By Gretchen Wehmhoff

After an unprecedented, whirlwind process, an Anchorage Superior Court judge submitted a ruling agreeing with two of the five cases involved in the challenge to the Alaska Redistricting Board.

Judge Thomas Matthews, in his Feb.15 decision, noted that public testimony was not taken into consideration in the matter of redistricting lines drawn between Skagway, Haines and Juneau.

Matthews ordered the board to redraw the boundaries, or present an explanation describing why redrawing the boundaries could not be done so legally. 

The order also directed the board to redraw the senate pairings in the area, as well as the senate pairings in Eagle River, part of the Municipality of Anchorage, stating (the court) “does find evidence of secretive procedures evident in the board’s consideration and deliberation of the Anchorage Senate seat pairings.” 

In the summary and conclusion, the judge states, “The Board violated the rights of the East Anchorage and Skagway Plaintiffs under the Due Protection Clause of the Alaska Constitution, Article I, Section 7, by failing to take a ‘hard look’ at House District 3 and Senate District K in light of the clear weight of public testimony.”

The conclusion further states, “The Board violated Article VI, Section 10 by failing to make a good-faith effort to accommodate public testimony in regard to House District 3 and Senate District K.”

In addition, the court cautioned the board on having closed door meetings simply because an attorney was present, stating that it challenges the “strong public policy in favor of open government.”

“Accordingly, this court would hold that an appropriate remedy for violation of the OMA would include opening the door to discussions held during executive session, regardless of the presence of an attorney.”

The redistricting board met on Feb.16. In a 3 to 2 decision, the board voted to appeal the decision to the Alaska Supreme Court.

The board’s attorney, Matt Singer, commented that the order is “a new concept, the notion that the public testimony should have a higher role or be more important” than the views of the board.

Board members Nicole Borromeo and Melanie Bahnke had disagreed with the final map certified by the board, stating so on the signature page.  Both also voted against appealing the case to the supreme court. Borromeo had suggested that it would instead save the state time and money to adopt alternative maps, an action that would take “15 minutes.”

Skagway Mayor Andrew Cremata sees the first decision as a positive.  “We won round one,” he said.

While the win dealt with the board’s poor inclusion of public testimony, the judge did not agree that there was a significant socioeconomic integration issue between Skagway and downtown Juneau. The Municipality of Skagway will appeal that portion of the decision.

Twelve people testified in favor of keeping downtown Juneau connected to Skagway at the Oct. 12 public hearing with the board via Zoom. At least two others gave testimony against the idea.

Kathy Hosford testified during the statewide call-in on Oct. 20. Tyler Rose submitted written testimony on Oct. 27, supporting the board’s map version 3.

Hosford contacted the Skagway News (SN) to point out that she and several others had testified against Skagway being connected to downtown Juneau, a point not mentioned in a previous SN redistricting story. She chose not to provide further comment after the court’s ruling.

Rose believes that either plan could work, but when he had a chance to give input, he looked at it from a personal perspective. Rose was born and raised in Skagway. When he was in the fifth grade, his dad got a job in Juneau, so the family moved to the area, living on the Back Loop Road. He went to Skagway school as well as Mendenhall and Juneau-Douglas High School. 

He knew people who lived in the Mendenhall Valley who worked in town, so he had a sense of place when looking at choices. 

“I don’t look at whether either choice works better. There could be great opportunities,” Rose said.

“Now the Supreme Court will make the ultimate decision,” Rose said.