Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


In war over redistricting, national groups set to battle over Minnesota legislative seats

Minnesota Senate
The most the GOP can do is win the Legislature. But given the numbers going into the election — and given the reality that they don’t need to control both the House and the Senate to have a voice in the process — hanging on to the Senate is the focus.
The 2010 election is not a good memory for Minnesota DFLers. The party was 9,000 votes away from losing complete control of state government, and, in turn, the redrawing of legislative and congressional district lines.

It wasn’t just Minnesota. That year, the GOP flipped six governorships and 21 state legislative chambers. While there was a lot going on in 2010 — the economy was just starting to emerge from the Great Recession, Barack Obama was facing his first midterm, and the Tea Party movement had become a force — a Republican strategy to focus on statehouses in advance of redistricting also played a significant role.

Now, 10 years later, national Republicans want to do it again. And Democrats across the country are vowing not be caught unawares. Both parties have created specific fundraising and research organizations to focus on battleground state legislative races, especially when there is a chance to flip or retain a chamber. And both have put Minnesota on their shortlists of opportunities, mostly due to the GOP’s three-seat lead in the state Senate and the fact that all 67 seats in the chamber are on the ballot next November.

“Our work is now more important than ever before because if Republicans don’t win in states where the Legislature plays a critical role in redistricting, our party won’t win a majority in the U.S. House for the next decade,” read a statement from Ron Weiser, a former ambassador to Slovakia and the finance chair of the Republican State Leadership Committee.

That group has formed a campaign to work on 12 states, including Minnesota. 

The Republican State Leadership Committee looks at the math this way: Winning 49 legislative seats in 12 states could determine as many as 146 seats in the U.S. Congress. Two of those 49 are in Minnesota, and the committee’s webpage, Right Lines 2020, features photographs of U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar, Jerry Nadler and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “Winning State Legislatures Matters More Now Than Ever,” reads a headline on the site before getting to a fundraising appeal: “Join our fight to keep socialists from drawing Congressional maps.”

Perhaps tellingly, the campaign does not include Minnesota among the redistricting targets that are also “key presidential battleground states.” Those states are Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Texas and Wisconsin.

The proposed Hippert Congressional District Plan (GOP) from 2011. A state court panel crafted the final congressional district map.
The proposed Hippert Congressional District Plan (GOP) from 2011. A state court panel crafted the final congressional district map.
The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, chaired by former Attorney General Eric Holder, has also targeted 12 states, including MinnesotaBoth national organizations have also included Wisconsin in the redistricting campaign.

“Their job is to win a majority in as many states as possible,” Gina Countryman, the executive director of the Minnesota Action Network, a conservative committee that helps Republicans get elected, said of the national groups. And while their efforts will show up in a number of ways, will do so primarily by sending money to independent expenditure campaigns to be spent in targeted districts.

“If these entities are engaged in Minnesota it is significant,” Countryman said. “Both sides are going to do it, and it will have a significant impact on the races that get targeted.” She said it can increase voter turnout and it “draws more light to the records of the candidates in play.

“It’s a sign that Minnesota is a hot battleground going into 2020,” Countryman said.

Mike Kennedy, the campaign director for the Minnesota Senate Campaign Committee, agreed. “We’re the only split Legislature in the country right now,” Kennedy said. “Logically, both sides view the Minnesota Senate as ground zero for them.” 

Groups like the National Democratic Redistricting Committee “all view flipping the Minnesota Senate to potentially give us a shot at rewriting the lines for the 2022 election” as an achievable goal, Kennedy said. “We will ask and want and need their help moving forward.”

Focus on Senate seats

Thanks to the 2018 election of DFL Gov. Tim Walz, Minnesota Democrats are guaranteed at least a veto over any redistricting plans emerging after the Census. The DFL also won a 16-seat majority in the Minnesota House in the 2018 election and has a chance at controlling all three power centers that play a role in the redistricting process. 

The most the GOP can do is win the Legislature. But given the numbers going into the election — and given the reality that they don’t need to control both the House and the Senate to have a voice in the process — hanging on to the Senate is the focus.

Having at least one of the three gives a party a “seat at the table,” even if a divided Legislature might only be enough to force a stalemate and push the line-drawing into the courts, something that happened in 2012 after Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the GOP-drawn maps. But that would be a better outcome for Republicans than a plan drawn entirely by DFL legislators and signed by the DFL governor.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a closely watched gerrymandering case, Rucho v. Common Cause, state legislatures will be less susceptible to legal challenges for drawing district lines for party advantage.

And while most state Senate seats are safe for one party or the other — less due to gerrymandering than to the geographic split in the state between more-liberal cities and more-conservative outer suburbs and rural areas — population gains and losses could provide opportunities for a party with complete control to pick up seats in redistricting. 

Complicating matters is the prospect of Minnesota losing one of its eight congressional seats, something considered possible if not likely since the state’s population growth has been outpaced by others. Rather than just move lines to make the districts of equal population, mapmakers would have to decide how to consolidate eight congressional districts into seven. The state last lost a congressional seat following the 1960 Census.

