As Alaska legislators prepare to represent redrawn districts following the work of the state redistricting board, perhaps none face as drastic a territorial switcheroo as Sen. Gary Stevens.
His current District R consists of House Districts 36 (Kodiak) and 35 (Homer and Seward). If the redistricting board’s new map survives federal review and expected legal challenges, Stevens will have to give up his Homer office and the convenient ferry link to Kodiak.
Instead, he will add a Bristol Bay House district to his home base in Kodiak.
But Stevens won’t have to say goodbye to all of his Kenai Peninsula constituents. If the redistricting plan goes into effect for the 2012 general election, Kodiak will be in a new House District 35 that includes the southern edge of the Kenai with the small communities of Seldovia, Nanwalek and Halibut Cove, and stretches across Prince William Sound to take in Cordova, Whittier and Yakutat.
“I think the Kodiak (House) district makes a lot of sense,” Stevens said. “I’m really pleased with that configuration.”
Stevens particularly likes the “natural” link with Cordova, a commercial fishing town like Kodiak.
But he’s also sorry to be separated from constituents in Homer, Seward and Cooper Landing.
“It’s a real shame to lose someone you work with for so many years,” he said.
The new Kodiak district excludes the village of Iliamna and other Alaska Peninsula communities now part of District 36.
An even bigger change comes from the addition of the new Bristol Bay House district to Senate District R. The territory includes Dillingham, nearby coastal towns and hard-to-reach villages.
“It’s a very big district,” Stevens said.
Although he knows Dillingham, Stevens said he has never been to the surprisingly large inland villages.
“I’m going to have to do a lot of traveling and come to terms with what their needs are,” he said. “It’s a diverse community.”
Stevens hopes the combination of fishing and Yupik and Athabascan villages in the Bristol Bay district will mesh well with the related industry and Alutiiq villages he has represented since his first election to the Legislature in 2000.
“It’s a natural extension of Kodiak,” he said.
Now president of the Alaska Senate, Stevens is up for re-election in 2012 for a term truncated to two years to accommodate the redistricting. Due to campaign finance rules he doesn’t expect to visit Bristol Bay voters before April 2012.
The current Senator for Bristol Bay, Lyman Hoffman, is based in Bethel, so will not be in competition for Senate District R. Stevens, a Republican who ran unopposed in 2008, hasn’t heard about any specific potential opponents. The Bristol Bay area has tended to vote Democratic.
All of the upheaval awaits the completion of the redistricting process required after the 2010 census.
The Alaska Redistricting Board submitted its plan June 14. The U.S. Department of Justice will have to approve the plan, taking into consideration compliance with federal requirements for Native representation. To pair Kodiak with Dillingham for a Senate district, the board set aside the recommendation of a consultant, who found that the district would have too low a proportion of Native voters to satisfy the federal requirement.
It is also likely that several lawsuits will be filed in Alaska challenging different aspects of the redistricting plan.
“The truth is the other shoe has yet to drop,” Stevens said.
Mirror writer Drew Herman can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.