Fairbanks is losing control of one House seat under statewide redistricting. On Monday, the Alaska Redistricting Board makes two Interior stops on its tour soliciting feedback on six proposals for new political boundaries.
It’s a constitutional process that takes place after the U.S. Census every 10 years with big consequences. Redistricting influences who gets elected to the Alaska Legislature and which political parties gain or lose power. The redistricting board has a Nov. 10 deadline to decide on a final map, slicing and dicing Alaska into 40 18,335-person units and in doing so impacting future public policy.
Where the Fairbanks North Star Borough was entitled to 5.5 House seats under the 2010 U.S. Census, that number is now 5.2 House seats due to a slight population decline.
The question, according to redistricting board Chairman John Binkley, is whether to allocate five House seats within borough boundaries or to link part of the borough with an Interior rural district, which is how the current boundaries are drawn up.
“Do we keep the borough intact as one socioeconomically integrated area … or do we pick a portion of Fairbanks and push it out into the Interior?” said the former state legislator, a Republican.
The redistricting board authored two of the proposals for which it is seeking comment on Monday from noon to 2 p.m. at the Delta Community Center, 2287 Deborah Street, in Delta Junction, and from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Carlson Center Pioneer Room, 2010 2nd Ave., in Fairbanks.
Interest groups and political partisans submitted four other proposals under consideration.
On Wednesday, the board is accepting telephone testimony via 844-586-9085. Fairbanks, the Interior and the Copper River Valley have priority from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. The board is also taking testimony by telephone on Oct. 30 with priority for Fairbanks, the Interior and the Cooper River Valley from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Maps for the six proposals can also be viewed on the redistricting board website map gallery at www.akredistrict.org/map-gallery. Maps will also be on display at the public meetings.
The rules for creating legislative districts are laid out in the Alaska Constitution. Each district should be “contiguous and compact territory containing as nearly as practicable a relatively integrated socio-economic area.”
Binkley said the board’s question for Alaskans is which map do you prefer and why?
Coalition of Doyon, Ltd., Tanana Chiefs Conference, Fairbanks Native Association, Sealaska and Ahtna, Inc.
A group of Alaska Native organizations formed to create a map with a district specifically for Interior rural Alaska communities, fixing a problem with the current boundaries that combine Interior villages, such as Huslia, Galena and Nulato, with coastal communities, such as Hooper Bay and Shishmaref.
Sarah Obed, vice president of external affairs for Doyon, Limited, and Marna Sanford, principal, Tuuka LLC, said Interior communities do not feel well represented by leaders from the coast. Interior villages and the coastal villages are not very socially integrated, they said.
Obed and Sanford, who presented maps to members of the League of Women Voters of Tanana Valley on Tuesday, said they used the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act boundaries as their guide.
“We drew our map from the outside in,” Sandford said, “putting pressure on urban communities.”
In Fairbanks, they divided it up into four districts, along with a North Pole and Eielson Air Force Base district, going from west to east. The majority of the borough’s land mass, including Pleasant Valley, Salcha and Harding Lake, is included in an Interior rural district surrounding the Fairbanks North Star Borough.
Alaskans for Fair and Equitable Redistricting
This group involves Randy Ruedrich, lead redistricting data consultant and former head of the Alaska Republican Party; Steve Colligan, geospatial technology analyst; and Andrew Guy, president and CEO of Calista Corp.
Speaking to the League of Women Voters, Colligan and Ruedriuch said they based their mapping on redistricting case law and on the constitution.
“Our goal is to draw good boundaries that follow easily identifiable lines and geographic features, that also protect communities, regional interests and legal rights of individuals,” reads the group’s website, https://affer.org.
AFFER essentially wants to divide the city of Fairbanks into two districts with a flat, elongated north Fairbanks district stretching across the two city districts from Ester Dome to Farmers Loop Road and the Chena River State Recreation Area.
In an older version of its plan, the north Fairbanks district was much larger and included Chatanika. An updated map puts Chatanika with a large Interior villages district.
