The Range survives redistricting, but western battle looms

I’ve had a little time to review the new Minnesota legislative and congressional redistricting maps. If you read on, you’ll see what it means to the Iron Range and surrounding political universe.

The congressional map is fairly simple. The districts largely retain their shape and constituencies. There are marginal changes in party index, some favoring the DFL and some favoring the GOP. Yes, Rep. Michele Bachman was placed in the MN-4, the DFL-leaning home of Rep. Betty McCollum. But Bachman will move “back” to the Sixth and run in what is a rock-solid GOP fortress. In MN-8, the district is essentially unchanged meaning that the district remains a toss-up pitting incumbent freshman Rep Chip Cravaack (R-MN8) against one of three DFL challengers. This was my “most likely” scenario, if you recall, and one of the few things I got right in my predictions.

The legislative map produces a fair amount of chaos statewide, with a 15 House districts pitting incumbents against each other (a very fair 6 GOP vs. GOP, 6 DFL vs. DFL, and 3 DFL vs. GOP). This creates 15 open seats that will be contested by who-knows-who, favoring who-knows-what. Some math people are on the indexing as we speak.*

Here in northern Minnesota, I am simply amazed at how well the map protected Iron Range incumbents. I was almost certain that either Sens. David Tomassoni and Tom Bakk or Reps. Carly Melin, David Dill or Tom Rukavina would be paired in some sort of awkward way. They weren’t.

One thing I did expect, the pairing of my friend Rep. Tom Anzelc** (DFL-Balsam Township) with Rep. Carolyn McElfatrick (R-Deer River), actually happened. Additionally, Rep. John Persell (DFL-Bemidji) was paired with Rep. Larry Howes (R-Walker). In the same map, Sen. Tom Saxhaug (DFL-Grand Rapids) and Sen. John Carlson (R-Bemidji) are matched up.

Essentially the “hearts” of the old SD3 and SD4 were cut out and merged into the new SD5. Their appendages were given to the Iron Range or south. I’ll dispense with the confusion and take you district by district through the Great Northeast below the jump, using only the new district numbers.

Read more…

SENATE DISTRICT 3 (“Borderland/Backwoods/North Shore”)

Sen. Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) has long represented a district that was part northern and part Duluth. His claim as an Iron Range senator remains intact as he keeps Ely, Babbitt and Tower-Soudan. He keeps the North Shore with Lake and Cook counties. He also gains Koochiching County and its seat, International Falls, creating what appears to be the largest Senate District in the state. This thing is vast, speckled with labor, pro-mining, anti-mining, tourism, timber and libertarian tendencies.

The district favors Bakk and the DFL. It is possible that it would become more competitive with time.

Rep. David Dill retains a district that is somewhat similar to his old one with the notable addition of Koochiching County and its seat of International Falls. That’s a fairly natural addition for Dill, as “Kooch” is a conservative DFL kind of place, mostly rural but with the union-strong paper town at the top of it. Dill is from Crane Lake, just south of the Koochiching line.

The main challenge here for Dill is in the district’s continuing expansion and in introducing himself to the new Koochiching constituency. Of all the districts in the state this one is probably biggest and most difficult to cross without leaving the district and driving in some other way. It’s wild, both literally and figuratively.

This district favors Dill and the DFL, though the right Republican could be competitive here someday.

This is the Duluth “suburb” district including Hermantown and Proctor, among other townships. It remains fairly similar to the one currently represented by Rep. Mary Murphy (DFL-Hermantown). UPDATE: I neglected to mention that Murphy picks up Two Harbors in Lake County under this plan.

Murphy has been in the House a long time and the prospect of a similar district might encourage her to stay with it instead of retiring. The new 3B continues to lean DFL, though could be competitive with the right Republican.

SENATE DISTRICT 5 (“Woods and Waters”)

Moving southwest we find the new district I mentioned before. The new SD5 and its House seats will be the most hotly contested northern races in 2012. This district includes the central and western portions of Itasca County, parts of Cass, Hubbard and Beltrami counties, including the key cities of Bemidji, Grand Rapids and Walker. It also includes the sizable Leech Lake Ojibwe Reservation.

The Senate race pits Sen. Tom Saxhaug,  pictured at left, (DFL-Grand Rapids) against freshman Sen. John Carlson (R-Bemidji), pictured at right.

Saxhaug probably runs a little stronger in his “home” half of the district that Carlson does in his, but Bemidji is bigger. I’d estimate this race favors Saxhaug but could be treated as a toss-up once the indexes are out.

This will probably remain a pure swing district for its 10-year lifespan. Saxhaug is a member of the Range delegation, but very little of this district is on the Range. More than 3/4 of it is west of Grand Rapids. This would represent the “lost” Senate seat in Iron Range demographic change.

HOUSE 5A (“Bemidji, Leech Lake and Walker”)

This district is a block that includes Bemidji and Walker with the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe reservation centered squarely between.

Rep. John Persell (DFL-Bemidji) is a second-termer who won a tough race in a surprisingly convincing fashion last time. He enjoys a close relationship with the Leech Lake band. Howes is a rare moderate Republican and the House Bonding chair. He is regarded as a statesman, often turned to for bipartisan negotiations.

