They’re Trying to Break Up Revillagigedo Island

The Two Maps Proposed By Alaska’s Redistrictring Board BOTH Divide Ketchikan’s Political Representation

UPDATE

As of the evening of September 10th, the Alaska Redistricting Board issued the following statement:

I am gratified to hear that it was not the intent of the Redistricting Board to split off precincts from Revillagigedo Island. Nevertheless, even if Revillagigedo itself remains part of one district, many of the concerns I wrote about below still apply to the potential removal of Hyder, Metlakatla, and Prince of Wales Island from a shared district with Ketchikan, which remains the hub city they are socio-economically integrated with. As such, I will leave my original article below unedited, and I still strongly urge Alaskans to submit comments and alternative plans to the Redistricting Board.

Original Article

After every census, states need to redraw the boundaries of their political districts to make sure every resident receives fair and proportional representation in government. Alaska has a Redistricting Board with five members who are supposed to be appointed “without regard to political affiliation” that is supposed to do just that.

Unfortunately, the two Proposed Redistricting Plans the board adopted at its meeting on September 9th make a mockery of fair, common-sense representation when it comes to the community of Ketchikan: BOTH of the proposed maps would divide Revillagigedo Island by placing two of its voting precincts—Saxman and South Tongass—in a separate legislative district from the rest of the island.

Revillagigedo Island is divided in both of the Proposed Redistricting Plans adopted by the Alaska Redistricting Board on September 9th.

Under both of these proposals (which do not differ at all in Southeast), the house district with the City of Ketchikan and the North Tongass voting precincts would expand to include the community of Petersburg and surrounding areas of central Southeast nearly 200 miles from Ketchikan. Meanwhile, Saxman and South Tongass would be merged into a ludicrous, 600-mile-long district combining the southernmost, northernmost, westernmost, and some rural central areas of Southeast Alaska, from Hyder to Angoon to Yakutat.

The Proposed Redistricting Plans create a 188-mile-long district with most of Ketchikan that stretches into north-central Southeast, and a 616-mile-long monster district combining the southernmost and northernmost portions of Southeast Alaska.

It should go without saying that there is little reason that the residents of Revillagigedo Island—who all attend the same events, schools, and churches, frequent the same businesses, and use the same government services—should not all have the same political representation. It should be even more obvious that the residents of Killer Whale Avenue, Old Dairy Road, and Roosevelt Drive should not share a political representative with communities as far away and entirely distinct as Hoonah, Gustavus, or Yakutat. And yet, apparently this DOESN’T go without saying when it comes to Alaska’s Redistricting Board.

Article VI Subsection of the Alaska Constitution sets out the following provisions:

Each house district shall be formed of contiguous and compact territory containing as nearly as practicable a relatively integrated socio-economic area. … Consideration may be given to local government boundaries.

Throughout the entirety of Alaska’s history as a state, the community of Ketchikan has had one representative in the Alaska State House. Over the decades, it is true that the communities included in the same district as Ketchikan have shifted back and forth: Often Ketchikan has been linked with Metlakatla, almost always parts of Prince of Wales Island, sometimes Wrangell, and at one point even Petersburg.

All of these past formulations made sense. Ketchikan is the hub city of southern Southeast Alaska, and we are clearly linked to Metlakatla, Prince of Wales Island, and Wrangell as a “relatively integrated socio-economic area.” Petersburg is less connected: It’s true that people from Petersburg will sometimes come to Ketchikan for services, but my understanding is that they go to Juneau far more frequently, which makes sense because it’s a larger city and there are more direct transportation links.

What absolutely does NOT make sense is to divide Ketchikan by separating the majority of our community from our friends and neighbors in Saxman, South Tongass, and the closely-linked communities of Hyder, Metlakatla, and Prince of Wales. There is nothing “compact” about a gerrymandered snakelike district stretching from Cape Suckling to the Portland Canal, a district with no socio-economic integration between communities as distant and disconnected as Gustavus and Metlakatla, and a district in which it would be a near-impossible task for a legislator to visit and represent all of the communities they would be supposed to serve. And, clearly, there is absolutely no regard in these proposed plans for the local government boundaries of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough.

There is one more factor that is an elephant in the room, and we need to call it out: Saxman is the only Alaska Native-majority voting precinct on Revillagigedo Island, and it may be the case that the attempt to merge it with other Native-majority communities hundreds of miles away like Hoonah and Yakutat is an attempt to “pack” as many Native voters as possible into a single legislative district in Southeast. That kind of race-based gerrymandering should be absolutely unacceptable to all Alaskans.

I do not know who is on the Redistricting Board, and it may certainly be the case that their ludicrous proposal for redistricting Southeast Alaska was made out of ignorance, rather than malice. Nevertheless, we need to do something.

Fortunately, the two plans the board adopted on September 9th were only proposed plans, and there is still time for the board to consider better, common-sense alternatives. The first place to visit is the Redistricting Board website, where there is even a tool provided for creating your own redistricting map proposal. I couldn’t even believe how easy it was to make a simple, common-sense legislative district for southern Southeast!

an easy-to-draw common-sense district for southern Southeast, containing all of Revillagigedo Island and the communities that use Ketchikan as their hub

As you can see, this district I drew contains all of Ketchikan and all the communities that primarily use Ketchikan as their hub—Wrangell, all of Prince of Wales Island, Metlakatla, and Hyder. The census population of this area (19,168) is actually even larger than the ideal average district size of 18,335. There should be no problem with creating a district like this.

Here is the link to submit public comments to the Redistricting Board. Please spread the word and submit your comments as soon as possible, or submit an entirely new map proposal if you can! A final decision will be made soon, perhaps in as little as one or two weeks. We need to make sure our communities have legislators who can really represent us, especially because these new boundaries will hold for the next ten years.

The time to speak out is NOW.

Teacher who writes about history, language, travel, politics, and education. Kichx̱áanx’ yéi x̱at yatee. (I live in Ketchikan, Alaska.) Twitter: @peterstanton