Regardless of whether Alaskan voters decide to increase the size of the state Legislature with Ballot Measure No. 1 next Tuesday, statewide population trends mean Kodiak will lose some voice in the state House and Senate.
What will be decided next week is whether districts will be created for growing areas like Anchorage and Mat-Su, or if existing representatives will be stretched thinner.
If voters pass Ballot Measure No. 1 and add four new House of Representative districts and two new Senate districts to the Legislature, Kodiak’s House district would continue to represent about 15,500 people, perhaps growing slightly.
If it fails the district is expected to grow to about 17,500 with the 2010 census data.
In a recent guest opinion in the Daily Mirror, Rep. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, advocated for a larger Legislature in order to protect the needs of rural communities, which now account for nine of the 40 seats in the state House. The benefit to rural communities are well worth the $2.3 million annual cost of adding legislators and one-time costs associated with remodeling the state capitol, he wrote.
Austerman is up for re-election for Kodiak’s district next week. He is challenged by Democrat Terry Haines.
Kodiak’s House district now contains 17 communities including Kodiak, the Kodiak villages and a handful of small communities on the Alaska Peninsula.
For Bob Brodie, a Kodiak resident and member of the state redistricting board, the result of Ballot Measure No. 1 will determine which communities will be added to Kodiak’s district.
After the 2010 U.S. census numbers come out in March, the redistricting board will have 30 days to produce the district maps.
The maps must then be finalized within 60 days, but they can still be legally challenged.
They likely will be if Alaska history is any guide.
“Every redistrict in the state of Alaksa has had some kind of lawsuit,” Brodie said. “It is our interest to make it as fair and equitable as possible, but given the diverse interests in the sate it’s going to be difficult to please everyone.”
In 2001 six lawsuits were filed against the legislative districts. The suits were merged into one.
In preparation for March’s redistricting the board has already rented office space on Fourth Avenue in Anchorage. It plans to hire a professional director and legal staff in the coming months.
When drawing the map the redistricting board is expected to draw lines with some sense of geographical continuity. It is prohibited by the 1965 Voting Rights Act from drawing lines that would divide the power of a minority group.
This year’s redistricting is the first that uses a new process approved by the Legislature to take the power of redistricting out of the governor’s hands.
The new process is led by a board appointed by the speaker of the House, Senate president, governor and chief justice of the Supreme Court.
Kodiak senator and Senate president Gary Stevens appointed Brodie to the board.