This one could be quite a donnybrook, as the candidates both have natural constituencies and a record of winning tough races. The index would favor Persell, but Howes has been around a long time and might find inroads in conservative parts of Bemidji. I’d rate it Lean-DFL, with Toss-up potential.

HOUSE 5B (“West Central Itasca and northeastern Cass)

This race pits Rep. Tom Anzelc (DFL-Balsam Township) against Rep. Carolyn McElfatrick (R-Deer River) in a district that is hard to figure. Anzelc has represented Koochiching, Lake of the Woods and the western Mesabi portions of Itasca County since 2006. The freshman McElfatrick represents Grand Rapids, western Itasca and all of Aitkin County. Those districts are obliterated.

Left behind is a district that includes the far western Mesabi, Grand Rapids, Deer River, Remer and a sizable chunk of Cass County that used to be in Larry Howes’s old district. Grand Rapids city leans to the DFL, with solid DFL towns from Bovey to Taconite. West of Grand Rapids are some Republican towns and township. The Cass precincts are conservative.

I am awfully close to this one, advising one of the candidates, but I will honestly say that this seems a true Toss-up, with perhaps a lean to Anzelc and the DFL if Grand Rapids, where McElfatrick lost to her opponent in 2010, holds blue. But this is another one where the index and the campaigns will matter greatly.

SENATE DISTRICT 6 (“The Iron Range”)

The Iron Range keeps a solid Senate district and the locus of that district moves west. This seemed only an outside possibility last week, but the judges decided to keep the “community of interest” intact here and the results are as follows:

Sen. David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm) is now the incumbent in a safe DFL district that now includes many of the western Mesabi Range towns in Itasca County, notably Keewatin, Nashwauk, Marble and Calumet. His district now spans almost the entire Mesabi iron formation, picks up some rural areas in Itasca County and continues to hold the rural swampland and Duluth-influenced townships north of Hermantown and Proctor.

The only part of the new territory that isn’t solidly DFL are a few tiny precincts up in northern Itasca County. This is a solid DFL district.

HOUSE 6A (“Western and Central Range”)

Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing) jumped onto the scene with a win in the special election to replace now IRRRB Commissioner Tony Sertich this time last year. Her first run for a full term will include a lot of new territory in Itasca County but some very friendly terrain. She loses some of the precincts down south near Duluth, keeping Floodwood and points north. She keeps the big towns of Hibbing and Chisholm and gets the fast-growing western Mesabi, including exciting new projects like Essar and Magnetation.She also gets those rural areas in northern Itasca County, the only new areas that could give her trouble (albeit in small numbers).

Melin will have to introduce herself to some new constituents, but its hard to imagine a freshman getting a more favorable draw in redistricting than Melin got here. This is another solid DFL district.

HOUSE 6B (“East Range”)

To many, Rep. Tom Rukavina is the voice of the Iron Range. His hard-charging personality is well known across state political circles, but there were fears that he’d be drawn into a dramatically different district this time. Rukavina’s new district, however, retains his hometown of Virginia, his residence in Pike Township and the base of his political support. Mostly he picked up a large number of townships between the Range and Duluth that used to be in Melin’s district. This remains a solid DFL district. Rukavina won’t be going anywhere until he’s good and ready.

Sen. Roger Reinert, Rep. Tom Huntley of 7A and Rep. Kerry Gauthier of 7B all retain similar districts to the ones they now represent. All remain strong DFL districts and these three legislators are likely to be re-elected, barring unforeseen circumstances.

My column last Sunday detailed what I believed was going to happen and why. While what actually happened was far more kind to the Iron Range than I thought possible, the facts remain. The Range used to “have” three Senate seats, now it “has” 1.5. The growth and the intrigue is in the west where Republican gains spurred by high income retirees, business development and social conservatives are encroaching on what was once DFL Scandinavian forest farmer territory.

The heart of the Iron Range is moving west, where Magnetation, Essar and desirable real estate is pulling people out of the towns and into the woods of Itasca. This redistricting represents the continuation of trends that will shape the future of the region. Those elected will color how bright that future will be be.

Follow MinnesotaBrown on Facebook or Twitter for more news on these and other stories.


*My pen pal and loyal reader Gregg Peppin asked me to share a note about his company’s project New Map MN. This is a subscription service that provides some really cool data and mapping features for the new districts. Anyone approaching this race from a campaign or professional aspect might be interested in this service. The alternative is pretty much a calculator and the Secretary of State’s website. And time. Much time.

** DISCLOSURE: Tom Anzelc is a friend and fellow Balsam Township resident. I have run his legislative campaigns since his first run in 2006. Obviously my personal involvement is a conflict of interest, but I will continue to share honest, open information about the race to the degree possible. I do not speak for Tom’s campaign here on this blog, unless stated. Tom will have an announcement on all of this in due time.


  1. No love for District 10?

  2. Tell me about District 10. I don’t know enough to comment at this time. You’re in that new open seat, right? Are you running? 🙂

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Okay, I did some precinct analysis for 10B and I was wrong. 10B looks to lean substantially DFL based on 2008/10 figures. I didn’t look at 10A but if it is anywhere near even Sen Gazelka will have his hands full as well. Looking at this now I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rep. John Ward challenge Sen. Gazelka.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.