The tenuous situation facing northern Minnesota DFLers, and a way forward

My latest for the Minnesota Reformer is live today: “Cleaving Minnesota: Good news and bad for northern Democrats.”

It’s got election analysis, messaging advice, political strategy and even a few jokes. Read for yourself.



  1. The elephant in the room for Northeastern Minnesota (no, not that elephant) is the issue of the census and redistricting.

    In the last decade, the population of St. Louis County has fallen a bit less than 2%. Duluth has decreased about 1%, but the population of the Minnesota part of the Duluth Metro Area, especially in Hermantown and the townships, has increased about 2.5%. Within Duluth, population has increased in East Duluth, essentially district 7A, and decreased in West Duluth, district 7B. The population of Itasca County has remained largely stable, falling about 0.2%.

    Meanwhile the population of Minnesota has increased about 7%. In 2022, a state senate district will contain about 85,000 people.

    What this means is that someone owes the more rapidly growing parts of the state (almost exclusively the seven-county metro area) 4.7 state senate seats. At least one of those is likely going to come from Northeastern Minnesota, and its associated two representatives will go with it.

    How exactly that change will be mapped out is unclear.

    But it is clear that, in mapping out blue to red shifts, that shift on the Range will be happening in the context of fewer legislators. Some of them will have gone south.

    That seat is not likely to come from either Duluth or from Itasca County — although they both may have voters from outside their current districts added.

    That leaves, by process of elimination, St. Louis, Lake, and Cook Counties outside Duluth.

    • Good points, Gerald. I think we’re finally due for the “Mesabi” House district that runs from Hibbing to Hoyt Lakes and its companion House district that includes everything else north and east of Duluth up to the border, including Lake and Cook counties. Both will be swing districts (along with the Senate seat) but even if the GOP gets and keeps all of them indefinitely (unlikely) there is at least one full Senate district heading into the heart of Minneapolis, so it’s a wash. Something similar will happen in the Northwest. It’s possible that the Range could absorb Itasca County, but that county is almost a perfectly sized House district on its own and I think that may happen this year. Or it would if I was drawing maps (which I ain’t).

  2. The drawing of the maps will not be done by just one party, as would have happened had the DFL won the Senate. Every time this has happened in the past, and it has happened every decade since the 1960’s, the redistricting has ended up being done by the State Supreme Court.

    In that setting, given the close balance of power from this last election, it seems likely to me that the pain of losing senate districts will be shared evenly by the DFL and the GOP, if there are four districts moved, or a three to two split, if there are five. I would expect that one seat would come from each quadrant of the state. If there are five seats, the spare most likely would come from CD8, which had the slowest population growth of any district in the state.

    The Range seat might be one that the DFL is more willing to give up, given the way it is sliding during the last couple of elections. Otherwise, it is going to be hard to find DFL seats out in Greater Minnesota, since there are so few DFL seats in Greater Minnesota now, and those that do exist tend to be in large population centers where they are likely to be retained. There is very little likelihood of seats being removed from the Metro area, where the current and future DFL stronghold is, given population trends.

    Personally, I would like to see MN adopt a redistricting system based on a redistricting commission, rather than face the possibility that one of the parties might get a monopoly and that would lead to a gerrymandering farce like we have seen in Wisconsin. Jen Schultz, DFLer from 7A in Duluth, has been pushing that idea, as has the organization Common Cause. However, the GOP is opposed to it, fantasizing about turning MN redistricting over to the famous algorithms they used to gerrymander Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and other states into places where 40% of the population dictates to 60%. The DFL was also reluctant, since they thought they might be able to draw the maps next year, presumably gerrymandering right back.

  3. Baak and Thomassoni have now broken with tbe DFL and started their own 2 man caucus in the state senate. I suspect it’s mostly symbolic, but signals some complications with the DFL changing its traditional stances on many issues. It won’t make them any more powerful with the DFL minority and may he valuable to the IR on some issues. It may also bring retribution from some DFL’ers. I don’t know if this will improve their clout on some issues like bonding, it may even weaken it. It may give some rural DFL’ers some courage to join them if they are left alone.

    It may have some interesting changes on the IRRRB if the other DFL’ers seek retribution.

    To quote Thomassoni, “It’s complicated.”

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