Weddleton’s loss breaks South’s moderate streak

South Anchorage isn’t as conservative as we think. Can Save Anchorage crowd out moderate voters and lock in two allies on the Assembly?

Going into the 2022 Anchorage municipal election, everybody knew John Weddleton’s race against Republican Randy Sulte would be tough for Weddleton. South is home to some of the reddest pockets of the state, particularly Huffman and Rabbit Creek. The district usually joins Eagle River-Chugiak in voting against any candidate that is left-of-center, including voting for Trump +3.7% and Bronson +9.5%.

And yet, on the municipal and state level, South tends to elect relatively moderate, reasonable candidates to represent them. Most recently, South elected two moderates that often joined the liberal wing of the Assembly, particularly in checking Mayor Bronson’s controversial executive appointments and projects. John Weddleton (elected 2016) and current Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance (elected 2017) have been targeted by Save Anchorage, a right-wing organization that helped fuel Bronson’s victory. Bronson endorsed Sulte, a powerful nod in a district where a significant number of Save Anchorage’s members are engaged.

Prior to John and Suzanne, South elected many other moderate conservatives. Bill Evans (2014), who ran for mayor in 2021 on being the moderate in the middle of the field, was a strong and steady voice on the Assembly for one term. Jennifer Johnston (2007, 2010, 2013), who joined the Democratic-led House Majority Coalition while in the Alaska Legislature, took moderate positions while on the Assembly. Before his passing in 2019, Chris Birch (2005, 2008, 2011) was well known for prioritizing stability and reasonable governance both as an assemblyperson and state senator in the Legislature.

Recently, Southside moderates have won their elections over party-aligned Republicans by increasingly close margins. Political polarization is a large contributing factor: voters are less likely to cross party lines or opt for non-partisan candidates over more ideological campaigns. Additionally, more partisan conservatives have moved to the Huffman area over the past 10 years. The most conservative Huffman precinct grew 43% between 2010-2020, some of the largest population growth in the municipality.

As a consequence, moderates are fighting close battles with more partisan voters in the district. LaFrance won re-election in 2020 by just 2%; more votes were cast for Weddleton’s two challengers in 2016; and had Bill Evans had just one challenger instead of two, he likely would have lost to a far-right conservative.

Why is the Southside conservative tent so divided? On one hand, you have more traditional conservatives in Huffman and Rabbit Creek who are the bedrock of support for far-right candidates and give by far the biggest electoral margins to Republicans. On the other, you have richer and more educated Republicans in the Hillside and Oceanview who tend to value balanced leadership and are less militant about social issues. The only truly liberal strongholds in the district are the communities of Turnagain Arm and Girdwood; without their votes, the district would have voted for Trump +9.5% (a shift to the right of nearly 6 points) and Bronson +11.7% (a shift of over 2 points).

Weddleton vs Sulte

In a large contrast to his 2016 election (he ran unopposed in 2019), Weddleton only won 4 precincts against Sulte. Those won were the areas most likely to support Weddleton, and all precincts Suzanne LaFrance won in 2020: Southport, East Hillside, Indian, and Girdwood.

Southport, in the Bayshore-Klatt area south of West Dimond, is home to a lot of young business professionals from college-educated backgrounds. Consistent priorities often include strong public schools and quality municipal services. Weddleton campaigned hard on “doing the work”-type messaging, which prioritizes incremental approaches to governance. Weddleton set himself apart from his more liberal colleagues, which may have worked better here than more partisan voters in the heart of Southside.

O’Malley No. 4, or rather East Hillside, is a common defector in the Hillside and broader South area. For instance, East Hillside was the only precinct off of O’Malley that voted for Dunbar in 2021. The East Hillside appears whiter and richer than broader Hillside and many parts of South, and is more rural with greater access to skiing and outdoor recreation. I’m not certain what makes this part of the community more relatively moderate.

Weddleton underperforms LaFrance

Finally, Sulte broke the coalition that has given moderates close political victories for over a decade now. What collapsed in Weddleton’s coalition that lost him re-election? Let’s look at Weddleton’s performance compared to Suzanne LaFrance’s 2020 re-election, a close victory over the far more conservative candidate Rick Castillo. Full disclosure: I worked as Field Director on LaFrance’s campaign.

Weddleton only improved on LaFrance’s performance in Indian off of Turnagain Arm as well as a slice of lower Huffman. Weddleton’s marginal underperformance all across the district added up to a solid win for Sulte.

Turnout

What happened to Weddleton’s support? Did certain voters show up and give Randy a boost in any particular part of the district? A look at turnout gives us a clue:

The Hillside area disproportionately increased their turnout. Collectively, Hillside voted for LaFrance by 191 votes while Sulte flipped it and won by 20 votes. This tells us that either turnout was up overall but Weddleton still lost a lot of moderate voters (less likely) or more partisan Republicans and conservatives turned out for Sulte (more likely).

Implications for the Anchorage Assembly

Save Anchorage’s strongest base of support is in Eagle River-Chugiak and deeply conservative parts of South. These areas turned out to elect Bronson, largely thanks to Save Anchorage for animating the conservative base. They appear to have turned out the Bronson coalition and unseated someone who they saw as not providing enough of a check on the mayor.

But can Save Anchorage continue to turn out partisan conservatives and flip both seats, making the entirety of Eagle River and South’s delegation Bronson-endorsed? Is Sulte’s win the beginning of a 8-4 Assembly (remember, we’ll have a 12th member by then)? It’s possible, but they have a tough battle ahead of them.