AFFER is calling for a large east borough district with North Pole on the western border.
Chena Ridge with Salcha would find themselves paired in another district, joined by the Tanana Flats.
Ruedrich said AFFER modified its maps based on public testimony. The redistricting board has visited Sitka, Ketchikan, Petersberg, Wrangell, Kotzebue, Nome, Seward, Homer, Anchorage and Valdez.
The board is taking comment on the AFFER’s original maps to be consistent and so that communities are responding to the same maps, according to Binkley.
Alaskans for Fair Redistricting
This is a coalition led by Joelle Hall, president of Alaska AFL-CIO, and involving the Alaska Public Interest Research Group along with a host of organizations from The Alaska Center, which advocates for clean air and clean water, to Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, which promotes access to sexual and reproductive health care and education.
Alaskans for Fair Redistricting’s website is www.akfairredistricting.org. The group held to four main principles when creating districts, Coordinator Robin O’Donoghue told the League of Women Voters. They sought to protect communities of color, prevent gerrymandering, keep communities of interest together and create competitive, inclusive districts.
“We want a map that will provide representation that reflects the diverse communities across Alaska,” said David Dunsmore, mapper, during an interview.
As with most of the maps, they have two House districts in the city. Those districts are boxed in by three larger districts, two to the north and one to the south. The southern district captures North Pole and a big chunk of Badger Road.
The northeast district covers the Steese Highway, Chena Hot Springs Road, a portion of Nordale Road and the Gold Mine Trail area.
The northwest district covers Dale Road, Chena Pump Road, the Parks Highway and Murphy Dome Road.
AFFR’s mapping offers a big east Interior Alaska district that includes Moose Creek and Eielson Air Force Base. Interior villages west of Fairbanks would share a district with coastal communities.
Senate Minority Caucus
Alaska Senate Democrats Tom Begich, Scott Kawasaki and Jesse Kiehl are behind this proposal, which Begich said best meets legal standards.
“Our map was really designed to meet the court’s continuing ratcheting of the definitions of what should be allowed,” Begich said. This is his fourth time participating in the redistricting process.
Six House districts are within or touch the borough, in the senators’ map for Fairbanks, with two downtown districts topped by a north Fairbanks district covering Farmers Loop Road, Goldstream Road and Murphy Dome Road.
An east borough district reaches up from the Tanana Flats to grab Chena Ridge Road on one side of the city of Fairbanks and a portion of Badger Road on the other side of the city. The rest of Badger Road is paired with North Pole, Moose Creek and Eielson Air Force Base in another district.
The entire eastern half of the Fairbanks North Star Borough would be part of a large Interior rural Alaska district that wraps around Fairbanks.
Redistricting board proposals v.3 and v.4
The two redistricting board proposals have one major difference when it comes to Interior Alaska. One divides the borough into five districts. The other weaves the southeast portion of the borough, including a chunk of the Chena River State Recreation Area, Salcha and Harding Lake, into a sixth larger rural Interior district that forms a horseshoe around Fairbanks.
The map known as v.3 shows two downtown Fairbanks districts similar to the current House Districts 1 and 2 with a third district covering Badger Road and North Pole. The three districts are surrounded by two large House districts to the north and to the south that extend to the borough borders, making five large House districts inside the borough.
The map known as v.4 has a large west Fairbanks district that runs down into the Tanana Flats, two downtown Fairbanks districts and a North Pole House district that follows the Richardson Highway and ends farther south past Moose Creek. To the northeast on the v.4 map is a fifth district covering Fox, Pleasant Valley and the north side of the Chena River State Recreation Area.
On the v.4 map, Salcha, Harding Lake and other communities down the Richardson Highway would belong to a huge Interior horseshoe district. It starts in Southeast Alaska near Yakutat, follows the Alaska-Canada border and swings up north into the Brooks Range and then back down stretching almost to the west coast.
Editor’s note: The number of House seats currently allocated to the Fairbanks North Star Borough was corrected from 5.8 to 5.5 on Oct. 18, 2021, at 12:06 p.m.