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House GOP’s redistricting plan under attack even before formal unveiling

For all the Republican talk that they would be doing things differently from their DFL predecessors, the first efforts to draw redistricting maps have the look, feel and smell of the past.

The initial effort — a map prepared by a House committee headed by Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth — is being heavily criticized even before its formal unveiling at a public hearing tonight at the Capitol. A Senate map has yet to be floated.

It should be noted that the BIG event — the mapping of Minnesota’s eight congressional districts — has not yet been concluded, so we’ll have to wait to see just what Republican-led committees have in mind for Rep. Tim Walz, the DFLer from the highly contested 1st District and for Rep. Chip Cravaack, the Republican upstart who stunned everyone with a victory in the 8th District, which long had been a safe haven for the DFL.

The basics of the legislative map are not surprising, given the state’s continued population shift toward the metro. Everyone expected that rural Minnesota would take some redistricting hits and that the suburbs would gain more seats — and clout — no matter who draws the redistricting maps.

Since taking over as chairman of the DFL, Ken Martin has said he expects that his party will have to do a better job of getting its message into the suburbs.

So population shifts already seemed to give the Republicans an advantage heading into the 2012 elections.

But the House map seems to give the GOP and even greater edge. This first map pits 20 incumbent House members against each other and six senators. Five of the House races involve DFLers potentially competing against each other, while Republicans would go head to head in just one district.

ProposedRedistrictingState805.jpg

Click on chart to view the proposed redistricting of the state

Larry Jacobs, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that the House map is “dead on arrival” because of the way it clearly favors Republicans.

Jacobs wondered why the House committee went to all the trouble of drawing a map that clearly would be vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton.

Dayton has said he will veto any redistricting proposal that doesn’t have clear bipartisan support in the House and Senate.

But the Legislature hasn’t been able to achieve that in a half century. Legislative leaders have claimed they will be scrupulously fair, have consumed huge amounts of hours and considerable amounts of money drawing redistricting maps that end up in the trash. The courts have ended up with the job of redistricting.

Republicans said this year they’d do it differently, though it’s likely even few of them think it’s possible for partisans to draw a nonpartisan map.

ProposedRedistrictingMetro805.jpg

Click on chart to view the proposed redistricting of the metro area

Mike Dean of Common Cause Minnesota issued a commentary piece this weekend critical of the Republican process even before he saw a map

“This week, Republicans in the Minnesota House of Representatives will unveil their new map for legislative and congressional lines,” Dean wrote. “This map is the product of a failed process that has lacked a level of transparency and citizen input that would restore faith in the redistricting process. No matter what the proposed map looks like, legislators should restart the redistricting process in order to get the process right.”

Most good-government types — including Common Cause and former pols (even ex-governors) — have argued that the process should be taken out of the hands of the Legislature and given to a nonpartisan committee.

In this case, Dean says the start of a “fix” to the process would be for the redistricting committees in the House and Senate to hold hearings across the state. To date, he noted the House committee has held three hearings, but the Senate has held none.

If the Legislature can’t agree on a redistricting map by May 23, the adjournment deadline, there could either be a special session or an effort early next January to come up with a new map.

If that fails, the courts will take over the process in February and have a new map in place in time for the next round of elections.

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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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Matthew Steele on 05/03/2011 - 11:02 am.

    This is 2011… is it not possible to have a computer draw these lines?

  2. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 05/03/2011 - 11:30 am.

    In my area, for instance, this creates a senate district and one house district that would be solidly Republican and one house seats the DFLers could probably win. But it is completely convoluted, zig-zagging around to make sure it the Repbulicans wouldn’t even have to campaign.

  3. Submitted by Eric Paul Jacobsen on 05/03/2011 - 11:57 am.

    There’s only one way to stop this perpetual redistricting circus, and it’s proportional representation.

    For example, if we had Instant-Runoff Voting (IRV), a. k. a. Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV), and if we drew the districts large enough to include about five representatives per district, we’d never have to do re-districting again, except for purely demographic reasons. With proportional representation and five-seat districts, the re-districting process would be a dull, statistical exercise offering no significant political gains for any party; therefore, it would also be virtually free of politics, which is as it should be.

    Of course, proportional representation would also increase the number of electable parties, therefore reducing the likelihood that any one party would monopolize the re-districting process, as sadly often happens now.

