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Should the Eighth District go from border to border?

Congressional redistricting proposals have different answers

David Colburn
Posted 12/15/21

REGIONAL- Every ten years, after the U.S. Census Bureau finishes collecting data for its decennial census, politicians throughout the country await the announcement of new population counts that …

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Should the Eighth District go from border to border?

Congressional redistricting proposals have different answers

Posted

REGIONAL- Every ten years, after the U.S. Census Bureau finishes collecting data for its decennial census, politicians throughout the country await the announcement of new population counts that trigger redistricting. It’s the often-contentious redrawing of Congressional and state legislative district boundaries, as well as those in smaller political subdivisions that use population to determine their local electoral boundaries.
The 2020 Census held additional anxiety for Minnesotans in the very real possibility that the state could lose one of its eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives to another state that was growing more quickly.
But Minnesota actually dodged that bullet, so the state’s Eighth District survived for at least another ten years. With an April 1 count of 5,709,752 residents, Minnesota held onto the House seat by the slimmest margin since 1940. A total of 89 Minnesotans made the difference between maintaining eight congressional seats or losing out to New York.
Reshaping eight Congressional districts is a much more favorable task for the Minnesota House Redistricting Committee, as the committee’s ranking Republican, District 16B Rep. Paul Torkelson, of Hanska, recently acknowledged to the Timberjay.
“We’ve been kind of on the brink before, but we’ve never been this close to losing that eighth member,” he said. “Thank goodness our census workers were ambitious and got out and did the work in spite of COVID to count every person they could find.”
However, finding consensus on a plan to fairly distribute the extra 400,000 Minnesota residents to ensure equal representation across all eight Congressional could well prove elusive— it certainly has in the past. Preliminary maps from the DFL and Republicans currently being considered by the Redistricting Committee have significantly different ideas, particularly for the districts representing Greater Minnesota.
With 78 percent of the state’s population increase occurring in the Twin Cities area, most Greater Minnesota districts will need to expand in area in order to account for the shifting demographics.
Each of the eight Congressional districts has a population target of 713,312 people, a number that can be achieved in as few as 135 square miles in the Twin Cities, according to Redistricting Committee Chair Rep. Mary Murphy (DFL-Hermantown). But metropolitan growth means significant changes elsewhere, and there’s no greater change geographically than what the DFL proposes for the North Country’s Eighth District, a seat currently held by Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber.
The DFL plan to hit the population target would extend the existing Eighth District west to the North Dakota border, increasing its size from 32,696 square miles to 44,418 square miles, Murphy said. That’s roughly the same size as the state of Ohio.
“The Eighth District has always been invested in the mining industry, the timber industry, the shipping industry, the paper industry, and the tourism industry. Those are our economic ties to the world,” Murphy said. “That stretches out to North Dakota in the sense that there’s always been some farming in the Eighth District, and we still have large farms in the northwest. Farming interests have a base with shipping in some respects, so when we had to gain miles, it made sense to go from border to border.”
The Seventh District, which covers the western portion of the state from the Canadian border south to within one county of the southern border, would then shift south to the border and expand eastward to the edge of the Twin Cities metro area. The First District, which covers the southern portion of the state from border to border would be modified to encompass the southeast corner of the state, gaining the additional population it would need by expanding northward to the Twin Cities.
“Past courts are stuck to the idea that well, let’s change a little here and a little there, but not too much and let’s keep people comfortable,” Murphy said. “We were bold. We said that because of the changes and shift in population we need to address those in a fair and honest way. That’s the first map, getting people to talk.”
Torkelson was certainly ready to talk about and contrast his party’s plan with that of the DFL.
“In general, the districts we have in Minnesota have been drawn fairly well, and we don’t see a need for dramatic changes statewide,” Torkelson said. “Districts have changed, flipped from one party to another, and to me that’s an indication that the districts were drawn pretty well in the first place.”
Indeed, the Republican map proposes only small geographical changes for the Eighth District to attain the population goal. A farmer by profession, Torkelson took issue with Murphy’s farming rationale to justify the DFL’s proposed expansion of the Eighth.
“There certainly is some agriculture in the northeast, and it’s dramatically different than the agricultural scene in the (Red River) Valley,” he said. “They don’t compare very well and they contrast quite a bit.”
An essential element that the DFL plan doesn’t take into consideration, Torkelson said, is the traditional strength of labor, some of it organized.
“I don’t really see that same nature going on across the whole northern part of the state,” he said. “I think it’s really a stretch to do that. The Valley has a kind of personality and landscape all its own, and it needs to be in one Congressional district.”
Such are the types of debates that have been going on since the Redistricting Committee began meeting and receiving testimony, district by district, since August, and will most certainly continue on into the start of the new legislative session in February. Murphy and Torkelson were both cordial and complimentary of the work of the committee thus far, but emphasized that stark differences remain unresolved with both Congressional and state legislative redistricting proposals.
And those aren’t the only two maps under review. A third alternative is in the hands of the committee, and four redistricting proposals have been filed directly with the courts, which will in all likelihood be called upon to settle the matter as they have in past redistricting history.
Redistricting maps and data for all seven redistricting proposals are available on the Geographic Information Services 2020 Redistricting webpage at https://www.gis.lcc.mn.gov/redist2020/plans.html.
The Timberjay will take an in-depth look at proposed changes to state Senate and House districts in an upcoming issue.

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