12/13/2012 12:13 am ET Updated Feb 11, 2013

Redistricting Leaves Alaska Legislature 'Awfully White'

Two Alaska Native legislators were at the peak of power during the last legislative session in Juneau.

Even though they weren't serving as Senate President or House Speaker, they held two of the four Finance Committee co-chair positions. Those are the less visible but perhaps more powerful positions where spending decisions on operating and capital budgets are made. Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, held one of those positions in the Senate, while Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, held a similar spot in the House.

It will be much different in the upcoming session.

Following election defeats and a shift of power to urban legislators, a shrinking Alaska Native delegation will largely be on the outside looking in to when decisions are made.

'Awfully white'

"You have a legislature that's turning awfully white," said Albert Kookesh, co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives. "What you are ending up with is something that's not very diverse in terms of opinion."

Kookesh, also a state senator from Angoon, lost his re-election bid following redistricting. So did Thomas, who narrowly lost to newcomer Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins. That leaves the Legislature with just five Native members, Sens. Hoffman and Donny Olson, D-Golovin, and Reps. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, Neal Foster, D-Nome and Benjamin Nageak, D-Barrow.

There is one Asian legislator, Japanese-American Rep. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks. Kookesh pointed to the defeat of Sen. Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage, the Legislature's only African-American, as further evidence of the lawmaking body becoming less diverse.

The result: A state that is 67 percent white is governed by a legislature that is 90 percent white.

According to the latest U.S. Census ...

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