Drawing lines won’t solve problems

PHOTO: Dean Hochman, Flickr CC-BY

This week we learned that Minnesota would keep all eight of its Congressional seats after the federal government released the results of the 2020 Census.

Good news for our state. We almost lost a seat. Nevertheless, this political analysis will now fixate on maps and lines as demographic change shapes new maps.

Political districts are meaningless in terms of natural geography. Rather they become signals of political power. And this means drawing lines becomes the sport of both the ins and the outs in any political equation.

But drawing a line doesn’t solve any problems.

This is the subject of my April 29 piece for the Minnesota Reformer, “Like it our not: We’re all in this together.”

Check it out, and sign up for the Reformer newsletter if you like independent journalism and commentary. It provides lively, short, ecclectic political news and commentary from Minnesota. Like vaping an old school alt-weekly. Try it, it’s cool.



  1. I guess it is not impossible that the GOP and the DFL could agree on a redistricting plan for 2021 in Minnesota. But it seems unlikely. In that event, the problem of redistricting being too much for the legislature and the governor and ending up in the hands of the State Supreme Court will occur once again, as it has every decade since 1960. Over that time, the Court has done what most Minnesotans consider a fair and appropriate job, free of partisanship, and we have avoided the kind of clown-like results that have afflicted states like Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, where electoral results make it obvious that gerrymandering has reversed the results and thwarted the will of the voters in many elections.

    Minnesota faces a growing problem of increasing political polarization combined with progressive loss of power in Greater Minnesota that is obviously heading toward a redistricting crisis. Even though we dodged the loss of the Eighth District, we still will have to face considerable redrawing of Congressional Districts to deal with increasingly asymmetric population growth between the Metro Area and Greater Minnesota, and the loss of representation and redrawing of districts in the State House and Senate that Greater Minnesota will face as a result of that growth.

    IMO, what Minnesota needs is a plan like the one sponsored by Duluth Representative Jen Schultz or the somewhat more confused and confusing offering of Common Cause — a non-partisan commission that does redistricting in a logical and fair way and that avoids party efforts to legislate themselves into permanent power. That is a difficult task though, and is obviously not happening in time for 2021-2011. It would, Common Cause wishful thinking notwithstanding, require a State Constitutional Amendment, and would have to pass both the elected representatives and the governor. It may be possible, depending on how the new redistricting goes and in the absence of renegade Senator Bakk, for the state to come together to have a system in place for 2031 to avoid any potential disaster then.

    It now turns out that we would have lost CD8 had we counted just 26 fewer people. It remains possible that that might end up in litigation, although both that and the clearly defective counts in the Red states of the Sun Belt will most likely stand up, given the herculean task of trying to create a scientific case for overturning errors. New York lost out to us, and Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Arizona, and Texas lost out to deliberate incompetence on the part of their state governments. And Minnesota once again dodged the loss of its eighth seat.

    We most likely won’t be as lucky in 2030. It would be really nice to be prepared with a non-partisan commission in place to deal with the problem then. Voters should pick their representatives, not representatives pick their voters, and the sooner we have a system in place to assure that the better off we will be.

  2. There’s no such thing as a “non-partisan” commission. There’s always going to be partisanship when it comes to issues like redistricting and it’s foolish to pretend it can be eliminated or even significantly reduced. Who gets to decide who’s on the “non-partisan” commission? If I get to decide, it’s going to look a lot different than if you get to decide.

    Minnesota’s population in 2021 is roughly 5,700,000. So if you divide 5,700,000 by 8 Congressional seats, each seat should represent roughly 712,500 people. If I were doing this by logic, I’d start out with the following points:

    1. Of the 5.7 million, roughly 3.3 million live in the 7 county (Hennepin, Ramsey, Anoka, Washington, Dakota, Scott, Carver) metro area. If you break down the 3.3 million further, roughly 740,000 live in the cities of Minneapolis and St Paul while the other 2.56 million live in the suburbs.

    2. The remaining 2.4 million people live in Greater MN.

    With 740,000 people living in the inner cities, it would make sense to make this one district (while you’d have to put 3-4% of them into a suburban district). I know this isn’t the way it is right now with the inner cities controlling 2 seats (with several suburbs thrown in to each), but it makes too much sense when the two cities equal almost exactly one Congressional district not to combine them.

    With 2.56 million people living in the suburbs and 2.4 million living in Greater MN, it would make sense to have 3 seats that are completely suburban, three seats that are completely Greater MN, and one seat that’s say 65% suburban and 35% Greater MN. I’m sure both parties will have their own ideas as to how to split up these districts to their own advantage.

    With that being said, given that the State Supreme Court is dominated by Dayton and Walz appointees, we’ll likely see a map that is more friendly to the DFL. I’ll be very surprised if there aren’t still 2 seats dominated by the inner cities and if they don’t try to help out Angie Craig by moving the borders around in that district to help her in the 2nd. I think the 1st, 7th, and 8th will likely stay similar, albeit adding in a few more exurbs which will make them even stronger GOP seats. While they could try and draw Emmer and Fischbach into the same district, one of them would likely just move and even if they did have to run against each other both of these seats would stay GOP anyway.

    Barring a complete shakeup of the maps, I don’t see a whole lot changing. The current 2nd district is by far the most competitive, with Angie Craig willing by a tiny percentage in 2020. If this district is similar in 2022, it could easily flip to GOP with Tyler Kistner being a good candidate. After that, the 3rd is probably the most competitive. But Dean Phillips is likely safe for a while. Not that the GOP couldn’t pick it up with a good candidate and in a R leaning year, but it would be tough. The 1st district is one that the DFL could pick up in a decent year, as Hagedorn isn’t a great candidate but it will still be difficult. It’s theoretically possible for the DFL to win back the 8th, but it’s looking more and more unlikely each year. There’s almost no chance that the DFL will win back the 7th or that the Republicans will ever win the 4th or 5th.

  3. I disagree with the notion that there is no such thing as nonpartisanship. I think the State Supreme Court has done a pretty good job of non-partisan redistricting since 1960, and will probably do a pretty good job again. Officially transferring the responsibility to the Court all the time would not be the craziest idea, and would forestall the chance that one party could gain complete control of the process. Non-partisan commissions generally mean balanced commissions with the deciding votes coming from people who are judges or others who take there duties seriously. In this day and age of McConnell style scorched earth partisanship it is hard to imagine this, but for most of the history of American politics non-partisan and bi-partisan government was the rule, not the exception.

    As to your plan, the proposal to conjoin the 4th and 5th districts has been floated repeatedly, and it never flies, not due to partisan considerations but due to historical “local pride” of the same sort that makes it impossible for Hibbing and Virginia to ever cooperate no matter how sensible.

    None of the three greater MN districts you envision have enough population to continue without addition of at least some Metro votes to at least some of them. It would be possible to construct two districts, one a new North Dakota to Wisconsin 8th and one very like the current 1st with a few Metro residents, but then you run out of people, and the 6th and 7th would have to dip into the Metro area, just as the current 6th does. If you try to keep the current outlines as close as you can, you have to add Metro residents to all of the Greater MN districts unless St. Cloud area residents are added to the 7th and 8th and the 6th becomes over half Metro.

    Trying to keep the current political balance is tricky. Although the proposal to combine both Twin Cities into one district has historically been a GOP proposal, now that probably would actually benefit the DFL, since adding more inner ring Metro suburbs to the 2nd and 3rd would strengthen DFL voting in those areas, and the 6th could become more purple if it had to digest some of those voters from the Northwest Metro inner ring as well.

    It might benefit to actually read the proposals by Schultz and by Common Cause, and also look at the experience in Arizona.

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