For starters, when Sulte runs for re-election in 2025, he will be running under the new districts adopted by the Anchorage Assembly this year. The new districts, which had to be redrawn to accomodate the new 12th downtown seat approved overwhelmingly by voters in 2020, place Sulte into West’s district. He would lose a majority of his constituents and have to run in a far more liberal district than the one he defeated Weddleton in. Save Anchorage would be starting fresh in an open seat.

Save Anchorage’s next shot at electing an ally to Bronson would be flipping LaFrances seat when she runs for re-election. LaFrance has performed better in both elections compared to John and has a strong base of support, and would be tougher to unseat if she runs for re-election. If she steps aside and leaves the seat open, Save Anchorage could be well-placed to elect a fresh-faced and staunch conservative without having to take down a competent and well-funded moderate incumbent.

Why the $111m Anchorage school bond failed

Anchorage voters normally approve school bonds by double digits. This year it failed by over 1,000 votes.

On April 5th, 70,000 Anchorage voters went to the polls and largely voted to re-elect the majority coalition on the Anchorage Assembly. This year saw the most coordinated attempt to remove incumbent Anchorage assembly members in recent history, with every single major opponent being backed by the far-right group Save Anchorage (SA). With the exception of John Weddleton, an independent moderate conservative, every incumbent beat their SA challenger.

At the same time, Anchorage voters declined to sign off on a $111 million-dollar bond package to repair and replace aging infrastructure in the Anchorage School District. It included a relatively controversial $31m bond to replace Downtown’s Inlet View Elementary; district-wide roof replacements; millions for missing fire suppression systems and deferred maintenance; and other needed improvements.

The failure of this bond was surprising to many. School bond proposals usually pass by double-digit margins. The last school bond to fail, which totaled $49.2m in repairs and bus replacements, failed by a slim margin of 2% (just 230 votes!).

In the end, the 2022 school bond failed by 1.65% — or 1,144 votes. Now that precinct-level results are in, let’s take a look at what happened:

Mapping Anchorage’s support for school bonds

First, lets look at how Anchorage typically votes on school bonds. Precinct-level results for prior school bond propositions are available for 2018, 2019, and 2020. Below is a map of the average precinct vote on the school bond question for those years. The map is shaded by raw votes cast for/against the proposition, allowing us to see what areas cast the most votes:

Even in more conservative areas of town, school bonds typically have widespread support. For instance, fiscally conservative communities like Downtown Eagle River, Sand Lake, Taku-Campbell, and the Hillside almost always support these bonds (albeit by lower margins of support).

Comparing the 2018-2020 average vote to the 2022 school bond vote, this year saw a major reversion in support from almost every part of the municipality. The map below shows the difference in support between the average school bond vote and the 2022 school bond vote. The darker the red, the larger the decline in support for the school bond.

As you can see, support for the 2022 school bond dropped in nearly every precinct in Anchorage. The clearest reversion happened in District 2, with the top 3 precincts to swing against school bonds coming from the Eagle River area.

School bonds usually pass in Eagle River by a thin margin — an average of 500 votes. This year, it voted against the bond by nearly 1,500 votes. Remember, the 2022 bond failed by less than 1,200 votes total.

Other conservative areas in the Anchorage Bowl also expressed unique distaste for the 2022 bond compared to previous years, including the Abbott Loop-Dowling area and much of South Muldoon.

The only areas to match or outpace their average support for school bonds are also some of the most progressive precincts in Anchorage: lower Airport Heights in Midtown, Centennial Park in Northeast Muldoon, Forest Park in Turnagain, and parts of the Downtown Core.

Even community opposition to the rebuild of Inlet View Elementary didn’t stop the neighborhood from voting to approve the bond by a historically similar margin. Inlet View’s precinct has voted on average to pass school bonds by around 280 votes. This year, they voted to approve by 214 votes.

What sunk the 2022 bond?

The data tells us two stories: that conservative voters turned out against the proposition, and that many voters saw this year’s bond as different from previous bonds.

Generally, Anchorage voters don’t pay much attention to the bonds voted on every year. Our lack of awareness about bonds causes varied results because simple messaging can turn voters towards or against them. If you tell a lot of voters that a bond will raise their property taxes and push the tax cap, as Must Read Alaska has told their listeners and viewers this year, and they might revolt.

It is likely that the high price tag of this year’s bond ($111m) alienated low-information and low-turnout voters.

Its true that the partisan, high-turnout areas of Eagle River disproportionately turned out against the bond. However, wholesale support for the bond disappeared in communities that have always heavily supported them. There was no sophisticated campaign to educate or persuade these voters against the bond, so it’s not as if you can give the credit to Save Anchorage’s Assembly candidates for getting out the vote against it.

Instead, the bond failed because regular voters saw the highest price tag for a school bond in over a decade and didn’t feel it was justified. The average voter is tangentially concerned about government spending without a good reason to tolerate it. For instance, 2020’s school bond contained $82m in repairs, which was also a generally high-cost school bond. Context matters: voters probably sympathized with the cost of repairing over dozen aging elementary and high schools damaged by the 7.1 earthquake that rocked the municipality in late 2019.

Now, 2022 is the year of high prices and bloated budgets — inflation is a dominant concern among voters, as are major hikes in property assessments stemming from the housing crisis in Anchorage. It just wasn’t the year to try and pass an expensive bond package.

Weddleton Assembly map moves forward in unanimous vote

Weddleton’s map is now subject to amendments by members of the Assembly, which will be viewable by the public on March 14th

In an Assembly meeting on March 1st, the body voted unanimously to move forward Southside Assembly member John Weddleton’s map forward for consideration.

