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Drawing the lines

It might seem simple enough to look at census figures and draw a few lines on Minnesota’s map, but the men and women charged with that task will tell you it’s anything but easy.

Four of those who’ve been involved in the process were speakers at Wednesday’s forum on redistricting and reapportionment. The forum was sponsored by the Gordon Rosenmeier Center for State and Local Government at Central Lakes College and was conducted at the college’s Chalberg Theatre.

Sharing their perspectives were Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, chair of the House Committee on Redistricting, Peter S. Wattson, a veteran Minnesota legal counsel and former general counsel to Gov. Mark Dayton; Greg Peppin, a former legislative analyst on the 2001 redistricting legislation; and former Democratic Attorney General Mike Hatch.

The difficulty of redistricting is one reason why it’s been years since the Minnesota Legislature and governor have agreed on a redistricting plan. No agreement was reached during the last legislative session and that failure meant the job was turned over to a judicial panel. So this year — unless the Legislature surprises most observers and devises a plan that’s agreeable to everyone — the judicial panel will announce its redistricting plan on Feb. 21.

“Anybody that’s involved in the process is going to have strong feelings,” Peppin said.

And while political party-generated redistricting plans have been criticized, Peppin said he would contend that some of the state’s worst redistricting plans were drawn by the courts. He said it was the courts that split the adjacent communities of Crosby and Ironton one year.

“There’s really no unbiased way to do it,” Peppin said.

The experts explained that reapportionment refers to the drawing up of congressional districts and redistricting generally refers to the drawing of state Senate and House district lines. Minnesota, they said, came close to losing one U.S. House seat and Rep. Anderson urged people to fill out U.S. census forms every 10 years. If they don’t, she said she feared the state may lose a congressional seat after the next census.

Wattson recounted the Legislature’s history of failure when it came to devising acceptable redistricting plans and supported the idea of an independent commission.

Anderson, the only panel member currently serving in elective office, favored legislative attempts at redistricting because the decisions would be made by elected officials rather than appointed officials. Lawmakers, she said, bring valuable expertise to the table

Mike O'Rourke
Mike O'Rourke began his career at the Brainerd Dispatch in 1978 as a general assignment reporter. He was named city editor in 1981 and associate editor in 1999. He covers politics and writes features and editorials.
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