Legislative internship program

Jordan Shilling, aide to Sen. John Coghill, presents the criminal justice bill in front of a Senate committee on March 29. Shilling first joined the Alaska Legislature through the University of Alaska’s legislative internship program in 2012. That program is the latest target of budget cuts.

Once every 10 years, a committee of Alaska officials gathers to draw up new legislative districts. This process begins Wednesday with the first meeting of a freshly-formed committee on the topic. 

The often politics loaded redistricting process involves redrawing legislative district maps to match numbers presented in the new federal census. 

The committee is made up of five members; two of whom are appointed by the governor and the other three are appointed by the chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court, the House speaker and the Senate president respectively.

• One Dunleavy appointee is Jordan Shilling, a former aide to North Pole Republican Sen. John Coghill who now serves as a communications specialist in the governor’s office.

• The second Dunleavy appointee is Bethany Marcum, who previously worked as an aide for Dunleavy during his time as a senator and now runs the Alaska Policy Forum, a conservative political group.

• Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, appointed one of her aides Jane Conway.

• House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, appointed one of his aides T.J. Presley.

• And Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger appointed Jill McLeod, an Anchorage-based attorney currently working for the law firm Dorsey & Whitney and formerly a member of ConocoPhillips’ legal team. 

The committee itself does not determine the final district map. This is done by a constitutionally mandated board which has not been formed yet. 

The board’s makeup mirrors that of the committee with two appointees from the governor, one from Giessel, one from Edgmon and one from Bolger. Members of the board must be appointed by Sept. 1, 2020.

The committee, while ultimately not responsible for the final product, does much of the preparation work for the board.

The committee’s first meeting will be held Wednesday at the court system office in Anchorage.

The last time redistricting occurred, members of the board in charge of analyzing 2010 census data visited Fairbanks in the spring of 2011 to discuss the redrawing of a number of Interior districts. Then-Fairbanks Rep. Jim Holm was a member of the board. 

That redistricting process took much longer than originally planned with the board’s proposals twice challenged in court and failing the gain approval until well into 2013.

In June 2011, the board released its final state legislative plan. The plan saw massive backlash based, in particular, on the reasoning that several of the districts did not meet the constitutional requirement that districts be contiguous areas of land.

This plan saw one long, thin district stretching from the east side of Badger Road through the middle of North Pole down to Eielson Air Force Base. The rest of the North Pole area was broken up, with different areas landing in three different legislative districts.

In Ester, the post office and land north of the Parks Highway fell within a House district which also included the Bering Sea coast and a Senate district with Bethel. Land south of the Parks Highway, such as the Cripple Creek subdivision and the rest of the Ester Fire Service Area, were in a Fairbanks district however.

The courts rejected the plan months later in Feb. 2012, the next month telling the board to restart the mapping process.

In April 2012, the board issues its new plan but later than month the plan was once more rejected by the courts. The board deliberated on its new plan until July 2013 at which point it adopted a new plan, which was once again challenged in court but eventually saw court approval that November, more than two years after the planning process began.

This new committee will meet Wednesday at the court system office in Anchorage to begin the process once more.

Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.