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How and whom of Minnesota congressional redistricting

We’re supposed to get the final 2010 census numbers next week, which will determine which states will gain or lose congressional seats for the decade ahead. Minnesota remains on the bubble for possibly losing one of its eight U.S. House seats. And whether or not Minnesota loses a seat, all of the district boundaries will be redrawn to reflect intrastate population shifts. The Legislature gets the first crack at drawing the new boundaries. But in the likely event that the Repub-controlled Legislature can’t generate a map that DFL Gov. Dayton will approve, the new map will be drawn by a specially-appointed panel under court supervision.

David Wasserman, House Editor for the Cook Political Report, had speculated shrewdly on possible outcomes for all of the “bubble states.” Here’s his Minnesota chapter: 

In 2002, Minnesota’s Republican House, DFL Senate, and Independence Party governor couldn’t agree on a plan when the state remained at eight seats, and a court-appointed panel drew the current lines, which produced a 4-4 tie in 2002 and again in 2010 after Republican Chip Cravaack unseated longtime Democratic Rep. Jim Oberstar in the Duluth-based 8th CD. Next year, Minnesota will have a Democratic governor and a Republican legislature. If the split authorities weren’t even able to decide on an eight-seat map in 2002, we can’t really expect there will be any hope for agreement if Minnesota loses a seat in reapportionment.

Even if Minnesota hangs on to its eighth seat, look for the parties to wrangle over how GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann’s district, which will need to shed 100,000 residents, should be redrawn. Most Republicans will want some of her Republican precincts to be added to the newly elected Cravaack’s slow-growing 8th CD. But Democrats would love to target the 8th CD and would surely protest making it much more Republican. Democratic Rep. Tim Walz’s 1st CD would also need to expand, and could take Democratic-leaning Northfield (Rice County) from GOP Rep. John Kline’s fast-growing 2nd CD.

If Minnesota loses its eighth seat, look for the fight to be decided by another specially appointed panel. Democrats would love to eliminate GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann’s 6th CD altogether, especially if she runs for Senate. The marginal St. Cloud area could be added to Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson’s district, marginal Washington County could be added to Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum’s 4th CD, GOP-leaning Anoka County could be added to Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen’s 3rd CD, and the remaining exurban counties could be merged with GOP Rep. John Kline’s 2nd CD. But Republicans will surely argue that the two slowest-growing districts, the St. Paul-based 4th CD and the Minneapolis-based 5th CD, should be combined. Such a plan could have the unwanted side effect of making the surrounding GOP-held districts more marginal. Don’t look to the legislature and governor to resolve this conundrum quickly.

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 12/17/2010 - 01:32 pm.

    A good piece, and timely.

    Indeed, the next year (or more) is going to be very interesting. I’d guess virtually every state that has more than one Representative (sorry, Wyoming) can probably point to some especially egregious gerrymandering somewhere, and we’ll surely see much more of that as census results get run through the political meatgrinder.

    Personally, I’m all in favor of returning Mrs. Bachmann to private life, but there will be others who’d prefer that it be Keith Ellison who had to find other employment. I live in Ellison’s district – the first time in my life that my Congressional “Representative” actually did represent quite a few of my viewpoints – but my years in Colorado were largely spent surrounded by right wing loonies, and I’m more accustomed to being in the minority. I won’t be too surprised if the Republican legislature, or the specially-appointed panel, ends up drawing a congressional district boundary that puts me in Bachmann’s district by the width of a street – or alley.

    No matter what, and especially if Minnesota loses a House seat, I think we can expect foaming-at-the-mouth hysteria from both sides before the redistricting task has been accomplished – and probably lawsuits immediately thereafter. Letting politicians draw district lines is a lot like letting the heroin addicts divide up the new shipment from Afghanistan. It’s likely to be ugly.

  2. Submitted by Carol Flynn on 12/17/2010 - 03:53 pm.

    And what makes everyone think that Judges are not political? Actually it is helpful to have some political savvy in order to find neighborhoods that share a “community of interest.” After one court decision a group of houses in my old district ended up in the airport.

  3. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 12/18/2010 - 08:24 am.

    I’ve long been a fan of the Iowan approach:

    Other than that I have a radical, no chance to ever be enacted, plan that I’d love to see. The first one would do away with geographical districts and have people vote by alphabetical division. The first district would be for voters whose last name start with A-D, second E-H and so on. There would be some fiddling done to tell where the exact divisions would be but it would be fairly straightforward work and entirely non-political. How many of our current house members would survive if they were taken out of their carefully crafted sections? Half? They’d have to work hard to make themselves appealing to the whole state, both metro and rural. No chance this would ever come about but it’d be interesting.

  4. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/18/2010 - 11:00 am.

    Your plan would appear to do away with the basis of representative democracy — elected officials representing groups of individuals with a common interest.
    Basically, your system would make all representatives at-large representatives representing everyone in the state.
    How would this differ from the Senate?
    There is a reason for a bicameral legislature (state or federal):
    one house represents the unit as a whole; the other smaller groups of constituents with unique interests which would otherwise be swamped by the majority (the tyranny of the majority).

  5. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 12/18/2010 - 03:27 pm.

    Paul, are you suggesting that the only way to form ‘a group of individuals with a common interest’ is to do so by geography? I know that this is the common way to do so but surely it’s not the only way. In fact, local geography is becoming less and less important as time goes on.
    I don’t know that it would be all that different than how we choose Senators. Well, except that the elected members would only have the powers of a House member. Also, you’d have a number of different races happening at once instead of a single high profile one.

  6. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/19/2010 - 10:58 am.

    Geography may not be the only way to identify common interest groups (lobbyists are not usually geographic) but I don’t think that alphabetical is an improvement.
    Do you have a better alternative?

  7. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 12/19/2010 - 01:12 pm.

    Paul, I like the alphabetical approach because of its randomness but I can think of some other ideas. The most obvious would be to divide by age. Don’t know if it would be an improvement but it would be very interesting. Another way would be to divide by type of occupation (or similar like student or stay at home parent). This would be tough here in MN with only seven or eight slots but out in CA with 50+ it could be done.

  8. Submitted by Paul Landskroener on 12/20/2010 - 10:24 am.

    I would like to see something like Mr DeFor’s proposal considered seriously, though I don’t think the representative-by-alphabet-grouping makes much sense. Why not elect all representatives state-wide by ranked choice voting? That would ensure that the representatives reflect the political opinions of the state proportionally — no longer would gerrymandering be used to get a party that is supported by, say, 60% of the people 80% of the congressional seats. There is a cost in the loss of geographic diversity — it is possible that all 4 of the DFLers elected could be from the Twin Cities and all 4 Republicsns from the suburbs, leaving Greater Minnesota left out — but this is not a foregone conclusion and is a risk worth taking, in my opinion. For example, one or two of the candidates could be advocates for rural issues and rural voters could make them their first-choices and get them elected.

    I haven’t researched whether federal law permits non-geographic-based congressional districts, but there’s nothing in the constitution that prohibits it and I think it’s an open question as to whether Congress can directly tell states how they have to choose their congressional representatives.

  9. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 12/21/2010 - 12:06 pm.

    I see a real problem during short recesses when members of the House return to their districts to meet with constituents on issues, help solve their problems and raise money.

    If they had to cover the whole state during any two- to five-day recess, their jobs would become impossible. No voters would feel as though their city/county/friends and neighbors shared not just common needs and hopes for the futures of their district, but at least now they know who to call to lobby for those needs and hopes.

    And, voters can now show up en masse to lobby at their rep’s office, which under a scattered system would mean representatives would have to maintain multiple offices around the state.

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