Saturday, May 18, 2013
A Longtime Public Official Dies Suddenly
Now as the Redistricting Board and its staff look ahead to actually drawing the new political map, they'll have to do it without the man who has guided the process to this point.
The Alaska Redistricting Board resumed work this morning without its executive director, longtime public official Ron Miller, who died at home of an apparent heart attack on Sunday.
On Friday, Miller finished a series of public hearings on redistricting, the process undertaken every 10 years to make legislative maps conform to U.S. Census data.
Now as the board and its staff look ahead to actually drawing that map, they'll have to do it without the man who has guided the process to this point.
Ron Miller had played several roles in public life in Alaska.
A former legislative aide and once executive director of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, Miller's recent job was overseeing the numerically and politically complicated task of drawing new legislative districts.
His sudden death at age 65 stunned many people across the state.
"It was really tough,” said Taylor Bickford, the board’s assistant director. “We kind of came together as a team this morning and kind of shared memories and stories, and kind of just reflected on the whole thing. That was helpful, but I don't think it has fully hit all of us yet. It will take some more time."
But whatever the Redistricting Board and its staff must do to compensate for the loss of Miller, they won't get more time do it.
The Constitution requires the board to produce its final legislative map by June 14 -- 90 days after it received data from the Census.
"We don't have the authority to slide that date, one way or the other,” said John Torgerson, the board chair. “We will get Alaskans' work done on time."
But it's not going to be easy.
"I just don't know how they get over that,” said Jake Metcalfe of The Rights Group, an organization including the Democratic Party and other interest groups that testified in the public hearings on redistricting. “And it's just a terrible thing. Very unfortunate. It's a real short time period that the board has to get out a plan."
The challenge ahead has enhanced the appreciation that colleagues already had for Miller's management style.
"He was just one of the hardest-working people I've ever known," Bickford said. "He was just dedicated to public service and to doing the best job he could for the state. He wanted a process that was open and fair. And he was just a great leader. He led by example and just always treated people well."
"Had a good sense of humor. Was just a good guy all the way around," Metcalfe said. "And that's what I saw in my experience before the Redistricting Board, was that he was just an outstanding public servant and treated the public well and did a good job."
"He was the complete package,” said Randy Ruedrich, state chair of the Republican Party, in a speech to Capital City Republicans in Juneau. “I thought he was a great guy to have working for the board. And he'll be terribly missed, not only by those of us in the public sector, but also his family, his wife and two little kids."
In what normally would be a very contentious time in a high-stakes political process, people on all sides of redistricting took a pause today to praise Ron Miller.
The Redistricting Board holds a meeting next Monday to decide what to do about staffing in the wake of Miller's death.
For now, Bickford will take over Miller's day-to-day duties.