The vote followed months of public process led by the Anchorage Reapportionment Committee, Chaired by Downtown Assemblyman Chris Constant. Ultimately, 4 maps were produced by the redistricting contractor RDI while 12 maps were produced by members of the public for a total of 16 maps up for consideration — more than any other reapportionment cycle in Anchorage’s history. Opportunities for public input on these maps included 10 public committee meetings, and 3 open town halls, and 2 chances to testify at Assembly meetings.

Though all 16 maps were thoroughly debated, the Reapportionment Committee has been slowly eliminating maps as the process has gone on. Weddleton’s map moved on from a final field of 4 maps, which included:

  • Map 6 Version 2 by Anchorage Action (drawn from feedback from dozens of members of the group)
  • Map 7 Version 2 by Robert Hockema (me)
  • Map 11 Version 2 by John Weddleton (drawn by Denny Wells, whose 3 maps submitted under their own name were rejected by the committee earlier in the process)
  • Map 12 by Eagle River-Chugiak Assemblywoman Jamie Allard and Mayor Dave Bronson (previously rejected due to failure to submit a properly formatted shapefile which illegally divided U.S. Census Blocks)

Following the vote to move Weddleton’s map forward, Assembly members had until March 7th to offer amendments to the map. These amendments will be published on the reapportionment website on Monday, March 14th, just one day before the last public hearing on March 15th.

A quick look at the map

Weddleton’s map looks a bit like a compromise map. Assembly members have voiced specific concerns about what areas go where on the map. For instance, Both members from Eagle River-Chugiak as well as South-Girdwood ruled out maps that paired the ER-Chugiak district with an area of Hillside.

Additionally, Midtown members Felix Rivera and Meg Zaletel expressed concern that core areas of Midtown were left out in almost all of the maps, especially Rogers Park and Airport Heights. Weddleton’s map unites all of Rogers Park, but leaves Airport Heights in the newly expanded Downtown district.

In order to accommodate these concerns, Weddleton’s map does a few things:

  • Downtown pushes East to take in all of North/South Mountain View, while moving south into Airport Heights, as well as south into areas of Fireweed and Spenard. It even takes in the Forest Park neighborhood, which includes West High School.
  • Midtown loses the Dimond area but pushes west to the border of Minnesota.
  • Most notable change is West’s district, which now pushes south of Campbell Lake to include over 7,000 people in Bayshore and Southport
Bayshore/Southport area south of the yellow line
  • Eagle River-Chugiak’s district was left underpopulated by 1,472 people, a deviation of -3.03%. It is by far the most under/overpopulated district in Weddleton’s map.
  • South’s district remains largely the same while taking in about 1,500 people from the Dimond area.
Partisanship impacts

Note: Politics are off limits during Committee and Assembly discussions of reapportionment, so it’s important to note that the following considerations are purely for analysis.

Weddleton’s map has an especially strong impact on West’s district because of the Bayshore-Southport pairing. Note, this is a less dramatic reach into Southside than the Allard/Bronson map (originally proposed by Deputy Chief of Staff for the Bronson administration Brice Wilkins).

2020: Trump +9.5, Composite 2016-2020: 11.9, Runoff 2021: Bronson +11.2

The new area drawn into Weddleton’s map votes solidly Republican, having voted for Trump by +9.5% in 2020. These communities are high turnout too, which means its guaranteed to influence the results of West’s Assembly races.

What does this do to the district as a whole? Not only does West’s district take in solidly conservative turf to the south, but it loses a precinct in West Anchorage that voted for Dunbar by +34%.

For context, West’s current district voted for Biden by +12% in 2020. Under the new map, West would have voted for Biden by +7%.

Likewise, West’s current district voted for Dunbar in Anchorage’s 2021 mayoral runoff by +7.5%. Under the new map, it would have voted for Dunbar by roughly+4.7%.

How will this impact the makeup of the Assembly? This would give conservatives a better shot at flipping the Assembly. The effect is that West would go from being as safely democratic as Midtown’s district (Biden +9.6, Dunbar +10) to a solidly democratic district such as East (Biden +7, Dunbar +5). In other words, West would still be an uphill battle for a far-right Save Anchorage-type conservative to win, but a strong candidate could flip a seat or two well before the next reapportionment cycle.

The process going forward

Assembly members submitted their amendments before March 7th, which will be posted for the public to view on Monday, March 14th. There are areas in Weddleton’s map that are likely to change based on the priorities Assembly members have for their districts. Wests members Austin Quinn-Davidson and Kameron Perez-Verdia may take issue with putting Forest Park and West High into Downtown; Midtown members Meg Zaletel and Felix Rivera have voiced the Airport Heights Community Council’s concern of being completely cut out of Midtown’s district. Though unlikely, the Bayshore/Southport pairing with West could be amended too.

3/14Amendments (if any) to proposed maps will be posted
3/15Public Hearing #3 at Regular Assembly Meeting, 6pm at Assembly
Chambers at Loussac Library
3/18Assembly Worksession on Reapportionment, 1-3pm at City Hall, Suite
155
3/23Special Assembly meeting re: Reapportionment and process for filling
new Assembly seat, 6pm at Assembly Chambers at Loussac Library
3/24Reapportionment Committee meeting (if needed), TBD at City Hall,
Suite 155
Remaining Assembly reapportionment timeline

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.

