A lawsuit is pushing to move Hooper Bay and Scammon Bay into the same House voting district as Bethel
The Calista Corporation, along with two private individuals from Scammon Bay and Hooper Bay, are suing the Alaska Redistricting Board. Their
legal complaint alleges that the board diluted the Calista region’s voting power when they adopted new House and Senate voting districts this year.
In late October, members of the Alaska Redistricting Board traveled to Bethel for a public meeting. They came to talk with residents about the redistricting process and collect public testimony.
At that meeting, Bethel resident Myron Naneng spoke. He is originally from Hooper Bay, and serves as Chairman and President of the Hooper Bay village corporation, called the Sea Lion Corporation. Naneng said that the community of Hooper Bay sent him as a representative to testify on their redistricting concerns.
“For a long time, we’ve been represented by a representative from Nome and a senator from Kotzebue," Naneng said. "But we feel that our connection to the Bethel district is stronger. Because our people are Yup’ik and Cup’ik from our village, and we have a lot of connections from here to Bethel."
For example, Naneng said that Bethel serves as the transportation and medical hub for Hooper Bay. He said that a state representative and senator from Bethel's District 38 would better understand Hooper Bay’s needs. Naneng said that Hooper Bay has been working on state and federal projects, and the support for those projects has mostly come from the state senator from Bethel, Lyman Hoffman.
“Because he understands the needs, and we run into him every so often in person and express our concerns directly to him,” Naneng said.
Naneng also spoke on behalf of his brother-in-law, Harley Sundown, who lives in Scammon Bay. Sundown serves on the tribal council and village corporation board. Naneng asked that Scammon Bay and Chevak also be included in Bethel District 38 for the same reasons as Hooper Bay.
Alaska Redistricting Board Chairman John Binkley responded to Naneng’s comments. He said that the board had looked at making these same changes after Hooper Bay sent a letter to the board requesting them. But population restrictions placed on each voting district would make the changes unlikely. Each voting district is limited to about 18,335 people.
“There’s a lot of population in Hooper [Bay], Chevak, and Scammon [Bay]. Then that means we’d have to push some of the other lower Kuskokwim villages out of the region into the Bristol Bay region. So that’s the balance we’re trying to find,” Binkley said.
When the Alaska Redistricting Board adopted its new district maps in November, it included Chevak in District 38, but not Hooper Bay or Scammon Bay.
Now Harley Sundown of Scammon Bay, William Naneng of Hooper Bay, and the Calista Corporation are suing the Alaska Redistricting Board.
The plaintiffs want the districts redrawn to include Scammon Bay and Hooper Bay in District 38. The change would consolidate most of the Calista region into a single senate district. And it would include Scammon Bay, Hooper Bay, and Chevak in the same house district as Bethel. The lawsuit claims that these communities are socially and economically integrated, with Bethel serving as their hub. “A Bethel representative and senator is best situated to understand and address the concerns of these villages,” the complaint states.
Under the current maps, Scammon Bay and Hooper Bay are included in House District 39 to the north, along with lower Yukon River communities and the Norton Sound region. That places them in Senate District T, along with the North Slope.
Calista Corporation Communications Director Thom Leonard said that the corporation filed the legal complaint alongside Sundown and Naneng with no charge to the individuals or their communities. Calista declined an interview, but issued a statement saying, “As an Alaska Native Corporation formed under ANCSA, it is incumbent upon us to assist in protecting the voting rights and powers of our shareholders.”
Because each voting district must have approximately the same population, the lawsuit proposes a solution for accommodating Hooper Bay and Scammon Bay's request. It suggests moving the communities of Kwigillingok, Kongiganak, and Quinhagak out of District 38 and into Bristol Bay’s District 37. It also suggests moving the community of Tyonek, located in the Kenai Peninsula Borough, out of District 37 and into District 8.
The Alaska Redistricting Board has been served four other lawsuits seeking to change district voting boundaries. Legal challenges are common, and even expected, following the redistricting process.