The legislative redistricting plan drawn up last year took away most of Albert Kookesh’s widespread Senate district.
If the plan stands, the Angoon Democrat will face off against another powerful incumbent. So, of course, he’d like to see new, more favorable boundaries.
“I wish that would happen, but I just don’t think it will because the population numbers in Southeast Alaska are just too low. And I don’t think there’s any hope out there that a redistricting plan would include my old district,” Kookesh says.
The Supreme Court last week sent the Alaska Redistricting Board\’s plan back for more work. Some in Southeast are watching that process closely to see if changes they want come into play.
As Kookesh says, it\’s unlikely the region will get back either of the two legislative districts it lost due to residents moving north. Six districts remain, meaning four of the region’s incumbents will be fighting for two legislative seats — at least under the most recent plan.
The court concluded parts of the plan conflict with the state constitution. It ruled federal Voting Rights Act requirements protecting Native-influence districts carried too much weight in deliberations.
Redistricting Board Executive Director Taylor Bickford says it’s unclear what will happen. But he says the Panhandle has not been a flashpoint for debate.
“I can tell you that there weren’t any districts in Southeast that we were saying, ‘We had to draw it this way because of the voting rights act.’ And so I think it would probably be less likely that Southeast would be significantly changed,” Bickford says.
The board will meet March 26th to March 31st to reconsider its redistricting plan.
That document put Kookesh in the same Senate district as Sitka Republican Bert Stedman. The boundaries include about three-quarters of Stedman’s current constituents and only a quarter of Kookesh’s.
The plan also created another incumbent match-up in the House. Republicans Peggy Wilson of Wrangell and Kyle Johansen of Ketchikan face off in a district that is mostly Johansen’s.
Wilson says that’s a difficult situation.
“Well, it’s just easier if you’re going to be campaigning in an area where everybody knows you. That’s definitely a much-easier situation to deal with. But I’ll just continue doing what I always do, knock on doors and talk to people and let the chips fall where they may,” Wilson says.
Southeast’s incumbents have worked together in the past to support projects and programs of shared interest.
Ketchikan\’s Johansen says that will continue, with or without redistricting changes.
“I think no matter where you draw the lines we’re always going to work towards the common good for the region. We’ve done that in the past and I think that’s going to continue. We have to, even more so, with losing one (House) seat,” he says.
The redistricting board is working on a deadline. June 1st is the last day
lawmakers and their challengers can put their name on the ballot. (Click here to see who has filed so far.)
Board Executive Director Bickford says everyone understands the need to complete the job.
“It’s possible that the board would go through this drill and would end up with something very similar to the plan we’ve already drawn. And it’s possible it could be something completely different,” Bickford says.
The plan being reconsidered adds Sitka to Haines Republican Representative Bill Thomas’ largely rural district. And it moves Skagway and Petersburg into one of Juneau’s two House Districts and one Senate district.
Time will tell whether any of that changes. Angoon Senator Kookesh says any updated plan may not be final.
“We could have another appeal. I don’t think anybody should be guaranteed or think that it’s going to be guaranteed that whatever they come out with on a new plan is going to be hunky-dory with everybody,” Kookesh says.
Meanwhile, Petersburg will ask the redistricting board to reconsider its legislative boundaries. Officials want to remain partnered with Sitka and Wrangell, instead of the capital city.