Bronson administration to propose conservative leaning Assembly map

A new map submitted on behalf of the Mayor cracks cohesive communities and drags Westside into South’s district

On Saturday, February 5th, District 6 Assembly members Suzanne LaFrance and John Weddleton hosted a South Anchorage constituent meeting on the topic of Anchorage reapportionment. During the meeting, Deputy Chief of Staff for the Bronson administration Brice Wilkins revealed a map proposal on behalf of the Mayor.

It has not been officially published by the Reapportionment Committee, nor is the attribution to the Mayor’s office official; this is just what was said and presented during the meeting.

By all accounts, the map has the strongest partisan effect of all of the proposed maps. It could possibly lead to the Westside district flipping one or both of its seats to a conservative Assembly candidate.

To understand why, it’s helpful to know what the current Assembly map’s partisanship looks like to determine what’s being done to new maps being proposed.

Anchorage Presidential ’20 (Biden +2)

Anchorage Mayoral Runoff ’21 (Bronson +1.3)

The current map features one solidly Democratic district (Downtown), one solidly Republican district (Eagle River-Chugiak), one safely leaning Republican district (South-Girdwood), and 3 Democratic leaning districts (West, East, and Midtown).

DistrictAreaPres ’20, Runoff ’21, *Composite ’16-’20
1DowntownBiden +31.6, Dunbar +45, Composite D+ 31
2Eagle River-ChugiakTrump +25, Bronson +32, Composite R+ 30
3WestBiden +12, Dunbar +7.6, Composite D+ 7
4MidtownBiden +10, Dunbar +10, Composite D +8
5EastBiden +8, Dunbar +5, Composite D+ 4.5
6South-GirdwoodTrump +4, Bronson +9.5, Composite R+ 9
*Composite Average of 2016 presidential, 2018 gubernatorial race, 2020 senator, and 2020 presidential

Before we look at the Mayor’s map, it’s only fair to look at what other map proposals do to change partisanship numbers in each district. Since none of the muni-made maps have gained traction during the process, we’ll focus on publicly-submitted maps.

Composite = Composite Average of 2016 presidential, 2018 gubernatorial race, 2020 senator, and 2020 presidential elections

Some numbers stand out, but the most important changes are to the East, West, and Midtown districts. Because of their deep partisanship, changes even in the double digits to Downtown and Eagle River-Chugiak will not change the outcome of those seats. But the 3 Democratic-leaning swing seats in Anchorage can be more competitive for local conservatives.

In 2020, Christine Hill, who later became famous after crafting the Star of David symbols that became a focal point of the 2021 mask mandate debates in the Assembly, nearly unseated progressive Midtown member Felix Rivera. Hill came within less than 200 votes, which would have put a far-right conservative on the Assembly.

Most of the maps push Midtown south into places like Independence Park and areas south of Dimond/Abbott, which could make the district just competitive enough to swing to a Republican in a red wave year. I think this is unlikely, but it’s certainly possible.

Additionally, East’s district votes Democratic by just 4-5 points. Slight changes could have big political impacts.

West has trended left recently, but there are a lot of conservative areas in the south part of the district (Jewel & Sand Lakes), as well as conservative areas south of Campbell Lake that are currently part of District 6. A new map could capitalize on those areas to change the politics of West’s district dramatically.

It’s only fair to mention that the map drawn by Alaskans for Fair Redistricting uniquely advantages liberal-leaning Assembly districts by shoring up Democratic votes in all 3 Democratic-leaning districts. It also protects their incumbents by leaving them in the districts they currently belong to, preventing them from having to run against each other in another election.

The remaining maps have a rather innocuous effect on the broader partisanship of these maps. As of now, this is the first map submitted by a conservative-leaning source.

Now, let’s look at the map submitted on behalf of the Bronson administration.

Brice Wilbanks (Bronson Map)

Map traced by Denny Wells

A look at the map shows that Brice pushes Downtown into West Anchorage and Turnagain, forcing West to be pushed southward into the Bayshore/Klatt and Oceanview areas that currently belong to District 6 (South-Girdwood). These areas may not be as deep red as Huffman or Eagle River, but they are clearly conservative and suspiciously placed into West’s District as opposed to South where they belong.

On the presidential level, the Mayor’s new map makes every single district redder compared to the current map. Denny Wells’ Map B does this as well, but not in any way that is different from other maps: Midtown typically gets redder because Downtown must expand, pushing Midtown south making them more competitive for conservatives. But the Mayor’s map stands out in targeting West’s district.

Table of shift in partisanship from current map to Mayor’s map
Map of presidential shift in mayor’s map (made in QGIS)

Under the Mayor’s map, West would go from voting Biden +12 to Biden +4. More importantly, it would move West from a 2016-2020 Composite Average of D +7 to R +0.6. The district still slightly favors a moderate-to-liberal Assembly candidate, but without as much voting power in deep-blue Westside and a solidly-Republican voting block in the south, conservatives could pull off a flip.

Thanks to the passage of Prop 12, there will soon be 12 Assembly members as soon as Downtown elects a second member of the district— which will overwhelmingly likely to be another progressive. Once that happens, lets assume the majority on the Assembly is now 10-2. If you managed to unseat both Austin Quinn-Davidson and Kameron Perez-Verdia in a red wave year, the Assembly would go to 8-4— barely enough for a veto-proof majority assuming every single Southside representative votes with progressive members of the Assembly.

Arguably, the map also carves out some odd areas of Midtown that seemingly cut down on liberal-leaning margins in the current District 4. It removed nearly 700 voters from Abbott near Service High, which give huge margins to liberal-leaning candidates, including voting against Assemblywoman Meg Zaletel’s recall by 250 votes. It also splits up the deep-blue Spenard area, diluting their voting power and taking more liberal-leaning voters out of Midtown.

