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Tuesday will be most stressful day of the decade for most Minnesota legislators

Courts of Appeals Judge Wilhelmina Wright

Starting at about noon Tuesday, don’t bother to try to contact a state legislator.

In all likelihood, activities at the state Capitol will have ground to a halt.

“I can’t imagine anyone scheduling anything from about noon on,” said Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston. “We’re all going to be looking at maps.”

Tuesday is Redistricting Day for both Minnesota’s eight congressional districts and all 201 Senate and House districts.

Although most Minnesotans probably care little about the maps that are to be released by a five-judge panel, this is the most angst-filled day of the decade for most state legislators.

 More stressful than Election Day

 “This absolutely creates more stress than Election Day,” said Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-Plymouth.  “We have no control. Nothing we do affects the outcome.”

There’s not a state legislator who is not potentially affected, Rest pointed out. Even if legislators represent a “safe” region, it’s entirely possible they will be paired against somebody of their own party, or that their homes will be located out of their new districts. (Unlike congressional candidates, who don’t have to live in the districts they represent, state legislators must reside there.)

“There will be a lot of heart-to-heart talks going on,” Rest predicted.

Those talks will not be confined to the Capitol. In many cases, they’ll continue on home fronts Tuesday night: Should we sell our home and move so we can be in the new district? Is it time to get out of politics?

In 2002, the last time Minnesota pols went through this process, two members of Congress and 52 legislators ended up being paired against each other, according to a story by Bill Salisbury of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Clearly, the new map will create major pairings this time around as well. Population shifts mean that the legendary Iron Range and the agrarian southwest will lose legislative seats. The gains come in the suburban and exurban areas.

Could we see, for example, DFL Rep. Tom Rukavina, the populist voice of the Range since 1986, paired against Rep. Carly Melin, the DFL newcomer who Rangers, including Rukavina, see as a rising star? Would Rukavina decide to step aside?

On the congressional map, what will the new 8th District look like? First-term Republican Congressman Chip Cravaack already has several Democratic candidates eager to unseat him.  

What of U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s 6th District? Will a new 6th discourage her from running again? Will someone such as House Majority Leader Matt Dean jump into the race?

How redistricting works

A reminder on the basics of redistricting:

Because the Legislature and governor, as expected, could not agree on a “fair” redistricting map, the job was handed to the courts. The chief justice of the Supreme Court, Lorie Gildea, appointed a five-judge panel to lead the map-drawing process.

Gildea obviously went out of her way to be fair. The judges come from throughout the state and were  appointed by four different governors.

Wilhelmina Wright, the presiding judge of the panel, sits on the Minnesota Court of Appeals. She was an appointee of Gov. Jesse Ventura. Ivy Bernhardson, a Tim Pawlenty appointee, is a Hennepin County judge. James Florey, chief judge of St. Louis County, was appointed by Arne Carlson. Edward Lynch, chief judge in Dakota County, was appointed by the late Rudy Perpich. John Rodenberg, chief judge in Brown County, was appointed by Ventura.

The job? Come up with state House districts that have close to equal populations (39,582 is the ideal) and equally populated Senate districts (79,163 is the magic number). Each of the eight congressional districts should have 662,991 people.

If it were simply a numbers game, the job would be relatively simple, but there are other factors to consider (PDF).

The panel, for example, will try to keep together “communities of interest.” That means, not only trying to keep together communities of color in the cities, but presumably, communities with shared interests, such as mining communities on the Range. Also, the judges may try to keep agrarian interests in the southern parts of the state separate from the more-metropolitan interests of such growing communities as Mankato and Rochester.

In drawing the news maps, the panel held extensive public hearings around the state. They also received redistricting proposals from the DFL and Republican parties.

Although the courts have been coy about what time they’ll release their maps, which will be in effect for the next decade, many expect them to be available at about noon.

“At that point, you’ll be able to shoot a cannon down the halls with no threat of hitting anyone,” said Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights. “We’re all going to be in our offices studying the maps.”

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 02/20/2012 - 10:44 am.

    Just maybe, it will make them nervous enough about their jobs that they will started doing the business of the State of Minnesota for all the people and not just their social engineering projects.

  2. Submitted by T J Simplot on 02/20/2012 - 11:04 am.

    Dear legislators,This stress

    Dear legislators,

    This stress could have been totally avoided if you got along and were able to agree on your own plan. Since you couldn’t, now it is out of your hands. I have no sympathy for their stress

    • Submitted by Stan Hooper on 02/20/2012 - 03:04 pm.

      Unsympathetic to Stress

      I’ve been around for 7 of these 10th-year, post-census redistricting events and not one of them involved a legislature that could draw its own districts without stepping on each others’ toes: every single one of them has left it up to the courts. So, it is not THIS legislature that can’t get along: when it comes to redistricting, none of them have ever gotten along. In pondering all this, getting along is actually not the problem.

  3. Submitted by Rebecca Hoover on 02/20/2012 - 11:55 am.

    Water carriers

    A lot of folks think that politicians have become water carriers for the PTB (powers that be), and, as a consequence, politicians about as popular as the carpetbaggers in the days of yore. Redistricting won’t change this much. After the PTB send in their lobbyists and campaign contributions, the status quo will prevail.

  4. Submitted by Pete Barrett on 02/20/2012 - 12:32 pm.


    It’s kind of amazing that it’s the same every ten years. Both sides offer plans that clearly favor themselves even when they know they have no chance of passing. They’d rather take pot luck from a judicial process they have little influence over than at least attempt to come up with a plan that is palatable to both sides.

    The one thing area of common interest is not wanting to be thrown into a new district with another legislator of either party.

  5. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/20/2012 - 01:46 pm.


    Every decade it’s the same thing: an unacceptable Republican plan, an equally unacceptable DFL plan, and the whole thing gets fobbed off on the courts, who end up doing the job they really shouldn’t be doing in the first place.

    Iowa gets it right. The politicians are taken out of the process, and the whole exercise is handed over to a non-pratisan commission. Why can’t we emulate their model? Are we stuck so deeply in partisan mire that no one wants to take the first step out?

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