By Shannyn Moore for the Anchorage Daily News
It’s an issue that will deeply affect every single Alaskan for at least the next decade — and hardly anyone seems to be paying attention to the stunning events playing out.
The Constitution requires states to redraw their state legislative districts every 10 years, after the U.S. census is done. This is to ensure that everyone’s vote is equal. Complete redistricting data from the 2010 census was sent to all 50 states in March 2011. Alaska was required to redraw its legislative district lines in time for the 2012 elections.
It’s the middle of 2013 and Alaska still has no legally drawn legislative districts.
Redistricting has become a potent political weapon across the nation. ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization created by a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, has written:
“The Republican effort to influence redistricting overall was spearheaded by a group called the Republican State Leadership Committee [RSLC], which has existed since 2002. For most of that time, it was primarily a vehicle for donors like health care and tobacco companies to influence state legislatures, key battlegrounds for regulations that affect corporate America. Its focus changed in 2010 when Ed Gillespie, former counselor to President George W. Bush, was named chairman. His main project: redistricting.”
Gillespie spearheaded the Redistricting Majority Project, or REDMAP, “to influence state races throughout the country” so that Republicans could control redistricting across the country. Republican strategist Karl Rove brazenly confirmed this strategy in an article he wrote in 2010 titled “The GOP Targets State Legislatures” and subtitled “He who controls redistricting can control Congress.”
Rove was right. Despite Democratic U.S. House candidates getting a million more votes than their Republican counterparts, the Republicans kept a hammerlock on the U.S. House of Representatives.
In Alaska, the strategy has been no different, and the redistricting effort here has been equally brazen. The five-member Alaska Redistricting Board is supposed to be nonpartisan. But Gov. Sean Parnell appointed a former Republican senator, John Torgerson, to chair the board. Parnell also appointed a member of the Capital City Republican Women to the board. Another former Republican legislator was appointed by Speaker Mike Chenault, while Senate President Gary Stevens appointed the head of the Kodiak Republican Party. The chief justice of the Supreme Court appointed an independent. Four Republican activists, one independent.
With then-Republican Party Chair Randy Ruedrich working closely with the board, and using taxpayer funds, they drew up lines to smash the bipartisan Senate, and put Republicans firmly in control of every branch of our government.
The courts declared the Redistricting Board’s blatantly manipulated maps unconstitutional. Multiple times. Finally, with time running out before last year’s election, the Supreme Court stunningly ordered the election run using lines that it had already declared unconstitutional.
The results were hardly surprising — Republican supermajorities in the House and Senate that made payback to their corporate benefactors their top priority: billions in tax breaks for the oil industry; a bill to allow the dumping of waste into Alaska’s waters by the cruise industry.
In the meantime, Parnell and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell filed a federal suit to abolish the Federal Voting Rights Act, with a specific eye to extinguishing requirements that ensure fair Native representation. Alaska has a long history of abusing Alaska Native voting rights. To counter that, the state has long been required to ensure it doesn’t diminish Native voting rights. Alaska Natives often — but not always — vote Democratic. Parnell and Treadwell are working to strip away any last vestiges of fair representation.
So what has the Redistricting Board done since last year? Nothing. The Supreme Court ruled a couple of months ago that the board had to start the entire redistricting process from scratch. Apparently hoping to run out the clock again, the board has literally done nothing.
They put out a request to hire an executive director months ago. When the top applicant was a 30-year nonpartisan military veteran with a stunning resume — someone who so clearly outclassed the Republican operatives they apparently wanted to hire — the board shut down the hiring process.
Finally, this week, a Superior Court Judge shredded the board, declaring that it was acting in a “dilatory” and “disingenuous” manner. Finally. Someone in our government stood up for what’s right against the playground bully.
But this board has proven it is unworthy of our trust. Voting rights are not a game to be won by the most craven or politically brazen. Americans have died for these rights. Our country is founded on the democratic principle of one person, one vote. This perversion of our system must end now. It’s time for the court to order an independent magistrate to draw these lines.
Shannyn Moore can be heard weekdays from 6 to 9 p.m. on KOAN 1020 AM and 95.5 FM radio. Her weekly TV show airs at 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays on ABC affiliate KYUR Channel 13.