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.
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.
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.