Members of the Alaska Redistricting Board visited Ketchikan on Wednesday to hear feedback from the community on six final map proposals that the board is using to decide how to redraw Alaska's legislative districts for the next 10 years.
The roughly half-dozen people who attended the meeting voiced unanimous opposition to a proposed map that would cut Saxman, Metlakatla, Mountain Point and Hyder out of Ketchikan's house district. But it also was clear that, whatever the plan ends up being, Southeast Alaska's legislative districts will not be what they are now.
The meeting, held in the Ted Ferry Civic Center, began as an open house to allow attendees to review the maps and ask questions, then switched to a town hall format to allow the public to share their thoughts and ask other questions.
The visit to Ketchikan was part of the board's tour of communities across the state to help explain the differences between the maps and to hear feedback from the public. The board visited Wrangell and Petersburg on Thursday.
About a half-dozen people attended Wednedsay's event, including Ketchikan independent Rep. Dan Ortiz and his wife, Lori Ortiz; Albert Smith, the acting mayor of Metlakatla; Metlakatla Community Council Member Keolani Booth; Ketchikan City Council Member Janalee Gage; and Ketchikan School District Business Manager Katie Parrott, who was attending the meeting as a member of the public, not as a district representative.
Four of the board’s five members were present on Wednesday: Budd Simpson and Bethany Marcum, both appointed to the board by Gov. Mike Dunleavy; John Binkley, who was appointed by former Senate President Cathy Giessel; and Nicole Borromeo, who was appointed by Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger. (Melanie Bahnke, who was appointed by former House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, was unable to attend Wednesday’s meeting.) During the open house portion of the meeting, they fielded questions and asked for comment from attendees about the maps.
Also attending was Dave Dunsmore with Alaskans for Fair Redistricting, a group with ties to organized labor and Alaska Native groups. The redistricting board accepted AFFR’s map proposal as one of its finalist maps; Dunsmore helped explain the AFFR map to the public during the open house.
Those attending overwhelmingly voiced opposition to the map proposed by Alaskans for Fair and Equitable Redistricting, a Republican-affiliated redistricting group. That map would have grouped Saxman, Metlakatla and the Mountain Point neighborhood with the district that would include Prince of Wales Island, Hyder, Sitka and Yakutat.
“I can tell you that Metlakatla, Saxman and Ketchikan are very much bound together,” said Lori Ortiz, who is the school district’s homeschooling program coordinator and a special education teacher. “I have countless students who have sometimes been in Metlakatla and sometimes been residents in Ketchikan, or their families, their aunties, their uncles, their grandparents are in Metlakatla or they’re in Ketchikan. We even, of course, have the Alaska Marine Highway (System) Ferry with a direct route, several times a week, to Metlakatla — just Ketchikan to Metlakatla. … Every day when I go back and forth to school, to my city school — and I’m in the borough of Ketchikan — I drive through Saxman. So, we are all very much tied, and I hope you will take that into consideration.”
Smith and Booth agreed.
“We’re strongly opposed to (the AFFER map.) That takes us away from our area here. It just doesn’t make sense whatsoever,” said Booth, speaking at the lectern with Smith. “There’s multiple people in Metlakatla that … are over here once or twice a week. We get our groceries here. Wal-mart wouldn’t even be in Ketchikan if it weren’t for all the outlying areas.”
Dan Ortiz kept his remarks on that map brief.
“As (for) the AFFER (map)? No. Just no.”
Ortiz said the two maps designed by the board — Map Version 3 and Map Version 4, each a standalone, complete proposal — were merely “fine.” Those maps would both group Ketchikan with Saxman, Metlakatla, Wrangell and Hyder, but would not include any communities on Prince of Wales Island.
He said he would prefer a final map closer to the proposal drawn by the Senate Minority Caucus, a group of six Democratic senators.
For southern Southeast Alaska, that proposal is similar to the current district map. Ketchikan’s current includes Saxman, Metlakatla, Wrangell, Hyder and the southern half of Prince of Wales Island, including Hydaburg but excluding Craig, Klawock, Hollis, Kasaan and Thorne Bay.
The Senate Minority map would keep Saxman, Metlakatla, Hyder and Hydaburg in Ketchikan’s district while expanding the district’s presence on POW to include Craig and Klawock.
“The cost, though, would be Wrangell,” Ortiz noted.
That’s in part because Sitka’s current legislative district, which includes Petersburg and the northern half of Prince of Wales Island, has shrunk over the past decade, even as the state population increased overall. And because, per the state constitution, legislative districts need to contain, “as nearly as practicable,” one-fortieth the state population (one district for each of the 40 seats in the House), Sitka’s district needs to include more Alaskans and more communities to maintain parity.
In other words, whatever boundaries the redistricting board chooses for Ketchikan’s district, it’s extremely unlikely that it will include Prince of Wales Island communities and Wrangell.
Ortiz said that choice should be made after hearing from both of those communities.
"As previously said, there’s strong connections between the Ketchikan community and Wrangell. ... There’s some strong connections between Wrangell and Petersburg. And maybe, in the end, (Wrangell) would feel better with the Wrangell-Petersburg connection, than the Wrangell-Ketchikan connection. But, to me, it would be your job to listen as closely as you can to what they’re saying as to what’s important to them,” he said — both for Wrangell and for Prince of Wales communities. “It’s a tough call.”
The board also asked Booth and Smith whether Metlakatla would prefer to be grouped with Wrangell or the southern portion of Prince of Wales Island.
“That’s a tough one,” said Smith. “We, as a fishing fleet, Wrangell has a boatyard up there that we spend tens of thousands at annually, … working on our boats and getting ready for the fishing season. But we also have a lot of ties with Prince of Wales, so it’s just really unfortunate that we’d have to choose one or the other. I know some of them tie in both, but it’d be really tough to say at this moment if we strongly agreed with one or the other. I think we need to bring it back to Metlakatla and talk with our folks over there.”
Marcum, the board member, noted that the board had no visits to Prince of Wales communities scheduled for its state public meeting schedule, and urged the public to reach out to those communities and encourage their feedback on the map proposals.
The redistricting board will use all six map proposals and feedback from communities to develop a final redistricting map for the state. It must decide on a final map by Nov. 10.
The redistricting board's maps can be viewed in full on the board website at akredistrict.org.
Public comment can be submitted for any of the map proposals at any time on the board's website.