Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Anchorage Assembly District Redistricting Plan Attracts Criticism From The Fairview Community Council And Downtown Assemblyman Patrick Flynn

Now that the Alaska State Legislative district boundaries have been redrawn, the Anchorage Municipal Assembly is in the midst of drawing up its own new district boundaries. And one major constituent, the Fairview Community Council, is protesting the proposed changes -- not so much because of the new boundaries, but because the Downtown District will once again be the only Assembly district represented by only one Assembly Member. All the other districts, which are geographically larger, are represented by two Assembly Members. The single member district was meant to rotate, but Downtown has had only one member since the 1980s.

But first, here's a screenshot of a map showing the current district boundaries with the latest revised boundaries (version 3.1) overlaid:

Red lines show current boundaries, purple lines show proposed boundaries. Interactive original HERE

Note that the Downtown District will lose the Northway Mall to Eastside, while picking up a small chunk of the Airport Heights neighborhood between DeBarr Road and 16th Avenue between Lake Otis and Bragaw. A minor conflict has surfaced over the proposed merging of all of Precinct 520 into the Midtown Assembly District. Downtown Assemblyman Patrick Flynn is not only unhappy about this development as well as the fact that Downtown will only be represented by one Assembly Member once again, but also believes the entire process has lacked transparency. Flynn is disappointed in how the process has manifested itself out of the public eye, without input from the general public, the community councils, and the majority of the Assembly itself.

But according to an in-depth article published by the Anchorage Press, the Fairview Community Council is really up in arms over the whole deal. Fairview Community Council President S.J. Klein claims they were sand-bagged out of the redistricting process. He doesn't like having one Assembly member while other districts have two; his council wants the single-member district to rotate, and not fall in the same neighborhood three decades in a row. Even though the Downtown District only has half the population of the other districts, having just one Assembly Member means it’s twice as easy to push bad ideas through the Fairview neighborhood. Klein actually wants to use the Department of Justice voting rights review process to overturn the proposed redistricting; he plans to draft a petition for appeal and is contemplating a lawsuit.

The Scenic Foothills Community Council, which operates within the Eastside Assembly District, also expressed some reservations about the redistricting plan, primarily due to attempted fast-tracking and lack of transparency.

Of course, local redistricting, like state redistricting, is also complicated by the federal Voting Rights Act, which requires that any redistricting avoid diluting the voting strength of racial minorities. The federal government presumes that because racial minorities once suffered from official discrimination, they will always be discriminated against. There is no forgiveness for "racial sins" in America. Redistricting would be immeasurably aided if the elite who govern this country from the top down were to presume that ALL AMERICANS are of EQUAL value.

Alternatives: The Anchorage Municipal Charter allows the Assembly to adopt 11 single-member districts citywide. That’s never happened, because it would require more frequent elections and make it harder for incumbents to get re-elected. The provision of the charter that allows for citywide single-member districts would require elections for single-member districts to be held every two years rather than every three years. In 2003, a charter amendment proposing 11 single-member districts and a redistricting board that would be activated every 10 years was placed on the ballot. The Assembly wouldn’t have been completely removed from redistricting; it would have appointed two members of a five-member redistricting board, while the mayor would appoint two more. Those four would select a fifth member. However, voters supposedly rejected that idea, although my research indicates this was proposed in 2001 (AO 2001-169).

The reorganization of Anchorage into 11 more compact single-member Assembly districts would provide better representation for Anchorage's increasingly-diverse neighborhoods. Within the Downtown District, Fairview and Mountain View, both working-class neighborhoods, don't have much in common with the more tony South Addition.

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