That controversial immigration law in Arizona could mean that Minnesota will hold onto its eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. High jobless rates in such states as Florida, South Carolina, Oregon and Missouri also could be the difference between whether Minnesota ends up with eight House members, or seven.
“Anything that’s a negative in one state may be a positive for another,” Tom Gillaspy, the state’s demographer, told MinnPost as he assessed Minnesota’s chances for holding onto the eighth seat. “It’s a horse race.”
He predicted the final tabulations could be closer than the much re-counted Senate race between Al Franken and Norm Coleman.
As Gillaspy sees it, there are 12 states vying for six congressional seats, and Minnesota is smack dab in the middle of the pack.
Based on census calculations done last December, Missouri, Texas, California, Washington, South Carolina and New York were barely ahead of Minnesota in the fight for one of those six seats. Oregon, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina and Illinois were on our heels.
The outcome won’t be known until Dec. 31, when the U.S. Census Bureau releases population counts from each of the states. Then, a population-based apportionment formula that’s been around since 1940, will be applied to determine which state gets how many of the 385 House seats in play. (Each state automatically gets one U.S. representative.)
The tiniest undercount could make the difference — and that’s where something like Arizona’s immigration law could become a factor.
“Even if just 200 households [in Arizona] didn’t respond to the census [out of fear of legal repercussions] and the average size of each of those households was four people, it could be enough to make a huge difference,” Gillaspy said.
Remember, the census is supposed to account for “whole persons,” meaning even those living in the country illegally, are to be counted.
But, given the harsh law in Arizona was passed at about the same time that census takers were going door to door to follow up with those who had not returned a census form, it is not unreasonable to assume that a substantial number of people would refuse to answer the knock out of fear. That means they wouldn’t be counted.
Of course the personal information gathered by the census is not to be shared with other governmental agencies. But even among longstanding U.S. citizens there have been concerns that the government was invading privacy. (Recall that U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann was among those concerned that the census was a form of big-brother government, though ultimately she returned her form.)
“We had people who called us upset about the nature of the questions,” said Gillaspy. “One of the questions was: Do you own or rent your home ,and if you own it, do you have a mortgage. It didn’t ask how much of a mortgage, just whether you had a mortgage. There were people upset about that question. … I’m a big believer in privacy, too. But I think that most people don’t understand that every time they swipe their credit card, they’re giving out more information than you give out in the census.”
Other factors could be in play, too, in determining where those Congressional seats will end up.
One big positive for Minnesota is its high census form return rate — the state, along with Wisconsin, led the nation in returning census forms.
Additionally, rough as it has been, the economy has been more stable in Minnesota than in most of the states vying for those six seats. Minnesota, for example, has had a unemployment rate in the 7.5 percent range. Meantime, Oregon, South Carolina and California have had double-digit unemployment, and Arizona and Missouri have been nudging close to 10 percent.
Where there’s unemployment, there are people ready to move on to seek greener pastures.
“In a normal year, about as many people come to Minnesota as move out,” said Gillaspy. “. . . You have to have a reason to move to Minnesota. The biggest reason they come is economic opportunity.”
Again, it takes only small numbers of people moving from places such as Missouri to give Minnesota an edge in holding on to that eighth seat.
“It doesn’t take much at all to create a shift in House seats,” Gillaspy said. “It could be a big snowstorm, anything like that, can tip the balance.”
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.