    I’ve discussed this in several previous discussion threads, both on December 8, 2008 and on March 17, 2011. Sorry to sound like a broken record, but this is an obvious, purely technical solution to a seemingly intractable political problem.

    Unfortunately, our electoral system is modeled after one that was originally designed by white men who didn’t want women, Blacks, or even poor Whites to be represented in some districts. This is why we still have a district-based system, despite its obvious inaccuracies, its tendency to distort the true will of the voters, and its exploitability by dishonest partisans of all parties.

    The ultimate solution to the problem of gerrymandering is to make our electoral system do what it always should have done: represent people, not districts, and represent them accurately.

  4. Submitted by John Olson on 05/03/2011 - 01:46 pm.

    Redistricting is discussed in both the U.S. and Minnesota Constitutions.

    The courts will end up deciding this one. Again.

  5. Submitted by Virginia Martin on 05/03/2011 - 01:54 pm.

    I’ve wondered the same thing, Matt. Why can’t we set up a software program, give it the basic parameters, and let it rip. If it needs adjustment, have a bipartisan group do it.

  6. Submitted by Christopher Cole on 05/03/2011 - 02:20 pm.

    How ’bout we solve the Senate redistricting problem by going back to 1 senator per county OR eliminating the Senate? (As it is, the Senate is simply an extra House of Representatives with proportional representation.)

    Going to larger, multi-representative districts would only guarantee that a marginally electable person has an office for life. It’s possible to defeat someone you don’t like, but it’s nearly impossible do make sure they’re not in the top 5 vote getters, hence they’d still have an office….

    Despite the popular “white males are evil” theories, the U.S. electoral system was originally designed to align the interests of the government with the interests of those who actually paid the taxes (the land owners).

  7. Submitted by Mark Radosevich on 05/03/2011 - 03:03 pm.

    Matt and Ginny,

    What would those parameters be? Who would set those parameters? Including a machine in the process doesn’t make it more transparent or less subjective.

  8. Submitted by Eric Paul Jacobsen on 05/03/2011 - 06:41 pm.

    Actually, Christopher Cole and I agree on several things.

    (1) For one, I agree that the Senate is not really needed. The legislative branch of government is the only one that holds a veto over itself. This unnecessarily slows the pace of legislation, requiring creative interpretation on the part of both the executive branch and the judicial branch, merely to adapt out-of-date laws to modern times. It would be better to remove the legislature’s veto against itself. This would enable us to change the law more quickly. It would also enable us to change the law BACK more quickly after making a mistake. Above all, the possibility of faster revision of the law would (I believe) make the law say what it means, thereby reducing the possibility of interpretive abuse by unitary executives and activist judges of both parties.

    (2) For another, we both agree that the white males who designed our district-based electoral system reserved the right to vote exclusively for people like themselves. We only seem to disagree about whether this was a good thing.

    I believe selective disenfranchisement, whatever the excuse, was and is an unqualifiedly bad thing. It was the original sin of our republic, and not only because it led to the Civil War. From the beginning, it imposed a government upon most adult citizens of the United States without giving them any say in it. However you choose to look at it, that was a betrayal of both the word and the spirit of the Declaration of Independence (in many ways a better founding document than our Constitution) and a betrayal of the principle of democracy itself.

  9. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 05/04/2011 - 12:06 pm.

    This needs to be a WAY bigger deal.

    This article covers things more thoroughly (to be fair, it published today, after the first hearing):
    http://lacrossetribune.com/news/state-and-regional/mn/article_45993f04-7644-11e0-a872-001cc4c03286.html

    What bothers me is the comments by various legislators:
    “There’s a lot of things we’re dealing with right now that are much more important than my political career, and if I have to make a decision about this at some point, I’ll worry about it then.” Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis

    “It sucks, but it’s the price of doing business.” Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul

    Wait…political careers and business? Since when are these important in redistricting. Oh yeah, since politicians have careers and businesses in politics! Grow a spine, boys! It’s not about you, IT’S ABOUT THE PEOPLE YOU REPRESENT. Waiting till this gets battled out in court is a waste of time, representation, and TAXPAYER MONEY!

    Plus, this 24 hour (almost invisible) notice before a redistricting hearing, with redistricting happening only once every 10 years, is bull pucky.

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