Abbott split
Spenard slit

The new maps stay in effect until population changes trigger the need for reapportionment again, which won’t be evaluated until the next Census in 10 years. Whatever will be decided will be consequential for Anchorage’s municipal elections for at least a decade.

On a February 4th episode of the conservative talk-radio show The Dan Fagan Show, ER-Chugiak Assemblywoman Jamie Allard said she was working with another person (or group?) to submit a map of their own.

Read more about the reapportionment process here. The next action to be taken is an Assembly meeting on February 15th, where a final map will be introduced to the Assembly for deliberation. Public hearings and work sessions follow, concluding with a final meeting to adopt the plan on March 1st.

Anchorage Reapportionment welcomes 6 public map submissions

The Anchorage Reapportionment Committee has published 6 maps drawn by members of the community for a total of 10 maps under consideration. These maps were provided to the Committee on January 20th, and have been presented by their drafters at two town halls hosted by the Assembly.

As a reminder, reapportionment is the process of redrawing Anchorage’s six Assembly districts. The addition of a 12th Assembly seat passed by voters has triggered the city’s charter, mandating all districts be reapportioned.

Like the State Constitution, Anchorage’s municipal charter requires that districts be drawn with consideration to compactness, contiguousness, relative socioeconomic integration, and districts of equal population (Anchorage Charter 4.01). Anchorage’s Assembly districts must also abide by the Voting Rights Act, which protects from racial gerrymandering. For more info about the process, read my writeup here.

New districts must be as close to 48,541 people as possible. The addition of a 12th assembly member will cause Downtown, the single-member district that is half the size of neighboring districts, to expand significantly.

This post will 1) go over the maps proposed by the public and compare them to the ones drawn by Resource Data, the muni contractor hired by the Assembly to guide the reapportionment process, and 2) analyze the discussions that have taken place at town halls, which offer important insight as to what priorities the Assembly is keeping in mind for adopting a final map.

An overview of the muni-made maps

Originally, Resource Data drafted 5 maps that I wrote about when they were published. The consensus among everyone I know who has seen them, including multiple assembly members, is that they are not very good. Many of them make strange decisions about what communities to link together, and some are straight up never going to get passed by the Assembly. Now, Resource Data is only offering 4 of them up for consideration.

Note: the partisan data used in the breakdown columns are the estimated results of the 2020 presidential election. These results are calculated by taking the Harvard VEST calculations of Alaska’s election results and assigning absentees in proportion to the precinct or census block’s population.

Map 1
  • District 1 (Downtown) expands south to Tudor Road into current District 4, and east to Pine Street in current District 5
  • District 2 (Eagle River-Chugiak) loses the North Muldoon finger containing the Tikahtnu Mall
  • District 3 (West) loses Campbell Lake
  • District 4 (Midtown) pushes south into Independence Park and a bit of Hillside
  • District 5 (East) loses South Mountain View
West, East, and South get 3-4% bumps for Biden while Midtown gets a 2% bump for Trump

Pairs ConstantDunbar, and Zaletel in the same Downtown district; Rivera and Weddleton are in Midtown together

Map 2
  • District 1 expands south to the northern boundary of Northern Lights; pushes east into South Mountain View and Russian Jack
  • District 3 loses. Campbell Lake
  • District 4 pushes south into Independence Park
  • District 5 expands south into Abbot Loop and parts of Hillside
  • District 6 gains Stuckagain Heights
West and South get a 4 and 6 point bump for Biden, while Midtown gets slightly more conservative

Pairs ConstantDunbar, and Zaletel in DowntownRivera and Weddleton are in Midtown together

Map 3
  • District 1 expands northwest to encompass roughly a third of JBER previously in current District 2; moves east to Boniface Parkway and south to Northern Lights
  • District 2 absorbs Northeast Muldoon
  • District 3 loses Campbell Lake
  • District 4 takes in Independence Park
  • District 5 takes the North Muldoon finger previously belonging to District 2; pushes east into U-Med and south into Abbot Loop and parts of Hillside
  • District 6 takes in Stuckagain Heights
West, East, and South gets a 4-6% bump for Biden while Trump gains 3% in Midtown

Pairs ConstantDunbar, and Zaletel in DowntownRivera and Weddleton in Midtown

Map 4
  • District 1 pushes east to South Mountain View and Russian Jack, while pushing south to the boundary of Northern Lights
  • District 2 takes in Muldoon
  • District 3 loses Campbell Lake and a handful of residents from Kincaid
  • District 4 pushes south into Independence Park and parts of Hillside
  • District 5 expands into Elmendorf and Fort Richardson on JBER; expands east into U-Med and Far North Bicentennial
  • District 6 takes in Stuckagain Heights
Eagle River-Chugiak goes to Trump by 10 fewer percentage points while West and South get a 4-5% bump for Biden. Midtown goes to Biden by 4 fewer points.

Pairs ConstantDunbar, & Zaletel in DowntownRivera and Weddleton in MidtownPetersen with both Eagle River-Chugiak representatives (Allard & Kennedy)

The 6 public maps submitted to the Committee

These maps were submitted to the Committee by members of the public including Matt Greene, former Data Director for the AK Democratic Party; Danny Wells, an Anchorage photographer, Alaskans for Fair Redistricting, an organization led by AFL-CIO President Joelle Hall, Anchorage Action, a non-partisan group that organizes involvement in local government, and me (Robert Hockema), who both helped Anchorage Action submit their map as well as submitted a map under my own name.

