Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 6:41 PM on Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Redistricting plans need some work




Kenai Peninsula residents pining for the days when the north peninsula shared a Senate district with south Anchorage got their wish last week. The Alaska Redistricting Board released draft plans, including one that splits House districts between the peninsula and Anchorage. It also puts Seward and the eastern peninsula in the same Senate district as Ketchikan.

As Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, noted, "That's going to put them a far distance away from Kodiak or Southeast. It seems to me getting the attention of the senator in Seward is going to be difficult."

The redistricting board's plans scatter Kenai Peninsula Borough districts into three or more boroughs.

We understand the challenges faced by the results of the 2010 U.S. Census. The redistricting board had to try to keep all of Alaska's House districts more or less with a population of 17,755. It also has to comply with the U.S. Voting Rights Act, which sets criteria for minority populations.

Some boundaries are too arbitrary, though, like the southern edge of District 35, which wiggles around Port Graham and Nanwalek. Those Alaska Native communities shouldn't be separated from Native corporation lands and fishing areas at Windy Bay and Port Chatham.

Option 2, the one splitting Senate districts, creates geographical and sociological gaps hard to span. Should the largely rural area of the north peninsula be included with the urban suburbs of Anchorage? While Seward and Ketchikan have similar fishing and tourist economies, representing both areas across the Gulf of Alaska would be an expansive — and expensive — challenge for even the most dedicated senator. Option 2 also would put Homer, Kenai and Soldotna in one senate district. One good feature of the draft redistricting plan is that it puts all the Russian Old Believer villages together in one district, bringing Nikolaevsk back in with Voznesenka, Razdolna and Kachemak Selo.

Given the complexities of Alaska's diverse regions, cultures and ethnicities, no redistricting plan will be perfect. In one way a plan that links together distant communities has merit: It forces many of us to get to know our fellow Alaskans better. There are better ways to do that than jiggering House and Senate districts, though.

Fortunately, the draft plans are exactly that: drafts. It's the first attempt at a complicated process. The public has an opportunity to make comments and suggestions at hearings on the peninsula. In Homer, there's a meeting from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. May 3 at the Cowles Council Chambers at Homer City Hall. Draft maps of the two options both statewide and by area are at the Alaska Redistricting Board's website at www.akredistricting.org. To send comments or for more information, contact the board at 411 W. 4th Ave., Suite 302, Anchorage, AK 99501; phone, (907) 269-7402; fax, (907) 269-6691; and e-mail, info@akredistricting.org.

Just as a mariner checks charts to see the best way to sail ahead, the redistricting plans are an important map to the future, deciding one of the basic tenets of our democracy: Who represents us? It's a plan worth weighing in on.

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