Petersburg leaders are encouraged by the Alaska Supreme Court order this week requiring the state to redraw its new legislative boundaries. The City was the only other town besides Fairbanks that had challenged the Redistricting Board’s plan, which was finalized last summer. In that case, the Superior court ruled in favor of the Board last December and the city chose not to appeal.
Petersburg City Manager Steve Giesbrecht is not quite sure how much of the plan will actually have to be changed as a result of the latest ruling, but he says it’s prompted local officials to revisit the issue.
“We’re kind of enthusiastic in the sense that it at least opens the door to give the City Council here in Petersburg an opportunity to say ‘Hey, lets take another look at Southeast and particularly our district.’ So, we don’t know exactly what was going through the minds of the Supreme Court on their decision, but we’re gonna definitely try to raise the flag a little bit and it appears the City Council’s willing to talk about this again and it will be an agenda item on Monday to discuss and consider whether we want to pursue this,” Giesbrecht says.
It’s not yet clear whether Petersburg would pursue the issue with the Redistricting Board itself, or through the courts again. Giesbrecht and other city officials plan to consult with an attorney.
Petersburg has long shared a senate district with Sitka, Wrangell, Ketchikan and some smaller towns. The Redistricting Board’s current plan shifts Petersburg to a district that includes Juneau and Skagway.
Petersburg’s unsuccessful lawsuit argued the small community would have less of a voice in the state legislature, and had more in common socially and economically with smaller Southeast cities, than with Juneau. Petersburg officials eventually dropped those arguments and simply claimed that the district was not “compact” as required by the state constitution.
Superior Court Judge Michael McConahy ruled in December that Petersburg’s new District was compact enough. However, in his February ruling on the Fairbanks cases, McConahy left open the possibility that the Alaska Supreme Court may come to a different conclusion. In that case, according to McConahy –quote- “…the board might have to revisit the difficult challenges presented by a geographic area that has lost 30 thousand to 35 thousand people”
The Alaska Supreme Court makes reference to the Southeast issue in its order that the Redistricting plan be redrawn, though it did not specifically rule on the matter.