Important to note: some of these maps will change now that the Committee has allowed us to modify our maps by February 4th.

Matt Greene
  • District 1 gains JBER to the north and South Mountain View to the east
  • District 2 gains Girdwood, Indian, and areas of South
  • District 3 loses Campbell Lake
  • District 4 gains more of the U-Med area
  • District 5 gains the North Muldoon finger encompassing the Tikahtnu Mall
  • The new District 6 includes Dimond Estates, Campbell Lake, Bayshore/Klatt, Rabbit Creek, and most of Hillside

Pairs Forrest Dunbar and Christopher Constant in Downtown

Anchorage Action
  • District 1 (Downtown) gains central Midtown
  • District 3 (West) gains Dimond Estates and West Dimond
  • District 4 gains Arctic and Independence Park
  • District 6 (South) gains Campbell Lake

Pairs ConstantDunbar, and Zaletel in DowntownRivera and Weddleton in Midtown

Robert Hockema
  • District 1 (Downtown) gains JBER and upper Midtown
  • District 2 (ER-Chugiak) gains East Hillside
  • District 4 (Midtown) gains Independence Park
  • District 6 (South-Turnagain Arm-Girdwood) gains Dimond Estates and Campbell Lake

Pairs Forrest Dunbar and Christopher Constant in Downtown

Alaskans for Fair Redistricting
  • District 1: Downtown, Mountain View, Fairview, and JBER including areas around its gates
  • District 2: Socio-economically integrated neighborhoods along the Chugach Mountains including Chugiak/Eagle River, Stuckagain Heights, and Hillside
  • District 3: West Anchorage west of Minnesota Drive
  • District 4: Midtown neighborhoods
  • District 5: East Anchorage east of Elmore/ Bragaw
  • District 6: Rabbit Creek area, Turnagain Arm, and the non-Hillside portions of South Anchorage

This is the only map offered by either RDI or the public that doesn’t pair any incumbent Assembly members together.

Denny Wells Map A
  • District 1 expands to Northern Lights Boulevard to the Alaska Railroad tracks, and east to Boniface and north of Northern Lights
  • District 2 loses the North Muldoon finger but gains Stuckagain Heights
  • District 3 moves west to Arctic, bordered by Tudor the north.
  • District 4 moves south to O’Malley and expands west into south of Tudor and north of the railroad tracks.
  • District 5 expands west to Lake Otis
  • District 6 expands north to cover all Bicentennial Park.

Pairs ConstantDunbar, and Zaletel in DowntownRivera and Weddleton in Midtown

Danny Wells Map B (coming soon)

What’s next?

With town halls and multiple work sessions underway, the Assembly will now consider community feedback on all maps as well as the recommendations of public submissions to propose a final map. This might be a map the Committee and Assembly really like, or it could be a new map that represents the wishes of all the current maps and feedback.

February 15thAssembly meeting: introduce proposed plan
February 24thPublic hearing
February 25thAssembly work session
March 1stPublic hearing; Assembly consideration and adoption of plan
May 2022Approved map will take place for elections after April 2022
Timeline for the remainder of the reapportionment process

Stay tuned for more updated on the process. Map updates will come as public submissions are revised, and as the Assembly considers the final map to put in front of the public for consideration.

Meet Anchorage’s first five draft Assembly maps

The addition of a 12th Assembly seat will shake up the current map significantly

The Anchorage Reapportionment Committee has made five draft Assembly maps available for the public to see and comment on. Reapportionment is the process of redrawing Anchorage’s six Assembly districts. The addition of a 12th Assembly seat passed by voters has triggered the city’s charter, mandating all districts be reapportioned. Read about the process in-depth here.

The Committee, made up of Christopher Constant (Downtown), Pete Peterson (East), Crystal Kennedy (Eagle River-Chugiak), and Austin Quinn-Davidson (West), published five proposals available on the reapportionment website. The first map was drawn by Constant, while the remaining four were drafted by Resource Data Inc., the contractor providing GIS and redistricting services to the city during this process.

As a note, new districts must be as close to 48,541 people as possible. The addition of a 12th assembly member will cause Downtown, the single-member district that is half the size of its neighbors, to balloon in coverage.

Here are the draft maps, which you can view by clicking each Draft layer one-by-one. You can also see what the current districts look like, and lay it over a new map to see what changes have been made. Every single district is numbered 1-6 to correspond with the Downtown (1), Eagle River-Chugiak (2), West (3), Midtown (4), East (5), and South (6) areas of Anchorage.

