Kenai Vice Mayor Bob Molloy examines redistricting maps during an open house hosted by the Alaska State Redistricting Board on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai Vice Mayor Bob Molloy examines redistricting maps during an open house hosted by the Alaska State Redistricting Board on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Vice Mayor Bob Molloy examines redistricting maps during an open house hosted by the Alaska State Redistricting Board on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion) Kenai Vice Mayor Bob Molloy examines redistricting maps during an open house hosted by the Alaska State Redistricting Board on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Redistricting proposals draw concerns from local residents

The state is seeking feedback on the best way to redraw the state’s legislative district boundaries in the wake of the 2020 census.

People on the central peninsula oppose putting Nikiski and south Anchorage in the same legislative district and support keeping communities together, even if those communities are unincorporated. Those were the themes that emerged during public testimony given to the Alaska Redistricting Board during an open house held in the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly chambers Thursday evening.

The board is traveling around Alaska to gather community feedback on the best way to redraw the state’s legislative district boundaries in the wake of the 2020 census. Thursday’s meeting marked the end of the redistricting boards three-stop circuit on the Kenai Peninsula. The board also held public meetings in Homer and in Seward.

Criteria for drawing state legislative districts is outlined in the Alaska Constitution, which says that districts must be contiguous and compact in addition to being equal in population size with socioeconomic integration. Legal explanations and definitions for each of those phrases have been fleshed out by the Alaska Supreme Court in cases heard between 1972 and 2012.

Alaska had a population of about 733,391 according to the 2020 census. Alaska’s constitution describes 40 legislative districts, meaning that each district should be drawn such that it contains as close to 18,335 people as possible.

Alaska Redistricting Board member Nicole Borromeo said during Thursday’s open house that the Kenai Peninsula’s population grew by about 6.9% between 2010 and 2020, second only to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. That population gain is something board members have to consider when drawing new lines.

“This is an area of the state that we are wrestling with,” Borromeo said.

Grace Merkes, of Sterling, said she opposes plans that would divide the community of Sterling, and that she would like to continue sharing representation with Nikiski.

“We’re not a city, but we’re a community,” Merkes said of Sterling.

Kenai Vice Mayor Bob Molloy, who said he was testifying as an individual member of the Kenai City Council, similarly stated that he does not want to see the city of Kenai broken up as outlined in the Doyon Coalition plan.

“The community shouldn’t be divided up,” Molloy said. “We should be all together … that (plan) would have a lot of negative effects.”

Molloy went on to say that the Kenai City Council will consider legislation formerly opposing the Doyon Coalition maps. In a memo to the city council from council members Henry Knackstedt and Glenese Pettey, they oppose the Doyon Coalition maps because of how it would impact election precincts.

Because the Doyon Coalition maps section off part of the City of Kenai into a separate legislative district, it is “likely” that portion would be included in a precinct with voters outside of Kenai city limits.

“This potentially creates a fourth precinct for the City of Kenai to staff, causes a split precinct for local elections, and potentially causes a City of Kenai resident to travel outside of the City of Kenai to cast their City of Kenai ballot which would contribute to voter confusion,” the memo says.

Crystal Schoenrock, of Nikiski, said she doesn’t want to see her community connected to south Anchorage just because of the way population numbers work out.

“If I had wanted to go to Anchorage, I would have moved there,” Schoenrock said.

Many people who testified voiced their support for Board Plan v.3 and Board Plan v.4, both created by the redistricting board. In all, the board has approved for consideration six proposed maps, including those submitted by the Doyon Coalition, Alaskans For Fair Redistricting (AFFR), Alaskans for Fair and Equitable Redistricting (AFFER) and the Alaska Senate Minority Caucus.

“When I first saw the maps that came out, I was somewhat gratified to see that the board came up with versions three and four,” said former Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Wayne Ogle. “That keeps the peninsula into, you know, a socioeconomic grouping that I think makes sense.”

Both maps are largely similar to the borough’s current legislative boundaries, and would mostly impact the communities of Kalifornsky, Fritz Creek and Fox River. Under the current legislative map, Kalifornsky votes with Kenai and Soldotna in State Senate District O and State House District 30. Fox River and Fritz Creek vote with Homer and the southern peninsula in State House District 31 and State Senate District P.

Under the proposed board plans that many testified in support of on Thursday, Kalifornsky would vote with Homer and the south peninsula, as opposed to Kenai and Soldotna. Similarly, Fritz Creek and Fox River would vote with communities across Kachemak Bay and to the east just past Cordova.

Alaska Redistricting Board member Budd Simpson said that the board will ultimately have to defend whatever boundary lines they draw and it is likely there will still be some people who are unhappy with the final result.

“The kinds of testimony that you folks have made today — talking about the contiguous borough boundary, for example, and the socioeconomic differences between you guys and South Anchorage or Seward, or whatever it may be — we’re all trying to process all of those moving parts,” Simpson said.

A final map must be adopted by Nov. 10. Between now and then, the board will continue to hold open houses around the state, with ones in Delta Junction, Fairbanks and Bethel next up on the list. A statewide dial-in public hearing will be held on Oct. 20 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. People looking to testify during that dial-in hearing can call in to 844-586-9085.

More information on Alaska’s redistricting process and all maps approved for consideration by the board can be found at akredistrict.org.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

Kathryn Thomas testifies during an open house held by the Alaska Redistricting Board on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Kathryn Thomas testifies during an open house held by the Alaska Redistricting Board on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Kathryn Thomas testifies during an open house held by the Alaska Redistricting Board on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion) Kathryn Thomas testifies during an open house held by the Alaska Redistricting Board on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Crystal Schoenrock testifies during an open house held by the Alaska Redistricting Board on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Crystal Schoenrock testifies during an open house held by the Alaska Redistricting Board on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Crystal Schoenrock testifies during an open house held by the Alaska Redistricting Board on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion) Crystal Schoenrock testifies during an open house held by the Alaska Redistricting Board on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

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