Panel approves new district boundaries for Legislature

A state panel on Monday approved new boundaries for Alaska's 40 House and 20 Senate districts, but the process has a long way to go before the 2012 elections.

The Alaska Redistricting Board has been working since March to draw new districts based on population shifts from the 2010 U.S. Census.

Under the plan, Southeast Alaska loses a House seat and half a Senate seat. And Mat-Su gains a House seat. But board members said the biggest challenge was protecting Alaska Native voting rights, as required under federal law, by matching the current number of districts in which an Alaska Native candidate would likely be able to be elected.

One proposed new Senate district that should help meet that requirement stretches from Yakutat to the Yukon-Kuskoskwim Delta and includes Kodiak, Dillingham and Cordova.

If the plan holds up as proposed, some incumbents will have to square off against each other, if they both decide to run,

In Southeast, Sens. Al Kookesh, a Democrat from Angoon, and Bert Stedman, a Republican from Sitka, reside in the same proposed district. In Fairbanks, Demoratic Sens. Joe Paskvan and Joe Thomas share one too. And in Anchorage, Democratic Reps. Mike Doogan and Chris Tuck were put into the same House district, as were Republican Lance Pruitt and Democrat Pete Petersen.

The board must have a final plan and accompanying legal documents complete by June 14. Those opposed to it then have 30 days to file challenges in court before the board sends its work to the U.S. Department of Justice for approval.

The plan almost certainly will end up in court. The board met in executive session Monday to discuss "potential litigation." It meets again today.

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