Map 1
Map drawn by Assembly member Christopher Constant
  • Downtown takes in JBER-Elmendorf and Airport Heights
  • Eagle River-Chugiak pulls in Girdwood, Indian, and Bird as well as Goldenview, Rabbit Creek, and Upper de Armoun
  • A fresh South district is formed by joining East/Lower Hillside, Bayshore-Klatt, parts of Jewel Lake, and Dimond Estates
  • West stays the same except for losing West Dimond’s neighborhoods north of Campbell Lake
  • The map pairs Assembly members Constant and Dunbar in the same Downtown district
  • Downtown goes to Biden by 8 fewer percentage points, while Eagle River goes to Trump by 12 fewer. West gets a 5.5% bump for Biden, and East a 3% bump for Biden.
  • Notably, this map doesn’t split any precincts — meaning lines don’t cross natural voting precinct boundaries that have been being used in both muni elections and statewide elections for the last decade. The current Assembly map divides Airport Heights’ most northern precinct in half with north of Debarr’s belonging to Downtown and south belonging to Midtown.
Map 2
Map drawn by Resource Data Inc.
  • Downtown takes in Airport Heights and South Mountain View, as well as much of the core of Midtown
  • East gains the North Muldoon finger, which includes the Tikahtnu Mall that currently belongs to the Eagle River-Chugiak
  • Midtown dips below Dimond/Abbott to grab Independence Park and Lower Hillside.
  • West stays the same except for losing West Dimond’s neighborhoods north of Campbell Lake
  • Pairs Constant, Dunbar, and Zaletel in the same Downtown district; Rivera and Weddleton are in Midtown together
  • West, East, and South get 3-4% bumps for Biden while Midtown gets a 2% bump for Trump
Map 3
Map drawn by Resource Data Inc.
  • Downtown dips below Chester Creek and adds upper Midtown, as well as steals Russian Jack and South Mountain View from Eastside
  • East gains the Tikahtnu finger, and now stretches south through Elmore all the way to Hillside.
  • Midtown loses Dimond, half of Abbott, and half of Campbell Creek. It also adds Independence Park.
  • West stays the same except losing the neighborhoods north of Campbell Lake
  • South gains Stuckagain Heights
  • Pairs Constant, Dunbar, and Zaletel in Downtown; Rivera and Weddleton are in Midtown together
  • West and South get a 4 and 6 point bump for Biden, while Midtown gets slightly more conservative
Map 4
Map drawn by Resource Data Inc.
  • Downtown takes in JBER to the north, South Mountain View and Russian Jack to the East, and Airport Heights and upper Midtown.
  • East loses far Northeast Muldoon to the Eagle River district, South Mountain View and Russian Jack to Downtown, and Stuckagain Heights to South. It now stretches west into U-Med in Midtown and also south into Elmore and a bit of Lower Hillside.
  • Midtown pushes west into Arctic and south into Independence Park
  • West stays the same except losing the neighborhoods north of Campbell Lake
  • Pairs Constant, Dunbar, and Zaletel in Downtown; Rivera and Weddleton in Midtown
  • West, East, and South gets a 4-6% bump for Biden while Trump gains 3% in Midtown
Map 5
Map drawn by Resource Data Inc.
  • Downtown adds South Mountain View and Russian Jack to the East, and Airport Heights and upper Midtown.
  • East adds JBER-Elmendorf, U-Med area, and Far North Bicentennial
  • Eagle River-Chugiak adds North and South Muldoon
  • Midtown adds a large portion of Hillside
  • South gains Stuckagain Heights
  • West stays the same except losing the neighborhoods north of Campbell Lake
  • Pairs Constant, Dunbar, and Zaletel in Downtown; Rivera and Weddleton in Midtown; Petersen with both Eagle River-Chugiak representatives (Allard & Kennedy)
  • Eagle River-Chugiak goes to Trump by 10 fewer percentage points while West and South get a 4-5% bump for Biden. Midtown goes to Biden by 4 fewer points.

What happens next?

On January 6th, the Reapportionment Committee will meet to review draft plans and prepare for their Town Halls. They will likely go over a new timeline for finishing the process, as the five maps released are a bit overdue. After the meeting, the next scheduled date is January 10th, which is the last day the public has to submit any map proposals of their own.

The Committee and Resource Data could rework these maps before taking them to town halls where residents can ask questions and voice concerns.

How do I get involved?

You can also attend the two town halls scheduled by the committee.

Virtual Town Hall January 26th, 6-8pmhttps://bit.ly/ReapportionmentTownHall01262022
In-Person Town Hall January 27th, 6-8pmWilda Marston Theatre, Loussac Library

You can also attend the next meeting on January 28th on Microsoft Teams.

Public Call In: (907) 519-0237​
Conference ID: 964 024 898​​#​

If you’d like to comment on any of the maps, use the portal on the committee website. It’s best to speak to the Assembly’s requirements when creating new districts, including compactness, contiguousness, relative socioeconomic integration, and districts of equal population (Anchorage Charter 4.01). 

Though I’ve included it for transparency and research, political data and the placement of Assembly members will almost certainly not be considered persuasive testimony.

Anchorage begins “reapportionment” of Assembly districts

The passage of Prop 12 has triggered the redrawing of Assembly districts in Alaska’s largest city

Now that the Alaska Redistricting Board has adopted the final House and Senate maps, the city of Anchorage will undergo a similar process of redistricting called “reapportionment”. Municipal charter requires the Assembly to determine within two months of finalization of the state redistricting plan if the current districts need to be realigned.

This is what the current Assembly districts look like:

Anchorage Reapportionment, explained

Although redistricting and reapportionment are two separate processes, there is overlap between the municipality’s process and the state’s. Both will utilize population and demographic data released by the 2020 Census. Like the State Constitution, Anchorage’s municipal charter requires that districts be drawn with consideration to compactness, contiguousness, relative socioeconomic integration, and districts of equal population (Anchorage Charter 4.01). Anchorage’s Assembly districts must also abide by the Voting Rights Act, which protects from racial gerrymandering.

Similarities aside, there are two notable differences between the way state and municipal boundaries must be redrawn:

The process is overseen by the Reapportionment Committee on the Anchorage Assembly, rather than an independently-appointed board.

The Reapportionment Committee is made up of Christopher Constant (Assembly Chair, District 1, Downtown), Pete Peterson (District 4, East Anchorage), Crystal Kennedy (District 2, Eagle River-Chugiak), and Austin Quinn-Davidson (District 3, West Anchorage).

