WASHINGTON — One of the basic truisms of redistricting is that the party in charge of drawing the map gets to color it as red or blue as it needs to be to help the party.
In Minnesota, where the Republican-controlled state Legislature drew a map that DFL Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed, both parties get their chance to draw their preferred maps, sending them to a state court panel that will review the plans and draw the map itself early next year.
The Republican map strives to protect Republican gains in the 2010 election by establishing safe districts for each of the state’s incumbents — four Democrats and four Republicans. Maps released by the DFL, meanwhile, led to consternation from some of the party’s members of Congress, even though they firmly favor the party going forward, according to a MinnPost analysis.
MinnPost covered the Republican map after it came out in May. We’ll recap it a bit here, but let’s focus on the DFL proposals right now.
In 2008, Barack Obama won more than 50 percent of the vote in five of the state’s eight congressional districts. The DFL maps — one submitted by attorneys on behalf of the state party and its chair, Ken Martin (called “DFL 1” in the table on this page) and another from a contingency of state lawmakers (“DFL 2” and named for its one the lawsuit’s parties, Audrey Britton, in this story) — seek to defy the Republican Legislature and solidify the 5-3 House advantage it has held since the 1980s.
Newly partisan districts
Congressional redistricting map makers seek to draw districts that best help their party. Here are the three proposed redistricting maps and the vote breakdown from the 2008 presidential election from each. The first number is the percentage of voters who voted for President Obama, the second is the percentage who voted for John McCain.
|District||Current||DFL 1||DFL 2||Republican|
In the 1st District, both the Martin and Britton maps look to give third-term Democrat Tim Walz more breathing room than he currently has (and certainly more than he would under the Republican plan).
Both DFL maps confine the 1st District to the most southeastern corner of the state and the larger cities of Mankato, Rochester and Winona, where Democratic candidates are more likely to find support. Southwestern Minnesota moves from the 1st District to the 7th, and the maps draw in more northern rural counties like LeSueur, Rice and Goodhue to compensate. In 2008, Obama received 51.7 and 52.1 percent of the vote in the proposed districts.
Obama still received more than 50 percent of the vote in the Republican’s proposed 1st, but they take portions of Mankato out of district and incorporate more rural, western Minnesota counties all the way up to the Minnesota River. Obama won this version of the district 51-47, but the demographics mean Walz is still vulnerable.
The 2nd District is a Republican haven under each of the DFL maps. In fact, the Democrats actually make the district three points more comfortable for conservatives than the Republican map, which, as drawn, splits the 2008 vote 49-49.
Republicans think John Kline is a strong incumbent who can beat back major Democratic challengers, and they wouldn’t have left the district such a toss-up if that weren’t the case. The Democrats apparently agreed and lumped a lot of Republicans into the 2nd, drawing a district red enough to give Republicans a 7- or 8-point advantage while sifting Republican voters from other districts.
The two DFL maps approach Republican Erik Paulsen’s 3rd District in distinctly different ways — on both maps, the 3rd starts on to the west of Minneapolis, but Martin’s map wraps it around to the southeast through the southern suburbs while Britton’s takes it northwest, running parallel to the 6th District.
Martin’s map would give Democrats a 12-point spread in the district. Britton’s map gives the DFL a 2-point advantage.
Barack Obama won the current 3rd by six points in 2008, but Paulsen won in a highly contested race himself. He’s proven to be a very effective fundraiser and Republicans trust him to win close races in this district — the map they drew almost evenly split the Obama-McCain vote in 2008.
All three maps give Democrats a huge edge in this district — Obama received at least 61 percent of the vote in each of the proposals. The district is the Democrats’ to lose, no matter which version you use.
The DFL’s map is controversial, of course, because it extends westward far enough to take over Stillwater and pair McCollum with Rep. Michele Bachmann, two lawmakers who couldn’t be further apart politically. On its face, the map presumes to force Bachmann into a race she couldn’t possibly win — but there’s more to it than that, as we’ll get into in a bit.
Obama received more than 74 percent of the vote in the heavily-Democratic Minneapolis-based district in 2008. He’d win by similar margins in all three proposed maps.
Each of the proposals utilizes the city of St. Cloud in order to change the demographics of the district just enough to give it a Republican edge. The Legislature’s map removes most of the city from the 6th and gives Republicans a more than 8-point advantage in the district. Martin gives some of the city to the 8th and moves Isanti and Chisago County (and 8th District Rep. Chip Cravaack’s home town) into the 6th. Martin’s 6th as a 12-point Republican edge.
Britton, meanwhile, keeps all of St. Cloud in the 6th and crafts a district that runs southwest from St. Cloud through the north suburbs to the Washington County border with Wisconsin. McCain won this version of the district by only 1 percent in 2008, so it’s more of a toss-up than in the other two maps, but still red enough to feel safe for most Republicans.
Here’s where the Martin map gets especially interesting. As mentioned above, his 4th District proposal pairs Bachmann and McCollum by moving Stillwater into a Democratic stronghold. But in their brief accompanying the map, Martin’s lawyers acknowledge they don’t expect Bachmann to ever face McCollum — the Constitution allows Representatives to live outside their district as long as they live in the state they’re elected in.
Thus, they expect Bachmann to return to the 6th District (if she runs for re-election at all), which would then be inhabited by current 8th District Rep. Chip Cravaack. Like Bachmann, he could run for re-election in either his new 6th District, or return to the 8th — but the Martin map crafts a solidly Democratic 8th District that would make Cravaack’s re-election as tough a prospect as it currently is. So the map essentially asks Cravaack to choose between running in his new, safe district, the 6th, against a famous three-term Republican, or running again in the 8th, where he is at significantly more risk of losing.
The Republicans tried to craft a map that sufficiently protects both Bachmann and Cravaack. The DFL is trying to force at least one of them into a race they’d rather not be in. That’s the politics of redistricting.
The Republican map makes a new 7th District that runs horizontal across the state, through Cravaack’s home in Chisago County, which gives him a safe home base. The Democrats keep the district’s traditional north-to-south shape, but stretch it, for the first time, from Canada to Iowa.
All three proposals create districts with Republican majorities, but the DFL is banking on moderate Democrat Collin Peterson’s continued tenure in the House. If he leaves, Republicans stand a decent chance of picking up the rural district.
All three maps draw an 8th District with Duluth as its population center and a significant Democratic edge. The Republican map stretches west-to-east along the entire northern third of the state, with Peterson as its incumbent, while the DFLers keep the conventional shape intact. Under the Martin plan, of course, the district would be open, as Cravaack would be drawn into the 6th, but he could still run for re-election there.
The two DFL maps give Republicans two safe districts (the 2nd and the 6th) and a third that leans that direction but is currently occupied by a moderate Democrat (the 7th). The DFL would hold two solidly-Democratic districts (the 4th and 5th) and create three they could reasonably expect to hold or pick up in the future (the 1st, 3rd and the 8th). Remember, the Republicans drew a 4-4 map, with the 1st District well within its reach.
But none of these maps will become the final product — that’s up to the state court panel. They’ve asked the litigants to respond to each of the maps by Dec. 9 and will begin hearing oral arguments in January. They’ll draw the new boundaries and release them sometime early next year.
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry