Redistricting plans will change Northern Minnesota districts

Aside from solving the budget deficit, the legislature is tasked with another main duty before the session ends next week. Along with the Governor, we must produce plans to create new legislative and Congressional district boundaries throughout the state, in response to the 2010 Census data.

Every 10 years, states around the country assess the most recent Census data and analyze how their states’ populations have changed. In Minnesota, we were at serious risk of losing a Congressional seat had our population declined. Fortunately, we added 348,446 residents – enough to keep eight Congressional districts – but where those boundaries are drawn will change significantly.

Minnesota must draw legislative and Congressional boundaries with equal representation in mind: Roughly the same number of people represented by the same ratio of lawmakers. In the next decade, that will mean about 662,991 residents in each of the eight Congressional districts.

Over the past 10 years, Minnesota’s population has shifted significantly. Outer-ring suburbs in the metropolitan area grew by 34.4 percent since 2000, but here in rural Minnesota, we’ve lost population. That means many of our districts will need to add territory in order to meet the goal of equal representation. In the current Seventh Congressional District alone, we need to add 37,479 residents to balance the population of the state’s districts.

The areas with high population growth, particularly on the far Western edge of the Twin Cities, will see their Congressional districts become smaller in size and will likely gain some new legislative districts in order to account for the new residents in the area. As a result, the legislative districts in our region will need to expand to include new territory and more residents. That means losing representation – when districts are relatively condensed, it’s easier for residents in similar areas to advocate for similar priorities. The larger those districts become, the more different the priorities become that need to be represented by one person. It’s an unfortunate side effect of population changes.

The political parties in the House and Senate typically draw their own maps and submit their redistricting proposals in public meetings so Minnesotans can understand how they will be represented at the state and federal levels. Then, the Governor weighs in by either approving or vetoing the plan. During the last round of redistricting in 2000, no compromise could be reached so the courts intervened, drawing their own maps that resulted in the boundaries that apply today.

This year, the process has been a bit different. The Republican majorities in the House and Senate didn’t release their redistricting plans until about a week ago, and the first meeting to pass the proposal was held just 24 hours later. Legislators have had barely any time to review the proposed plans, let alone the citizens of the state.

The initial Republican plan attempts to draw one, large Northern Minnesota Congressional district, stretching from Lake Superior to North Dakota. Our region of the state would be included in this district. Right now, our position in the Seventh Congressional District includes much of agricultural-rich Western Minnesota. It’s helpful to have regions with similar backgrounds represented by the same person because it makes it easier to advocate for issues important to specific areas. If the new Northern district is adopted, very different tracts of Minnesota’s landscape would be lumped together, making it difficult to represent like causes. That’s a concern that needs to be further discussed.

At this point, the full Senate is scheduled to vote on the redistricting proposal in the coming days. Governor Mark Dayton still is considering the plans and will make a decision to either approve or veto the map. At that point, we will be charged with working toward compromise – or utilizing the courts if no agreement can be reached by February 2012, the ultimate deadline.

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Senator Rod Skoe
Rod Skoe represents District 2, which includes all or portions of Becker, Beltrami, Clearwater, Hubbard, Lake of the Woods, Mahnomen, Otter Tail and Wadena counties in the northwestern part of the state. He chairs the Tax Committee.

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