Mat-Su Borough gains population but not House seats

JUNEAU (AP) — A fast-growing area north of Anchorage known as a hotbed of conservatism gained the most population since the 2010 Census but will keep the same number of House seats in the Legislature under a new map of state political boundaries that some critics say shortchanges the area.

Census data showed the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, which is about the size of West Virginia and includes Palmer and former Gov. Sarah Palin’s hometown of Wasilla, had 18,086 more people last year than in 2010, the biggest jump for any borough or Census area in Alaska.

The region also was the second most populous overall in the state, with an estimated 107,081 people, behind Anchorage, with 291,247, according to Census data.

In addition to not gaining a House seat, the new legislative maps would place two Wasilla incumbents in the same district. If upheld, they would have to run against each other, or one could move to another district or leave office.

The Alaska Redistricting Board approved new legislative boundaries earlier this month, as required every 10 years after the census, though court challenges are expected from multiple parties.

Republican Rep. Christopher Kurka, who under the redistricting plan would be in the same district as fellow conservative Rep. David Eastman, said on social media the Matanuska-Susitna region is “getting Cheated, Shortchanged, and Hosed.”

The board’s target population for each of 40 House districts was 18,335, 1-40th of the state’s population.

Kurka indicated the board could have considered drawing six borough districts under the population target but instead drew in population from other areas, including Valdez. Districts in the Matanuska-Susitna region had among the greatest deviations from the target of 18,335.

“Under this map the Mat-Su will be the most under-represented region of the state, even though (it) has grown more than any other over the past decade,” Kurka said on social media.

Under the maps approved after the 2010 Census, the region has had four full House districts and two that are shared with other areas, including with Valdez. Officials with the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and Valdez, more than a four-hour drive from Palmer, unsuccessfully lobbied during the redistricting process against a shared district this go-round.

The borough, which as part of this redistricting cycle proposed four full and two shared House districts, also recommended a shared district with the Denali Borough to the north. The new maps include a pairing that extends into the Denali Borough.

Senate Majority Leader Shelley Hughes, a Palmer Republican, said the board had a hard job and can’t please everyone. But she said allowances should have been made for continued growth in the region over the next decade. House districts get paired to create Senate districts.

Peter Torkelson, the board’s executive director, said the board is required to use the “snapshot” the Census data provides and cannot factor in future projections or trends.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, an Anchorage Democrat, said he thought the House map was fair. He did, however, take issue with the board’s decision to split the conservative Eagle River area into two Senate districts and pair Eagle River with other parts of Anchorage in those districts.

He said he believed the goal “was to take areas that were heavily Republican within the Municipality of Anchorage and use them to try to water down what has become a very progressive city.” Eagle River falls within the municipality but is separated from the city by a mountain range.

During board discussions, member Bethany Marcum argued there were ties between the districts that justified the pairings.

Member Nicole Borromeo, who cited constitutional concerns in opposing the plan, said at the board’s final meeting last week that she prays that litigation “is swift and just.”

Board Chair John Binkley said he thought all board members tried to put together a fair and reasonable plan, “but sometimes those are in the eyes of the beholder.” He, Marcum and Budd Simpson supported the overall plan. They were appointed to the board last year by Republicans.

Borromeo and Melanie Bahnke opposed the plan. Borromeo was appointed by then-House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, an independent, and Bahnke by then-Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger.


Reader Comments(0)