By Gretchen Wehmhoff
Skagway and Haines are in a new state house district that will not include downtown Juneau.
When the Alaska Redistricting Board presented its 2021 proclamation in November, a new line had been drawn right down the middle of the Mendenhall Valley, with the northern portion connected to Skagway.
Prior to the proclamation, Skagway residents testified at a local hearing as well as statewide redistricting listening sessions. While a few people supported connecting Skagway to the Mendenhall Valley, the majority of those testifying on record urged the board to keep the Upper Lynn Canal communities connected to the tourism hub of downtown Juneau, arguing that there was a significant socioeconomic connection between the areas.
Skagway sued the board in Superior Court in February. The judge sided with Skagway’s argument that the testimony of citizens was ignored in the final plans, but said the arguments of tourism and economic commonalities did not show a significant reason to keep the areas together. Other areas of the state also received the court’s attention. The senate pairings of two Eagle River house districts with other areas of Anchorage, rather than each other, brought the court’s admonishment for what appeared to be a gerrymandered decision.
A similar issue with the northern area of the Matanuska-Susitna Valley Borough and the area around Cantwell was also required to be redrawn.
The redistricting board chose to reject the superior court judge’s decision and appealed the cases to the Alaska Supreme Court. Skagway, represented by Brena, Bell and Walker attorney Robin Brena, appealed to the Supreme Court to recognize the socioeconomic bond with Juneau. The Supreme Court disagreed.
“It was tough. We gave it our best shot and almost got it,” Brena said.
Brena suggested that the lesson learned during this round of redistricting was to become involved in the process long before the formal process begins.