Sine die/Borromeo: Redistricting appeal is ‘not legitimate’
After years of bonkers endings, the end of the 32nd legislative session almost seemed like a return to normal.
Good afternoon, Alaska!
In this edition: The 2022 legislative session has finally come to an end in what was one of the more eventful final days in recent memory that saw the Legislature approve the budget without any immediately obvious red flags as well as a flurry of legislation; The cash payout contained in the budget is $3,200 after the House failed to reach the supermajority needed to pay out an additional $650 from savings, effectively keeping about $420 million in the Constitutional Budget Reserve; Meanwhile, the Alaska Redistricting Board’s appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court gets called illegitimate by one of its members.
Days until the candidate filing deadline: 13
Current mood: 😵💫
After years of legislative sessions that have ended in drag-out, knock-down fights that have each seemed to present some new existential threat to established norms and the basic operation of state government, the end of the 32nd legislative session almost seemed like a return to normal. The day saw a race to the end as each chamber churned through a last-minute slate of bills, packing some together to sneak them through the finish line and dealing unceremonious deaths to others. There was even an impromptu conference committee to hash out the differences on a bill dealing with workers compensation claims for firefighters that was adopted with just minutes to spare on the clock. I’ll break down the notable legislative votes in a future memo.
Critically, though, the Legislature approved a budget that doesn’t—as of the time that I’m writing this—have any obvious red flags. The negotiated deal between the House and Senate secured enough votes to not only be approved by each chamber but to be implemented on time without risking a government shutdown, which was a real fear given the House GOP’s weaponization of the effective date provisions last year that sent the state teetering closer to a shutdown than ever before. Turns out having a windfall to spend makes things easier.
The Senate was the first to take up the conference committee report on the budget on Wednesday with legislators across the political spectrum calling the bill an acceptable compromise that fulfills a lot of goals like providing additional funding for education, local governments, capital projects and a dividend payout that many said would be “life-changing” for many Alaskans. While some of the dividend hardliners said they were unhappy that they couldn’t secure a full dividend, they understood that the payout was the best they were going to get and dragging things out any longer over an unwindable fight wasn’t worth it. In the end, they even secured the supermajority needed to tap into the Constitutional Budget Reserve to add $650 to the state’s dividend/energy rebate payment, bringing it up to $3,850.
That figure wasn’t meant to be, though. Debate in the House over the budget was greatly abridged with it coming less than two hours before midnight, but there was similarly broad support for passing the budget itself. However, when it came to tapping the Constitutional Budget Reserve for that $420 million to boost the payout by that $650 the House fell a single vote short of the 30 votes needed.
It seemed to be an unexpected twist for leadership in both the House and Senate, kicking off a flurry of last-minute attempts to change minds and apply leverage that ultimately proved fruitless. The House gave it one more shot for it only to fall two votes short.
Barring a special session, it means that the payments going out to Alaskans this year will total $3,200 and an additional $420 million will remain in the state’s savings account for another day. The legislation—along with a load of other bills—will head to Gov. Mike Dunleavy for consideration.
The day also marked the final day in the Legislature for Sen. Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage, and Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks. Both have already announced their plans to retire and they were given the honor of adjourning the session.
Borromeo: Redistricting appeal is ‘not legitimate’
The Alaska Redistricting Board on Tuesday appealed its latest loss to the Alaska Supreme Court, arguing that Anchorage Superior Court Judge Thomas Matthews got it wrong when he found the board committed yet another constitutional gerrymander favoring Republicans.
But one board member is protesting, arguing in an email sent to the court that the Alaska Redistricting Board’s conservative members and its legal counsel have gone rogue.
“I write as a duly appointed member of the Alaska Redistricting Board to advise that today’s filing is not a legitimate appeal,” wrote board member Nicole Borromeo, who was appointed to the board by former House Speaker Bryce Edgmon (I-Dillingham). “The Board has not held a public hearing, executive session, or otherwise to discuss and vote on this pleading. In fact, the first time I had the opportunity to review it was after it was filed.”
Borromeo takes aim at the board’s Litigation Committee, which consists of only conservative board members John Binkley and Budd Simpson, and board counsel Matt Singer. She argues the committee was only intended to handle the day-to-day business of the original five lawsuits that challenged the original maps and was “not intended to usurp the board’s governance powers.”
“Unfortunately,” she wrote, “that is exactly what it is being used for, with the assistance of the Board’s counsel Matt Singer.”
Borromeo also points to the language of the motion to create the committee, which says “Any final decision that would directly impact our proclamation plan is reserved for decision by the full Board.”
On Monday, Judge Matthews ruled that the board’s conservative majority violated the equal protection rights of voters in South Anchorage when it paired them with an Eagle River district to create a new Senate district. Judge Matthews found that the board’s previous gerrymander aimed at boosting the representation of Eagle River and, thus, conservatives was unchanged in the new plan. The ruling also took board members Simpson and Binkley to task for statements and actions that expressed disdain and disregard to the Alaska Supreme Court’s authority.
He ordered the board to adopt an alternative that kept Eagle River together, South Anchorage together and East Anchorage, which was the subject of the original lawsuit, together. The board’s appeal argues, among many other things, that Judge Matthews doesn’t have the power to dictate to the board what it must do and that the court should have ignored the previous gerrymander when considering whether the latest maps were a new gerrymander.
What impact Borromeo’s email has on the process is unclear.
It was contained in a briefing filed by the Girdwood plaintiffs, who brought the challenge that led to the latest ruling. The Girdwood plaintiffs’ motion acknowledges the claims may be “important and potentially dispositive” but notifies the court that they plan to continue litigating as if it is legitimate because any hang up “may jeopardize the upcoming election cycle.”
Judge Matthews has ordered the board to adopt updated Senate pairings by May 23. The board has asked for a pause on that order while it appeals to the Alaska Supreme Court. The candidate filing deadline for this year’s elections is June 1.
Borromeo’s email also closes with a note that she’s exploring securing “independent conflict counsel,” which is a specific type of legal representation meant to address internal legal disputes in government entities or corporate boards.