Haines Borough Assembly to enter redistricting lawsuit

Haines is the latest community in Alaska to enter a lawsuit over redistricting.

The Borough Assembly on Friday asked the Alaska Supreme Court to allow it to participate in the suit currently before the court. Multiple lawsuits against the Alaska Redistricting Board have been combined into a single case.

The borough objects to the board’s latest plan that lumps Haines and Skagway into a House district with Juneau’s Mendenhall Valley. The Haines Borough has a population of about 2,600 people, while the Mendenhall Valley and rest of the current House District 4 is nearly 16,000.

At a special meeting Friday morning, the Haines Borough Assembly authorized its attorney to file its objection. Friday was the deadline for public comments and briefs on the Redistricting Board’s latest plan for Southeast Alaska political boundaries.

The Assembly said it was in the public interest of Haines residents to join the suit.

Assembly member Debra Schnabel said the Haines socioeconomic profile is more in line with rural Alaska than the suburban nature of the Mendenhall Valley, especially such issues as “infrastructure development, fisheries issues, power, and solid waste management, those sorts of things that smaller rural communities are dealing with would not be represented fairly if we were in a district with a majority suburban socioeconomic group.”

The Redistricting Board’s previous plan for Southeast had grouped Skagway with downtown Juneau. City officials had filed an objection to that proposal.

While Skagway officials say they still support a plan that keeps rural communities together, Mayor Stan Selmer said the latest redistricting plan makes slightly more sense for Skagway because it includes all Upper Lynn Canal communities that are linked by the Alaska Marine Highway System; also Skagway would not be competing with downtown Juneau for cruise ship monies.

In a Skagway Assembly meeting Thursday night, Selmer said he was “ambivalent to a point” about being in a Mendenhall Valley district.

“Up until this last week we were down meeting with Sen. (Dennis) Egan and Rep. (Beth) Kerttula, building our lines of communication, and now potentially, under this new Option A, we get to keep Sen. Egan but we have an opportunity to vote for Bill Thomas if we choose to, whereas before we didn’t even have the opportunity to vote for Bill,” Selmer said.

The latest plan has Haines Rep. Bill Thomas running against Juneau Rep. Cathy Munoz. Native groups also are opposed to it.

In its present configuration, Thomas’ House District 5 is 36.6 percent Alaska Native.

Both Haines and Skagway previously requested the Redistricting Board adopt political boundaries that would place Haines in a House District with a population of Alaska Native residents sufficient to qualify the district as a Southeast Alaska Native Minority Influence District for purposes of the federal voting rights act.

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