Politics & Government

Alaska lawmakers battle over redrawing legislative districts

JUNEAU — A push to increase the size of the Legislature so rural Alaska doesn't lose representation after this year's census is proving contentious, with a price tag running in the millions.

Alaska's legislative districts will be redrawn in 2012 using the population numbers that come from the census. That is bad news for many parts of rural Alaska, where population has dropped or remained flat. The winners will be Anchorage and especially the Mat-Su, with its big population increase since the last census a decade ago.

Nome Democratic Sen. Donny Olson and Wrangell Republican Rep. Peggy Wilson want to amend the Alaska Constitution to enlarge the Legislature. They're attempting to increase the number of representatives from 40 to 48 and senators from 20 to 24. The proposal would go before Alaska voters this fall if the Legislature agrees.

Urban areas still stand to gain the power if the Legislature gets bigger, as the new legislative districts would likely be in the Mat-Su and Anchorage. But advocates for the idea say it would at least preserve the current number of seats representing rural areas and prevent rural districts from getting even more spread out than they are now. One such district currently covers about half the land mass of Alaska.

"They're going to be so big that constituents are not going to know who their legislator is, they're never going to meet them, never get a chance to talk to them ... the legislators are not likely to know their local issues," testified Gordon Harrison, who led the redrawing of election districts after the 2000 census. "Legislators are going to have districts that are so big that not only is it a diverse district but they're actually competing interests."

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