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Off the map: Minnesota Legislature takes a pass on trying to come up with its own redistricting plan

Neither the Minnesota House nor the state Senate is going to pass their own versions of the maps that will determine a lot about which party controls politics in the state for the next decade.

Minnesota House of Representatives
House Speaker Melissa Hortman said Thursday that her house at least has a bill filed but that it is hard to work on a compromise when the other side hasn’t proposed anything.
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan

The Minnesota Legislature is facing an important deadline next week to agree to new legislative and congressional district maps following the 2020 Census.

It’s not going to make it. 

Neither the House nor the Senate is going to even pass their own versions of the maps that will determine a lot about which party controls politics in Minnesota for the next decade.

“I don’t anticipate that happening,” said Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller when asked whether the Senate would debate maps prior to the statutory Feb. 15 deadline for agreement. While the Senate had a special committee working on redistricting since last year — the group released GOP-favoring maps earlier this year — there is no bill filed and no plans to have one.

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House Speaker Melissa Hortman said Thursday that her chamber at least has a bill filed but that it is hard to work on a compromise when the other side hasn’t proposed anything. “I was disappointed but not surprised to learn that the Minnesota Senate is not going to be moving legislation,” the Brooklyn Park DFLer said. “In order for a bill to become a law it has to pass the House and Senate. If there is no pathway in the Senate, there is no pathway.”

State law requires that new maps be produced by Tuesday to give both candidates and elections officials time to prepare for Minnesota’s August primary election. All eight congressional districts and 201 legislative districts will change with the Census due to population changes. Some incumbents will be placed in the same districts as other incumbents. Some may no longer live in their current districts. Challengers will need to know how the politics of districts might change.

Because new districts can help or hurt the parties, there was little chance that a DFL House, a GOP Senate and a DFL governor would agree on a new map. Divided government has kept that from happening for half a century

That will all become clear Tuesday when a special five-judge panel appointed by the state Supreme Court releases their own maps. That group was convened nearly a year ago, after lawsuits were filed asserting that current districts were unconstitutional because they were no longer of equal population. 

The panel has been working in private since a January 4 hearing where attorneys from four groups, known as intervenors, presented their own ideas of what the new maps should look like. 

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“It’s an election year, and there’s always added noise during an election year, and there’s added excitement this year with the new maps,” Miller said. “Everyone is eagerly looking forward to seeing those. But we’re focused on the 2022 legislative session and we’ll worry about the maps after the session.”

“I think it is kind of fun,” Hortman said of the wait for the court maps. “For elected officials, redistricting day and election day are these very high-drama events. They are events that are somewhat outside your control that have a lot of influence over your personal and professional life. So we are all very anxious to see what those lines look like.”

After the Jan. 4 hearing, Minnesota Court of Appeals Justice Louise Bjorkman, who is presiding over the five-judge special panel, said the panel would wait to see if the Legislature would act. “We know that the task of redistricting lies with our Legislature and not a group of judges,” Bjorkman said. “We are fully prepared to let the Legislature do its work and only in the event they do not produce maps on Feb. 15, 2022 will this panel of judges issue maps.”