In legislative races with 201 individual elections, most attention will be paid to no more than a dozen state Senate seats. Countryman calls these the mismatched seats, that is, places where one party won the presidential vote in 2016 but the other party won the state Senate seat. Kennedy agreed, saying the first list will be places where Obama won in 2012 and where Hillary Clinton won or was close in 2016.

There are also districts where both state House seats were won by one party while the Senate seat was held by a member of the other. Republican Paul Anderson of Plymouth won the Senate seat in District 44 in 2016, for example, while — two years later — both of the district’s House seats, 44a and 44b, were carried by DFL candidates. The same is true for Sen. Dan Hall of Burnsville in District 56.

Similarly, Republicans will target DFL state Sen. Matt Little in District 58. Little, a former Lakeville mayor, won that race in 2016 by 387 votes, less than one-half of one percent. In 2018, however,GOP candidates won both of the district’s House seats with a combined percentage of more than 58 percent of the vote.

Kennedy said he was involved in both the 2000 and the 2010 election cycles and recalls 2010 being “pretty horrendous” for the DFL.

“We were less than 10,000 votes away from becoming Wisconsin,” he said, referring to the GOP sweep that led to the election of GOP Gov. Scott Walker and the passage of conservative legislation in that state. A major criticism of the Obama political organization is that it was so focused on his reelection and Congress that it let state and local parties founder.

Both the state and national Democratic parties organizations are determined to not get caught off guard again. Unlike 2010, there is a Republican president in office now; Donald Trump was a major issue in legislative races in 2018 — especially in the Twin Cities suburbs — and is expected to be again.

Comments (26)

  1. Submitted by George Beck on 10/01/2019 - 11:12 am.

    Sounds like Ron Weiser is acknowledging that the Republicans can’t win the U.S. House with fair maps

  2. Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 10/01/2019 - 11:41 am.

    When Democrats control all three branches of state government, they skew maps in their favor. Same with Republicans. It’s not a right-left thing. It’s about creating an even playing field.

    To that point, both parties showed lukewarm support of redistricting reform this past year. When drawing redistricting maps, both parties look for an advantage, and with the Democratic governorship, Democrats have the edge.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 10/01/2019 - 05:30 pm.

      While nothing Wallin writes here is false, what it leaves out makes for a false narrative overall.

      Gerrymandering has been around forever, but in 2010 the GOP took it to an entirely new level, thanks to newly available computer algorithms. They then used these newly drawn maps to lock in minority rule for a decade in completely ruthless manner.

      • Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 10/01/2019 - 10:21 pm.

        Yes, that’s well documented. Democrats also gerrymandered where they had the power to. Don’t leave that out. If MN’s 3 branches are controlled by Democrats, which is most likely, they may do what Maryland Democrats did… gerrymander.

        • Submitted by David LaPorte on 10/02/2019 - 08:35 am.

          It’s true that the Democrats gerrymandered Maryland, but it’s my understanding that they only did that for one district. In contrast, the North Carolina Supreme Court threw out the entire state map and ordered that it be redrawn to their satisfaction.

          Also, thanks in large part to the Koch Brother’s ALEC, many more state maps are gerrymandered to favor Republicans because the Democrats were asleep at the switch. The sad fact that this wasn’t on the Democrats radar screen doesn’t make it ethical for the Republicans.

          Wisconsin is a particular problem. For example, while Democrats netted 1.3 million votes for Assembly, 54 percent statewide, Republicans hold 63 of 99 seats in the Assembly, a nearly two-thirds majority. Since the US Supreme Court has unaccountably decided that gerrymandered states should be responsible for correcting their own gerrymandering, the final arbiter would be the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which is solidly Republican.

          • Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 10/02/2019 - 09:18 am.

            Yes, you are correct, and don’t forget about Pennsylvania and Ohio. In each of these states, the three branches were controlled by one party. That is the danger: when parties have a chance to gerrymander, they will. You only have to go back a few decades to see Democrats gerrymandering more.

    • Submitted by Charlie Quimby on 10/01/2019 - 05:59 pm.

      Ray, that’s true only to a point. Democrats advanced an election bill that called for reform. Republicans refuse to consider anything related to elections.
      So on average, it’s lukewarm.

      • Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 10/01/2019 - 10:26 pm.

        Yes, there is a lot of truth there. It was a number of months ago, but I went to the committee meetings. I believe the Democrats bill was pretty weak. Weren’t members of the commission appointed by House and Senate maj/minority leaders? That does not sound independent.

        I may be getting bills mixed up, though. I believe they started with four. But talking to people behind the scenes, the bills had little support from either side.

