By Jenny Neyman
Special to the Homer Tribune
Were you a 28, 29 or 30? An O or an N? In with Homer or South Anchorage? Well, forget your designation from the last election, because as of Sunday the map of Alaska voting districts has changed.
After a seven-month process, the Alaska Redistricting Board approved a new voting district map Sunday. A new-new map, as it were. Voting districts are redrawn every 10 years following the U.S. Census, in order to ensure elected representation is equitable. But the map used for the 2012 elections was found to be unconstitutional by the courts. That map included some substantive changes for the Kenai Peninsula, including lumping northern and eastern peninsula communities into Senate District N with Turnagain Arm and South Anchorage, and cutting off the small community of Nanwalek, located across Kachemak Bay from Homer, from its geographic neighbors in House District 30 and lumping it in with Tyonek and Beluga, communities far to the north and across Cook Inlet, in District 36.
The Alaska Supreme Court found that map to be unconstitutional, stipulating that before adjustments are made to protect minorities, districts must be socially and economically integrated, and compact.
So it was back to the drawing board. The Alaska Redistricting Board considered various proposed maps, attempting to satisfy the requirements of the Alaska Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act. However, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling June 25 alleviating the previous requirement that Alaska conform to provisions under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. That ruling streamlined the redistricting process, and a new map was approved Sunday.
In this new version, there are a few substantive changes to Kenai Peninsula district boundaries, though most are only shifting slightly. Overall, the new plan adopted Sunday is more similar to the districts in place prior to the 2012 election.
• The area to the north and east of the Sterling Highway, including Nikiski, Sterling, Hope, Cooper Landing, Moose Pass and on down to Seward, are now District 29, under Rep. Mike Chenault. Little has changed, aside from losing Funny River and gaining a bit in the Ridgeway area.
• The Kenai-Soldotna area is now District 30, covered by Rep. Kurt Olson. This also doesn’t change much, expanding some in the Ridgeway area and losing some along the Sterling Highway to the east of Soldotna and in the Kalifornsky area.
• The southcentral peninsula, south of the Sterling Highway to Homer, becomes House District 31, with Rep. Paul Seaton. This district picks up the Kalifornsky area that was in the Kenai-Soldotna district, and gains Funny River. A more substantive change is its southern boundary, in that the district no longer includes communities across Kachemak Bay — Halibut Cove, Seldovia, Port Graham and Nanwalek.
• The across-the-bay communities are now in House District 32, which stretches all the way from the west side of Cook Inlet, taking in Tyonek and Beluga, to the southern, across-the-bay Kenai Peninsula, to Kodiak, and Prince William Sound to Cordova and Yakutat.
• In the 2012 election map, Senate District N was one of the more controversial changes for the peninsula, as it lumped northern and eastern peninsula communities in with Turnagain Arm and South Anchorage, covered by Sen. Cathy Giessel, of Anchorage. That is no longer the case. Now Senate District O, under Sen. Peter Micciche, has been redrawn to include Nikiski and the rest of the northern peninsula, the central highway corridor of Funny River, Sterling, Cooper Landing and Moose Pass, and the eastern peninsula communities down to Seward and Lowell Point. However, Senate District O now stops with south Soldotna and Funny River, and no longer includes Kasilof south through Homer and the across-the-bay communities.
• Senate District P picks up what 2012 District O loses on the peninsula, with Sen. Gary Stevens of Kodiak now representing Kasilof south through Homer, the across-the-bay communities, Kodiak, the western side of Cook Inlet and through Prince William Sound to Yakutat.
Stevens echoed the sentiment of many that the new map is an improvement over the 2012 district boundaries and some of the previously proposed revisions.
“There’s been a couple of just horrible ones that had us (his Senate district) going down as far as Douglas across from Juneau. This one makes the most sense. I’m glad they decided on it,” he said.
Stevens said he’s pleased to again be representing Homer and the across-the-bay communities, which he did prior to the 2012 revision.
“The whole district is definitely coastal and it’s considered rural compared to urban cities and it’s often fisheries oriented, though not entirely fisheries and tourism. There’s a great similarity between those communities. I’m very happy about it, very comfortable with it and I think it will be a great, solid district,” he said.
He hasn’t represented the northern end, in the Funny River area before, but said he’s looking forward to getting out and meeting his new constituents.
