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First redistricting plan draws DFL criticism

ST. PAUL -- There is lots of talk about the Minnesota budget in this year's Legislature, as well many other issues such as whether to build a Vikings football stadium and to expand gambling, but the provision that could produce the broadest and l...

ST. PAUL -- There is lots of talk about the Minnesota budget in this year's Legislature, as well many other issues such as whether to build a Vikings football stadium and to expand gambling, but the provision that could produce the broadest and longest-lasting impact has received little public notice.

That job is to redraw legislative and congressional district boundaries. A House committee began that work Tuesday night amid discord.

"How the state is redistricted will probably have the most long-term impact of anything we do this year," said Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, who teaches high school government classes. "It sets the political boundaries for 10 years."

But there are doubts whether the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton can get the job done.

Dayton says he needs strong bipartisan support before he signs a redistricting bill, but Democrats did not like the initial Republican offering Tuesday.


"Republicans are rushing through a map with little-to-no time for public input, no time to work out potentially costly and confusing problems with where district lines are drawn, and no time for the democratic process to unfold," said Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, who is the House Redistricting Committee's top Democrat.

But committee member Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said the process drawing up the map was open and fair. He said it represents changes needed because of population growth in some areas and loss of residents elsewhere.

District maps over the years reflect the movement of rural Minnesotans into larger cities, leaving rural areas with larger districts to meet the federal one-person, one-vote criteria that requires each district to have about the same number of people. That means fewer rural residents are in the Legislature after each redistricting.

In general, southern, northern and western districts, where population is shrinking, would get larger under any plan. The Twin Cities and other growing areas would have more and smaller districts.

In this redistricting season's first plan, from House Republicans, three new rural districts would pit incumbents against each other (if they run again):

- Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, and Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji.

- Rep. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City, and Rep. Andrew Falk, DFL-Murdock.

- Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, and Sen. Gary Kubly, DFL-Granite Falls.


Overall, 10 new districts would force incumbents to run against each other.

Also, the House proposal has an open seat in the Wadena area, one of 10 districts without incumbents.

About 39,000 people live in each House district.

If the GOP-DFL division continues, the matter could land in the court's hands as it has in the past.

Redistricting follows each decade's census, as required by a 1964 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that elective office districts must contain nearly the same population.

The first redistricting plan for state legislative districts came from House Republicans, and a committee considered it Tuesday night. A House plan for drawing new federal congressional district lines is to come later.

Senate Republicans are expected to release their redistricting plans later this week or adopt the House proposal.

Democrats complained that Republicans only released their plan 24 hours before the committee took it up Tuesday night.


Murphy said that citizens attending Hermantown, Marshall and Rochester meetings told committee members that plenty of time was needed for local governments and citizens to examine redistricting maps. The GOP map was posted on line at 6:30 p.m. Monday, exactly meeting a House requirement that bills be posted at least 24 hours before action.

Lawmakers are in session until May 23, and GOP leaders want next year's session to begin in March, after a Feb. 21, 2012, deadline for passing a redistricting plan. Marquart, a Redistricting Committee member, said that means lawmakers have less than three weeks to agree on a plan among themselves and with Dayton.

For Marquart, the main question now is how to reach a bipartisan agreement that Dayton can accept.

"My hope is, and I truly believe this, that we can come up with a bipartisan plan that we can give to the governor to be signed," Marquart said. "I know that is a long shot. It has not been done very often in the past."

Davis reports for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Herald.

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