‘The Ocho’ lives, but numbers can lie

IMAGE: Nicolas Raymond, Flickr CC-BY
Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Mesabi Tribune.

Most folks get the idea behind the state legislature or Congress. We are all drawn into districts based on population. Each district elects representatives to make laws and speak on our behalf. If we don’t like the representative we vote them out for a new one. Most of the time, we pay little attention to these characters, revisiting the matter only during election years. Even then, we rarely devote more thought than we give a fast food order. We get what we always get, and maybe once in a while try something new.

But what is a district? Sometimes it feels there is nothing more arbitrary that a congressional or legislative district. A town is a place that shares space and resources. So is a county and a state. But a district is something drawn on a map, sometimes crafted with great care and sometimes not. 

Districts might be drawn because certain communities have a great deal in common, or perhaps because they share political views. Sometimes districts jog left or right because of where incumbent representatives live, where rivers flow, or because someone even longer ago drew a different line that is now Very Important.

Last week the new 2020 U.S. Census report revealed surprising big news in Minnesota politics: nothing.

That is to say that despite projections showing Minnesota growing less quickly than some states in the union, our representation in Congress will stay the same for next year’s election. That means that those of us here in the Eighth of Minnesota’s eight congressional districts will not be drawn into a new, much larger Seventh district.

Just 89 more human beings located in New York would have allowed the Empire State to keep its 27th District. Had the count not been conducted during the early outbreak of COVID-19, New York would have kept the seat. 

Likewise, if just 26 fewer Minnesotans had filled out their paperwork the Gopher State would have dropped to seven districts. Had that happened, the new districts would have been dramatically different than the ones we’ll see later this year.

I supposed we can celebrate the news. More representation is always better than less. But the tone of a lot of the coverage inflates the value somewhat. “Districts” remain much less important than communities. And what we do in communities matters a lot more than who we elect to represent our districts.

Politics is about people. Do not speak of land as power, because that is the power of the few over the many. This has been true from the beginning of America. Also the beginning of this state and of the Iron Range, where one industry, sometimes one company, has controlled the land and people for most of 130 years.

It’s true the census is boring. It was arcane process, coupled with Minnesota’s robust population growth compared to our neighbors, that led to the survival of our beloved “Fightin’ Eighth” congressional district. Most likely the district looks pretty similar next year, adding some territory up along the Canadian border. And most likely our incumbent representative will be re-elected, though you never know. 

But numbers tell a partial story. People tell the rest. What story will we tell here in northern Minnesota? 

Are we happy that everything stays the same? If so, what about the problems of economic stagnation, cultural isolation, and institutional decline we so obviously face in the so-called “Eighth District?” These are the problems our children need us to address. 

For tomorrow’s generation will be, and should be, utterly disinterested in the districts we drew during our waning opportunity to improve this changing world.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, May 9, 2021 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.



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