The case for pairing Eagle River and Hillside

Anchorage’s reapportionment is more than a nerdy task for map enthusiasts and policy makers. At the heart of how to draw our new Assembly districts is one question: what *is* Anchorage?

Do Spenard and Turnagain belong in Westside? Does JBER claim Eagle River more than other areas in the Anchorage “Bowl”? Is Dimond a part of Southside or Midtown?

And yet, at the same time, Anchorage reapportionment is a numbers game. In 2020, voters passed Prop 12, which adds a 12th Assembly member to the body. Right now, Downtown’s district is half the size and has one representative. Now, all 6 districts will have two members each.

With a full 12-member body, districts must now be adjusted to equal as close to 48,541 people as possible. As a consequence, Downtown’s tiny district must now double in size, which will dramatically affect how other districts take in their population.

A few maps being offered have sparked interesting discussions, but the most contentious decision at play is the debate about what to do with Eagle River’s district.

The Eagle River problem

Right now, Eagle River is paired with Chugiak, all of JBER, Peter’s Creek, and the North Muldoon voting precinct containing the Tikahtnu Mall and roughly 3,000 residents south of the Glenn Highway. These communities make up the current District 2.

Current District 2
North Muldoon precinct included in current District 2 (population: 3,207)

Now, thanks to the new population targets, Eagle River’s district is overpopulated by 1,735 people — a deviation of 3.57% from the new target population. Thus, the district must now shrink in size or change shape in order to meet a more acceptable deviation.

Without including a portion of the Anchorage Bowl, Eagle River and its surrounding communities are not large enough to create their own district. Every reapportionment cycle for the past three decades has solved this problem by pairing District 2 with an area of Muldoon.

Time and time again, Eagle River — 77% white, median income of $112,912 per year — gets paired with one of the most diverse and economically disenfranchised communities in the country. The two aren’t socio-economically integrated as the Municipal Charter requires, and they don’t use or share similar services provided by the city (much of District 2 is located in a Limited Road Service Area). Only some communities located on JBER share schools with North Muldoon, but not Eagle River or Chugiak.

More importantly, the current area of North Muldoon paired with Eagle River only represents 6.7% of voting age persons in the district. Their voice is suffocated by the weight of Eagle River, which could explain why the precinct’s turnout for the last Assembly election in 2020 was just 11%. Every other community in District 2 turned out over 30% of its voters in the same election. In an Assembly race the same year, the average precinct in East’s district, where North Muldoon should be located, had an average turnout of 25%.

The current Assembly map disenfranchises the voters of Muldoon, and we ought not accept that simply because it’s easy to do. So, what do we do?

The reality of reapportionment

To achieve a fair deviation, Eagle River must get its population from somewhere. Eagle River Assemblywoman Jamie Allard’s preferred solution is to just leave North Muldoon or any other Anchorage areas out of the district and call it a day. That would leave District 2 underpopulated by 1,472 people, a deviation of -3%.

As easy as that would be, it violates the principle of one person, one vote. Equally populated districts make sure all districts have the same voting power, whereas a severely underpopulated district gives Eagle River more voting power over other districts in the Anchorage municipality. That may be easy, but it is by no means fair.

Since Eagle River’s surrounding communities are too small for a district, the current District 2 needs Anchorage population. Given the demands deviation places on the map drawing process, we must make a difficult choice: what community is most fair to pair Eagle River with? It is not, as it has been for years, communities in Muldoon who have been disenfranchised by their lopsided Assembly district. There is no good reason Muldoon should suffer the consequences each and every time at the expense of their democratic representation.

Rather, the only other contiguous options are Downtown south of the Government Hill access gate — an option that is off the table for the same reasons as Muldoon — or part of the Hillside located in South Anchorage. Hillside is far and away the superior candidate for pairing with Eagle River.

You must be thinking: what does Hillside have to do with Eagle River? Quite frankly, it has a lot more to do with them than Muldoon does. Like Eagle River, Hillside is quite rural with large lots. Hillside contains mostly Limited Road Service Areas that use well and septic. Both communities are predominantly white and wealthy, with social subcultures that distinguish themselves from the Anchorage Bowl.

Don’t take it from me — take it from Eagle River Assemblywoman Jamie Allard and South Assemblyman John Weddleton. During an Assembly meeting on August 24th, the two discussed just how similar and connected the two communities are:

The Anchorage Municipal Charter § 4.01 states : “Election districts, if established, shall be formed of compact and contiguous territory
containing as nearly as practicable a relatively integrated socioeconomic area.”

Relative is the operative word in the Charter. Obviously, Hillside is more integrated to other areas in South Anchorage than Eagle River. Understandably, people from Hillside want to be paired with them instead.

But the reality of reapportionment and the problem with the makeup and geography of Eagle River’s district forces a portion of the Anchorage Bowl to be grouped with them. That means we must choose a comparatively similar community to pair them with. To support this, I refer you to Assembly Counsel Dean Gates, who drafted a memo on the legal criteria for reapportionment of election district boundaries. His memo draws upon decades of state and municipal court precedence on the legal standards for reapportionment.

The Charter language is “relatively integrated” areas. This is not to compare all proposed districts with a hypothetical completely unintegrated area, as if a district including both Quinhagak and Los Angeles had been proposed. “Relatively” means that proposed districts are compared to other previously existing and proposed districts as well as principal alternative districts to determine if socio-economic links are sufficient.

Page 5 of Dean Gate’s memo on reapportionment criteria

This is incredibly important, because it reinforces the impossibility of drawing districts that satisfy each and every community group in Anchorage. We are making decisions based on what possibilities are available to us. Those possibilities are limited by the math of reapportionment. In other words, when communities of interest are in conflict over reapportionment, we must default to the lesser of the evils present. In this case, that lesser evil is pairing Eagle River with a community that is more like Hillside than Muldoon.

As of right now, there are four remaining maps being considered to forward to the Assembly for consideration. Only one of the four — which happens to have been drawn by me — adds a portion of Anchorage to Eagle River’s district to ensure one person, one vote. The accusations of gerrymandering Hillside out of South Anchorage are not taken lightly, but it must pointed out that nobody seems to care that the current districts have done to Muldoon what I am proposing we do to Hillside.

Put simply: it is somebody’s turn to be paired with Eagle River. Will we wash out the voices of Muldoon just like we have time and time again? Or, will do what is right and bring some semblance of parity to our Assembly districts? I implore the Anchorage Assembly to choose fairness over convenience.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: