Some Southeast Native leaders are relieved that the latest redistricting plan was thrown out in court.
Tuesday’s action by the Alaska Supreme Court restored a Native-influence district in the region. It includes Haines, Angoon, Hoonah, Kake, Kasaan, Klawock, Saxman and Metlakatla.
The Alaska Federation of Natives, the Alaska Native Brotherhood, Sealaska Corporation, and the Tlingit and Haida Central Council had protested the rejected plan.
Ed Thomas is president of the Central Council.
“The representation from rural communities is very important because their challenges are increasing, instead of getting any better. So it’s very important to have a voice in the state Legislature from our villages,” he says.
The rejected plan, released just last week, would have put Haines and Juneau’s Mendenhall Valley in the same House district. That would have pitted incumbent Juneau Republican Cathy Munoz and incumbent Haines Republican Bill Thomas against each other.
Thomas, who is Tlingit, has spent several terms representing most of the region’s small cities and villages.
Both redistricting plans set up a hard race for Southeast’s senior Tlingit lawmaker, Angoon Democratic Senator Albert Kookesh.
Angoon will be in the same Senate district as Sitka Republican Bert Stedman. He co-chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee, and Kookesh has said he expects an uphill battle.
Thomas, of the Central Council, worries about the overall loss of Native representation.
“I have to say that with redistricting we really end up losing a rural voice, no matter what we do. So we have to do our best to really have a better mixture,” Thomas says.
The region’s redistricting plan is only in place for the 2012 election. It also sets up a race between incumbent Republican representatives Kyle Johansen of Ketchikan and Peggy Wilson of Wrangell.
Population shifts have reduced Southeast’s eight current legislative seats to six.