’s control of a Senate seat. Is that one of the factors listed in the state constitution for how a House district should be drawn?”

Ruedrich didn’t get an opportunity to answer it, but Singer (and Judge Thomas Matthews) said he made his point.

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