The Assembly has contracted local software and GIS consulting company Resource Data to draw the new Assembly districts and offer extensive support for public input.

Here is the Assembly resolution declaring the current districts “malapportioned“, meaning they must be redrawn.

Reapportionment isn’t required to happen every 10 years like state redistricting

Under the city charter, reapportionment is only required when there is a total population deviation of over 10% between all six districts in the municipality. This is determined by dividing the city’s population by the number of districts to get the target population, then calculating the difference between the lowest and highest deviation between districts whose deviation is less or more than 5% of the target population. Here’s an example from the last reapportionment process:

District2010 PopulationTargetDeviationDiff
1 (Downtown)25,86126,530-2.5%-669
2 (Eagle River-Chugiak)54,97453,0593.6%1,915
3 (West)51,06653,059-3.8%-1,993
4 (Midtown)53,67653,0591.2%617
5 (East)50,30353,059-5.2%-2,756
6 (South-Girdwood)55,94653,0595.4%2,887
The difference between the lowest (-5.2%) and highest (5.4%) deviations was 10.6%, triggering reapportionment. Note, only deviations plus or minus 5% are counted.

Note that Downtown has a different population target because the muni rotates one district that elects a single member as opposed to two, causing its target population to be half the rest of the Assembly districts.

This changed with the passage of Ballot Proposition 12, which adds an additional member to the body, giving all six districts two representatives. The proposition was approved overwhelmingly by Anchorage voters in 2020 by a margin of +19%. Just one precinct voted against it (East Dowling in Midtown, which leans conservative). Vice Chair Christopher Constant, the sole Downtown rep on the Assembly, was the main voice behind the campaign. Adding one more member changes the population targets for each district now that the city’s population must be divided by 6 districts (12 full members) instead of 5.5 seats (11 members).

With new Census population counts and Prop 12 changing the math, each new district should have as close to 48,541 people as possible. Here’s the current districts shaded by the deviation from the target population:

Total deviation of 92.81% after Prop 12 and new population changes

As you can see from the map above, the new Downtown district is severely underpopulated will need to add 21.7k people to create a full district. It will do so by grabbing population from surrounding districts, which will cause each of them to shrink in size.

For fun, here’s an example of redrawn districts, which you can view in greater detail here:

What to watch for during the process

The Alaska Redistricting Board was accused throughout the process for drawing partisan maps, and will likely see their Senate map in court by next spring over accusations of racial gerrymandering. This begs the question: what potential does the Anchorage reapportionment process have for abuse?

It’s not as if the Assembly is unilaterally drawing the districts they run under. The Assembly contracted Resource Data to provide both redistricting services as well as provide alternative map plans. It’s not yet clear how involved members of the Reapportionment Committee will be in making changes themselves, but the public proposal indicates that Resource Data will render maps based on feedback from the committee, community organizations, and the public. The Assembly has the final vote, but the city’s contract provides little space for them to steamroll the process.

As a caveat, the small influence Assembly members are likely to have is more localized and detailed than that of the Alaska Redistricting Boards. The Board continually emphasized that they didn’t know where incumbent legislators lived, and thus couldn’t possibly be accused of intentionally packing incumbents into districts to tilt the scales in elections. It’s hard to believe thats the case for Assembly members living in the same city as each other.

In the same vein, Alaska’s statewide and legislative elections are hard to analyze without a little bit of work due to our lack of precinct-level reporting. Assembly members know Anchorage’s neighborhoods extremely well and have detailed precinct-level results from local elections to analyze their habits. Assuming I’m underestimating how much influence the Reapportionment Committee will have on the final map, these members are in theory well-positioned to make their own partisan recommendations.

Timeline for reapportionmenT

The Reapportionment Committee has proposed the following timeline:

Date Deadline
Nov 23Committee Meeting: timeline and communications review
Nov 23Assembly Meeting: declaration of Malapportionment AR/AM
Dec 9Committee Meeting: draft plans are presented as available
Dec 29Draft maps released
Jan 20Deadline for
submission of third-party maps
Jan 26Town Hall (Virtual)
Jan 27Town Hall (In Person @ Loussac)
Jan 28Committee Meeting: review Town Hall feedback
Feb 15Assembly Meeting: introduce proposed plan
Feb 24Assembly Meeting: 1st public hearing
Feb 25Assembly Work session
May 2022The approved map and election of the 12th seat will take effect after April 2022
This timeline is an update from the Committee’s initial proposal, which was revised after a delay in getting the draft maps to the public.
What does this mean for the 2022 Anchorage municipal races on April 5th?

Nothing. For reapportionment to apply to the upcoming muni elections, the final maps would have to be fully completed by December 10th, following a notice of vacancy due Jan 9. Thus, barring court litigation, the new boundaries will be ready for a full municipal cycle in April of 2023.

However, the new Downtown seat that was added by Prop 12 will likely see a special election under the new district as soon as May 2022.

What can the public do to stay involved and help keep the process accountable?
  • Attend committee meetings, which are held virtually and can be phoned into:
    • Go to the reapportionment website for the most recent meeting and details to call into
    • If for some reason you can’t access the meeting the day of, call the Conference Bridge Number at (907) 273-5190 with Participant Code 721227#​
  • Attend the town halls, which will offer Q&A opportunities with Resource Data and members of the Reapportionment Committee.
  • Draw your own ideas for districts using the public input platform that will be developed. Until that software gets set up, visit Districtr and select the 40 State House Districts option. Or, if you’re up for a more detailed tool, try Dave’s Redistricting App to draw using ultra-granular Census blocks.