“I am anxious to get up there and find out about those communities, as well,” he said. “There are lots of big issues coming up, so we want to understand where the communities stand on those things.”
To his new constituents, Stevens said he’d like them to know that one of his main priorities is education.
“I think we’ve got to work hard to improve the system we have. We’ve got some shortfalls and we have to work hard to bring our students up to speed. We want to make sure they can compete with the rest of the U.S. students,” he said.
Stevens is particularly supportive of early education as a means of improving the graduation rate, and of ensuring access to post-secondary education.
“I’d also like to see us somehow improve our civics education, and make sure that kids understand the type of government we have and become participants and voters,” he said.
Another big issue on the horizon, one that’s been continuing for the length of his 13 years in the Legislature, really, is oil taxes. Stevens said he was not in favor of the recent change in the state’s oil tax structure in the form of Senate Bill 21.
“I don’t know what they (his new constituents) feel about it, but right from the start that they should know that I think that was too much of a giveaway. I was pleased to see the petitioners got enough signatures to get it (a proposed repeal of the new tax structure) on the ballot. Now the next step is for all sides to let the public know what it’s all about and what’s best for Alaska,” he said.
Because of redistricting, Stevens’ four-year term is truncated and he’ll be running for re-election in 2014. Sen. Micciche’s term also will be up for re-election in 2014. (Editor’s note, Sen. Micciche could not be reached for comment for this story).
Another source of contention in the 2012 map was accusations that redistricting was favorable to Republicans getting the new oil taxes legislation passed. In a newsletter update to Democrats on the peninsula, Sharon Waisanen, one of the organizers of signature gatherers on the peninsula in the SB21 repeal initiative, urged Democrats to run for office.
“They redistricted to their advantage and got a tax giveaway bill in place, albeit less than legally. Now a new plan that should have been completed two years ago has been completed. Certainly not a perfect plan, but a somewhat improved one. Shouldn’t all legislation be canceled for last year and this coming session since the redistricting was so flawed and partisan?” she said.
Rep. Seaton said he’s happy to be continuing his representation of folks up to the south side of the Sterling Highway, disappointed to be losing Funny River and particularly sad to be losing the across-the-bay communities.
“That’s economically connected to Homer. I’ve represented those people for about 10 years,” he said.
Another change for him will be in his legislative pairing, as senators and representatives covering the same area often work together.
“Peter (Micciche) and I work well together, but I’m sure we’ll coordinate on things in the future. And I worked well with Gary Stevens in the past,” he said.
If given their druthers, communities across the bay might prefer to remain with Homer, but Tim Dillon, city manager of Seldovia, said he expects to still retain strong ties to the southern peninsula in the Legislature, by virtue of the cohesion of the peninsula’s legislative delegation.
“We deal with everybody because it’s such a small state to start out with, as far as numbers of people,” Dillon said. “I think we’re fortunate that here on the peninsula you’ve got great representation in both the House and the Senate. I don’t want to say that folks are interchangeable but as long as they come with the same attitude that they’re going to help communities out it’s not really that big of a deal for me or for our community.”
Seaton said he expects to retain ties with the across-the-bay communities through his legislative pairing with Stevens, who now covers that area.
“I’ve appreciated working with those folks in the past and I’m sure we’ll be continuing working with the majority of the district. They’ve got a lot in common,” Seaton said.
Dillon hopes to continue to be able to visit with any peninsula legislator if the need should arise.
“When you go down to Juneau you deal with a variety of legislators, not just the one or two who are representing you. Probably the important part is I’ve never heard any of the representatives on the peninsula say, ‘Well, I don’t represent you so you need to go talk to somebody else.’ And that happens in other places. That does not happen with any of the folks representing us in the House or the Senate, and I’m sure it’s going to stay that way,” Dillon said.
The new map adopted Sunday moved the community of Nanwalek back with its neighboring, across-the-bay communities.
“I think it’s preferable for many of us because when we found out we were with Tyonek (in the 2012 election) it was like, what is that all about? It just makes sense because we’ve utilized the representatives from the Homer area to help us out, especially Paul Seaton,” said Nancy Yeaton, with the tribal council at Nanwalek. Though Nanwalek and its neighbors are no longer covered by Seaton, she’s glad they’re at least back in the same district with each other.
“For right now I’m content to be with the across-the-bay communities,” she said.
For more information on the new Alaska Voting Districts, visit www.akredistricting.org/2013proclamation.html.
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