Fate of Alaska’s new legislative map hangs in the balance as parties wrap up arguments

This is a detail of Home District 29 on the state legislative map adopted by the Alaska Redistricting Board. He was the subject of much of the closing arguments on the final day of a trial in five redistricting cases. [Detail of screen capture from Alaska Redistricting Board site]

A Superior Court judge in Anchorage must decide by Tuesday whether the new map of Alaska’s legislative district is legal.

Lawyers for five different groups of plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit to block the card presented their closing arguments on Friday. And they were opposed by board attorneys and card supporters.

Much of the day was spent discussing whether council treated residents of Valdez and the Borough of Matanuska-Susitna fairly when placing them in the same district. Rather than including communities in between in the same district, the map connects them through the Chugach Mountains.

Robin Brena represented the city of Valdez. He said the board held off Valdez to be placed in a district until the rest of the state was taken care of. He told Superior Court Judge Thomas Matthews that the council treated the map like a pot of mush.

“They gave it to all their favorite kids,” he said. “They got to the two remaining at the table: Valdez and the Mat-Su Borough. And there was nothing left in the pot. Any parent would come back and rebalance the meal so everyone had a little less, but everyone had something.

Stacey Stone is Mat-Su’s attorney. She said at one point in the redistricting hearings, council members said they would consider twinning Valdez with other communities in Prince William Sound. But this discussion did not take place, at least publicly.

“Council then adjourned to executive session and something happened outside of the public eye that had an impact on the public,” she said.

Nathaniel Amdur-Clark defended the card. He is an attorney for Homeland organizations, including the Doyon Regional Aboriginal Society and the Tanana Chiefs Conference. The organizations supported a proposed district that adjoins Valdez and expands to include most of the Yukon River. Its arrondissement number is 36.

Amdur-Clark took issue with an argument by Brena that the large horseshoe-shaped district violates a provision of the state constitution. It requires neighborhoods to be compact. He said courts in Alaska have defined “compactness” differently than those in smaller states.

“To say that District 36 is not compact because it is a big horseshoe is like saying that the Aleutian District is not compact because it is long and skinny and it is ‘extends to Russia,’ he said. ” It does not mean anything. The council is required to take into account the social and cultural geography of the state. It is not allowed to ignore it.

Matt Singer served as the council’s legal counsel and defended him on Friday. Singer said the board considered Valdez and the Mat-Su throughout the process. He said Brena was wrong to compare them to children waiting for porridge.

“But when I hear these arguments, I remember a child who plays well with others, then finally decides to knock over the sandcastle because he doesn’t get exactly what he wants,” said Singer.

Singer said the council considered all possible options for Valdez, but each presented greater problems than including him in a district with parts of Mat-Su, including Sutton and the outskirts of Palmer.

Singer also defended the board’s process for managing the pairing of House districts into Senate seats. Residents of East Anchorage filed a lawsuit to block off much of Eagle River sharing a Senate district with the South Muldoon neighborhood. Singer said they share the same municipal services and shop at the same businesses.

“And it’s for those reasons, your honor, that the state Supreme Court has always rejected the idea that certain neighborhoods have to go together,” he said.

Holly Wells represented residents of East Anchorage. She said the lack of public input on Senate pairings after the council passed the map was an abuse of process. Residents had opposed Muldoon’s linking with Eagle River on council before he made the pairings.

“They can fix this problem in 24 hours,” she said. “It takes the board a little public attention, calling a meeting and looking closely at the Senate couples in this area, where the board is paying at least some attention to voices. of East Anchorage.”

Judge Matthews also heard closing arguments in cases that argued for the inclusion of Hooper Bay in the same district as Bethel and Skagway in the same district as downtown Juneau.

Matthews aims to issue his decisions on the cases by Tuesday, to allow time for the state Supreme Court to hear and rule on any appeals by April 1. If the court orders new cards, the council would face a tight deadline to finish before the June 1 deadline for submitting nominations.

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