Mary Jo McGuire knows firsthand the personal political havoc redistricting can create

Mary Jo McGuire has a personal understanding of the difference a few blocks can make during the legislative and congressional redistricting process that takes place every 10 years in U.S. politics.

In March 2001, she was one of those politicians who saw their districts move from under their feet.

In McGuire’s case, a seven-term career in the Minnesota House ended when her legislative district — 54A — was redrawn in two directions. Part of the DFLer’s Falcon Heights district was redrawn to the north into Roseville and a district represented by another DFLer, Mindy Greiling. Another chunk was shifted a few blocks south and attached to St. Paul to the district represented by DFLer Alice Hausman.

“Alice and I had talked about it,” McGuire recalled. “We knew it was possible. We’d said we flip a coin. But it was so clear it was mostly Alice’s district. Here I had a situation where the two women I most admire — Alice and Mindy — had ended up with my district.”

It was hard to watch her political career get drawn away by judges. (Not even the tripartisan government in 2001 of Indpendence Party Gov. Jesse Ventura, the Republican-controlled House and the DFL-controlled Senate could agree on a redistricting map, so the process ended up in the courts, where many believe it will end again this year.)

But it wasn’t as hard as it may have appeared to those around McGuire.

Mary Jo McGuire
Mary Jo McGuire

She recalls being in caucus with her fellow DFLers that March when the court-determined redistricting map was passed out. But at that moment, she said, she had been reading the obituary of her beloved sister-in-law, Denise, who had died two days earlier.

“People were coming up to me and saying, ‘Oh, Mary Jo, you’re crying,’ ” McGuire recalled. “They thought it was because I lost my district, but it wasn’t that. It was because it was just such an emotional time because of my sister-in-law.”

McGuire said that Hausman told her to take a week after the funeral/redistricting news to decide what she was going to do.

McGuire took the week and then held a news conference with Hausman to announce that she was stepping out of politics.

“This has happened to a lot of people,” she said. “and it will happen again this year.”

Because the decision was made in the courts, McGuire is comfortable with the idea that the decision was neither personal nor political. She supports the idea of moving the redistricting process entirely out of the hands of the Legislature and to a nonpartisan commission.

If she wins next month’s special election, McGuire could work toward that goal.

After her long hiatus from politics, McGuire is attempting to get back in. She’s running for the state Sentate seat — District 66 — being vacated by Ellen Anderson, who has been appointed chair of the Public Utilities Commission by Gov. Mark Dayton.

But there are two elections between McGuire and a return to the Legislature.

First, a March 29 primary race against three other DFLers, including current five-term Rep. John Lesch. Steven Marchese and J.T. Haines also are in that race.

If McGuire should triumph in that race, she’d face the winner of the Republican primary between Greg Copeland and Patricia O’Keefe.

The good news for McGuire: She kept many of her old lawn signs. The potential bad news: Even if she wins election to the state Senate, the district, along with all others, will be redrawn.

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