Despite good intentions, many at Capitol expect redistricting to end up in courts

Rep. Frank Hornstein
Rep. Frank Hornstein

There wasn’t a legislator in the Capitol who didn’t at least take a peek at today’s U.S. Census data that will change the shape of every congressional and legislative district in the state.

But there was little panic in the building – yet.

For all the talk from Republicans and DFLers of creating a map that is “fair” to all of us, most are convinced that this political process will be completed by the courts.

“I suppose it’s always in the back of our minds,” said Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis. “But we really won’t know anything for a year. Ask me what I think about the process a year from now.  … In the end, I’m pretty sure it will end up in the courts.”

Looking for a congressional district to watch closely as the Republican majority tries to draw maps that can pass muster with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton?

8th District design worth watching
It’s probably the final shape of the 8th District, a massive geographic area that DFLers believe belongs to them but currently is held by the upstart, Chip Cravaack, who defeated longtime Rep. James Oberstar in November.

DFL Party Chair Ken Martin says DFLers will do everything they can to keep the lines around the 8th from changing dramatically.

It was turnout, as much as Cravaack, that led to Oberstar’s loss, Martin believes.

“We think that seat is ours,” he said.

But in the next breath, he acknowledges that Republicans will do everything possible to draw a map that helps “protect” Cravaack in the next election.

Both parties will play important roles in the process. Both will be conduits of information among state legislators and the congressional delegation as efforts are made to draw the maps for the 2012 election. Both parties also will fund the legal teams, which will be in place to protect party interests.

Overall, the new data are the stuff of smiles for Republicans. Just as state demographer Tom Gillaspy predicted a year ago, the big population shifts in Minnesota are to the suburban and ex-urban areas, usually fertile grounds for Republicans.

Martin acknowledged that reality. The new numbers, he said, makes it vital for his party to do a better job of making the DFL message meaningful in the suburbs.

If the party fails to do that?

“We’ll continue to be the minority,” he said.

Every congressional and legislative district will change
But something else is certain from the new data. Every congressional and legislative district will change.

Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, doesn’t seem uncomfortable about his prospects in future elections. But he did say that given the substantial growth in Rochester in the last decade, he’s certain his district will become “more Rochester, less rural.’’

He expressed a bit of sadness over that almost-certain change.

“I’ll miss campaigning those (rural) areas,’’ said Senjem.  “When you have rural districts it means a lot of pancake breakfast. Every church has a meatball dinner or a lutefisk dinner. You never wanted to miss one of those.’’

On the surface, the map-making doesn’t seem as if it should be so difficult. Each district in the state, should have equal numbers of people. Currently, that number is around 79,000 in each of the 67 senate districts.

But the details get tricky.

Consider Hornstein. Currently, the Minneapolis DFLer easily wins in his all-Minneapolis district, which he says is populated by about 80 percent DFLers. But he lives just a block from Edina.

How hard would it be for Republicans looking to knock him out of office to rejigger his district so that it was much more Edina and much less Minneapolis?

What helps protect a rep such as Hornstein is that state law requires that districts be built around “communities of interest.”

“In practical terms,” Hornstein said, “that means the effort should be made to keep Minneapolis districts as intact as possible. Be it education or tax policy, Minneapolis interests are different than Edina’s.”

Lots of behind-the-scenes factors to consider
There are still other requirements that make map-drawing process more than an exercise in population numbers.

Sen. Ann Rest
Sen. Ann Rest

Sen. Ann Rest, minority lead on the Senate’s redistricting committee, talk about a number of more obscure goals that are supposed to be involved in the production of the mapping that will guide Minnesota for the next decade.

The districts are supposed to be “competitive.”

“The courts look at that,” she said, “but there are some areas — like the center cities — where it’s just impossible to create that,” she said.

The districts also are supposed to be “compact.”

That, too, is an impossible goal.

She noted that Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, represents a Senate district that covers 10,000 square miles. Her own Senate district, centered in the New Hope-Plymouth area, covers about 22 square miles.

The districts are supposed to promote diversity in elections. In other words, those drawing the maps aren’t supposed to split up communities of color.

“If you did that, you’d rule out electability for some groups,” Rest said.

And yet, at the same time, a district is not supposed to be divided by a barrier, such as a major highway. However, if there is a community of color on either side of a major highway, the community of color takes precedence.

So all the rules are in place to promote fairness.

Still, it becomes political. In one case, a change of a district by just a few blocks can promote one party over another.

Michael Brodkorb, deputy chairman of the Republican Party, is his party’s political point person on the map-drawing process.

Like everyone else involved, he starts by saying all the right things. The party desires only to draw a fair districting map.

But he also says that the GOP made the power of redistricting a major appeal during its successful campaign of November.

“We told our people, ‘Get motivated, get serious, get ready,’ ” Brodkorb said. “We worked hard to communicate to our people that redistricting was one of the key issues of the campaign.”

Republicans, he noted, won “two of the three seats” at the redistricting table. They, of course, have the House (the chair of the redistricting committee is Rep. Sarah Anderson) and the Senate (the chair is Sen. Geoff Michel).

The DFL of course, has the governor, who can veto whatever the Legislature presents, which would result in the whole business ending in the courts.

Both Republicans and DFLers have the support of technical staffers, who will do the actual map drawing.

And everywhere there are activists and lawyers watching closely a process that started getting serious today. But three decades of history shows that no matter how noble the intentions of partisans, the courts likely will end up drawing the maps.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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