  3. Submitted by Mike Downing on 10/01/2019 - 12:59 pm.

    Yes, let’s concede the fact that Congressional Districts are gerrymandered by both Democrats & Republicans. The broader question is whether or not MN will loose a Congressional District due to a lack of growth in state population compared to other states. Increasing taxes, fees and regulations by Gov. Waltz and the MN House will simply hasten the outflow of Minnesotans to Texas, Florida, Tennessee, Wyoming,etc.

  4. Submitted by B. Dahl on 10/01/2019 - 02:47 pm.

    Just thinking about losing one congressional seat after the census seems logical to me to make Minneapolis and St Paul one district, the population certainly would be in line with what is required and of course the demographics would indicate one district.

    • Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 10/01/2019 - 03:24 pm.

      That plays into the heart of gerrymandering.

      A MSP district would be 90% Democrat and leave the other districts leaning Republican. Overall, our state representation would lean Republican.

    • Submitted by Charlie Quimby on 10/01/2019 - 06:02 pm.

      By all means. It’s so handy that the majority of Minnesota’s population is both liberal and concentrated in urban areas. With careful gerrymandering, we can sequester the majority in the Twin Cities and let acreage vote for the rest,

  5. Submitted by Mark Voorhees on 10/01/2019 - 04:17 pm.

    Look at the DFL house bill last year. Creating a redistricting group consisting an equal number of GOP, DFL and independents and former judges. Whereas the GOP senate plan was for the house and senate majority leaders to appoint a representative to draw party lines. There is a difference in how the parties are approaching redistricting

  6. Submitted by Rolf Erdahl on 10/01/2019 - 05:32 pm.

    Instead or arguing about which party wins so they can tip the electoral playing field in their favor, now is a golden opportunity to push for a non-partisan way to draw district boundaries. Moderate DFL Gov., split control of House and Senate. Many states are using independent or bipartisan commissions to draw up US and state legislative district boundaries. Time to end technology-enhanced “surgical precision” in carving out non-representative districts, whatever party is in charge.

  7. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 10/01/2019 - 05:38 pm.

    It my sincere hope & desire that after the 2020 election the DFL institutes redistricting plans that cement the GOP into a legislative minority until 2032, as well as slicing & dicing the Congressional districts to ensure s few GOP seats as possible.

    Under which of these tow scenarios is the US Supreme Court more likely to declare Gerrymandering to be unconstitutional?

    1) The red states Gerrymander as much as they possibly can, & the blue states re-district via fair & impartial rules

    2) The red states Gerrymander as much as they possibly can, & the blue states play the same blood thirsty game?

    What is the history of unilateral disarmament in the face of a foe who is armed to the hilt?

  8. Submitted by Charlie Quimby on 10/01/2019 - 06:41 pm.

    Peter, your coverage of this issue may be accurate, but it’s disappointing. The national game driving state races is what’s wrong with politics on . both sides.

    The national parties have been basically no-shows on this issue in Minnesota for the past year, while local, grassroots organizations have been working tirelessly on redistricting reform—drafting bills, testifying and speaking to legislators, informing the public and trying to educate voters.

    How about covering what’s actually covering what’s happening on the ground in the state? Or is that, sadly, not what Minnesota politics is about any more?

    • Submitted by Mark Voorhees on 10/02/2019 - 05:28 am.

      Mr. Quimby. the house offered and passed a non-partisan committee to decide district boundaries but the Republican (Mary Kiffmeyer) refused to all the senate to discuss it. And offered her plan of a two person committee to decide the boundaries. This two-person committee consists of the House and Senate majority leaders to select a person to negotiate on their behalf. The republicans don’t have any interest in a non-partisan committee.

      • Submitted by Paul Bock on 10/03/2019 - 10:40 pm.

        Republicans might have interest in a non-partisan commission given that they will NOT be in control of all House, Senate, and Govenor-ship (? grammer) after the census. The ONLY way this plays out is that Dems control everything and gerrymander republicans into oblivion, or there is divided government and the fighting ends up in the MN supreme court, costing us the taxpayers millions of dollars, and wasting everyone’s time. However, if both sides can pull up their big-person pants and realize that they represent US the VOTERS, they can pass a non-partisan independent commission as defined by Rep Klevorn- based on principles that put the people ahead of incumbents and parties. It’s time for we the people to remind our politicians that they represent US. that they work for US. and we are tired of partisan games.

  9. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 10/03/2019 - 09:31 pm.

    The good thing is that there will likely be one less seat to fight over and certainly lumping the Twin Cities together would be a logical starting point.

  10. Submitted by Rebecca Vave on 10/21/2019 - 12:49 pm.

    I believe that redrawing the congressional map is a good thing, and it is not necessarily gerrymandering; in fact, leaving the lines as they are is far more partial towards one party. I agree with the statement by Mark Ohm that “when Hennepin County sneezes, Minnesota catches a cold.” The population growths and decreases in counties has been striking, and the map should reflect that. It is far more important that the colleges be equivalent in population than to keep eight districts. As it is, Hennepin alone has nearly one quarter of the population of the entire state.

Leave a Reply