Bristol Bay residents meet with state redistricting board as legislative districts are set to change
The Alaska Redistricting Board brought its proposed maps to Dillingham to gather feedback from community members. The process will shape how Bristol Bay is represented in the state legislature for the next decade. Several residents who attended agreed: Don’t break up Bristol Bay’s communities.
Redistricting is a process that happens once per decade in the wake of the Census. Districts are redrawn to make sure the state’s residents are evenly divided into legislative districts, based on population.
The Alaska Redistricting Board decides how those districts are drawn. Five members serve on the board. Two are appointed by the governor, one by the Senate President, one by the Speaker of the House and one by the chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court.
Board member Nicole Borromeo, was appointed by former House Speaker and current District 37 representative Bryce Edgmon. While drawing the districts, Borromeo says they looked at boundaries in the Alaska Native Settlement Act and tried to keep Alaska Native communities within their respective hub communities.
“So the big change we are proposing to District 37 is to return it once again to a true Bristol Bay-Aleutians District," Borromeo said. "We would not bring in the Upper Kuskokwim Villages of McGrath, Takotna and Nikolai, or alternatively what some of the other plans do; jump over to the lower Yukon for Holy Cross, Shageluk and Anvik for numbers.”
The Alaska State Constitution lays out certain criteria for drawing districts. They need to be compact, meaning maps should not be drawn in ways that would snake around geographical areas to target certain populations. Districts should be rectangular or ball-like in shape.
And they need to be contiguous -- people should be able to travel to other parts of their district without crossing through another. Borroemo said districts should also be socioeconomically integrated.
“What that means is, Alaskans who live together, work together and recreate together should be voting together,” she said.
There are six proposed maps adopted by the board. Two of them were drawn by board members while the other four were submitted by different groups like the Doyon Coalition and Senate Minority.
Five of those maps would keep Bristol Bay’s communities in the same legislative district -- District 37. But one map, submitted by the Alaskans for Fair Redistricting, would move the Lake and Peninsula Borough communities into District 5.
Lake and Pen Borough Mayor Glen Alsworth opposes that proposed change. In a letter to the board, he said:
“We have worked with our neighboring villages and formed common purposes. Breaking up communities
takes away our ability to come together and advocate for important issues.”
Dillingham resident Dee Dee Bennis who was at the October meeting, said that kind of move could alienate those communities from the region.
“Part of our success as a region, as a whole is we are all tied together through partnerships and how we worked together, in my experiences with our four school districts," Bennis said. "And our fisheries, a lot of people go from Nushagak to Kvichack to Ugashik. It’ll just change the whole culture.”
AFFR’s map would take the Lake and Pen communities and put them in a district with Kodiak. It also snakes around the Kenai Fjords area and puts Lake and Pen with Cordova and other villages.
Borroemo said that could compromise criteria in the state constitution.
“This is not a compact proposed district; it's also not contiguous," she said. "Because the landmass and the chain are not connected. Although the Supreme Court has said that water can be an avenue of connectivity, this a stretch too far in my mind personally.”
First Chief of the Curyung Tribal Council, Thomas Tilden agrees: Bristol Bay’s communities should be kept together, and spoke in favor of maps drawn by the Doyon Coalition and the Redistricting Board.
“I think it represents us well in looking at all of the other proposals," Tilden said. "It keeps us whole and with very minor modifications. I think that’s more of our villages and who we represent now.”
Dillingham Interim City Manager Chris Hladcik said Bristol Bay’s communities have shared a district with Kodiak in the past. But he stressed that Southwest Alaska’s communities should be represented in the same district.
“I think it’s important for us and Naknek and all the way to Unalaska to be together," Hladick said. "We share
a lot of commonality with our fisheries and with our economy. We don’t have a whole lot in common with some of the more interior communities as we do on the coast.”
Alaskans for Fair Redistricting did not respond to a request for comment in time for this story.
The Redistricting Board travelled to 22 communities across the state to share these maps and meet with residents. They have until November 10 to finalize a map. You can find those maps and more information at akredistrict.org
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