Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
A debate over expanding the Alaska legislature has brought to my attention the state's incredible Senate District C, America's largest state legislative district.
Rural legislators are pushing to add four seats to the Alaska Senate and eight seats to the Alaska House as a way to prevent their seats from becoming even more unwieldy. Anchorage and the nearby Matanuska-Susitna Borough (Sarah Palin's old stomping ground) have gained population. The Bush -- the parts of the state that lack interconnected roads -- has seen its population declines accelerate, driven by high heating costs.
As a result, after redistricting more of the state's districts will be in the urban (or comparatively urban) areas. The rural seats that remain will have to get larger.
The case that rural legislators are making is that the state's rural seats already are too large and too difficult to traverse. If the legislature had more seats, they'd at least be able to keep the rural districts roughly the size that they are now. To make that case, lawmakers have turned to the obvious example: District C.
District C stretches to the end of the Alaska Panhandle in the Southeast (see the part marked 5-C on this map). It reaches far North beyond Fairbanks into the Arctic Circle, to the edge of the North Slope. And, it stretches West nearly all the way to the Bering Sea (see 6-C on this map).
The distance from Metlakatla in District C's farthest edge in the Southeast to Marshall, the farthest edge to the West, is 1,185 miles. That's almost the same distance as Jacksonville, Florida to Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The distance from Metlakatla to aptly named Arctic Village in the district's Northern extreme is 1,000 miles. Portland, Oregon to Phoenix, Arizona is almost the same distance.
Of course, traveling to the far-flung villages of District C isn't as simple as hopping on a commercial jet or getting in a car. The senator who represents District C, Democrat Albert Kookesh, explained his district to his colleagues, as the Anchorage Daily News reports:
"In order for me to get to one of my villages, Lime Village, I would have to go from Angoon to Juneau, Juneau to Anchorage, Anchorage to Fairbanks, Fairbanks to Aniak, and Aniak to Lime Village," Kookesh said.
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