OUR OPINION: Let panel keep job of redistricting
"High court rejects new redistricting lines." "NY redistricting faces showdown." "Wisconsin's redistricting maps to go on trial." As these and other headlines show, the drawing of new legislative lines is generating not only controversy but also ...
"High court rejects new redistricting lines." "NY redistricting faces showdown." "Wisconsin's redistricting maps to go on trial." As these and other headlines show, the drawing of new legislative lines is generating not only controversy but also lawsuits nationwide.
Except in Minnesota, where last week's release of a new district map drew few complaints and even some praise. "Credit judges for fair representation," read the headline over the Star Tribune's editorial. Agreed the Rochester Post-Bulletin, "The judges not only got the job done, but they did it well."
And, it seems likely at this point that the latest map will proceed to become law.
This suggests the judicial panel that drew the new map did a professional and evenhanded job. Minnesotans should recognize this public-policy success and heed the calls to let such panels handle redistricting in decades to come.
Populations shift, ebb and flow over time, moving slower than syrup but resulting in whole new demographic maps every 10 years. And because the population "syrup" moves around lawmakers' fixed residences, drawing new lines every 10 years (as the Constitution directs) is a tremendous challenge.
In New York, the task remains in the Legislature's hands for now; but given the fact that Republicans control the state Senate while Democrats own the governor's office and the House, no agreement is in sight.
It's not quite as bad as 2008, when the then-Democratic leader of the New York Senate promised to redistrict Republicans "into oblivion." But this year's GOP Senate's proposals still had Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo responding with, "They send me these lines, I am going to veto these lines," as NBC New York reported.
"These lines are not fair. They are hyper-political."
In Minnesota, elected officials' 2011 efforts to redraw legislative boundaries met with similar hoots and hollers from the other side. Who can forget the Republicans' idea to put put Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson into a "super-Dem" district extending across all of northern Minnesota, thereby enshrining Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack in a safe Republican district of his own?
The judicial panel's map tackles these same demographic shifts, but it does so with this difference: It keeps partisanship to a minimum. According to the new map, "23 districts -- 16 in the House, eight in the Senate -- are now home to two sitting legislators," the Star Tribune editorial notes.
"Eleven of the pairings are GOP vs. GOP, eight are DFL vs. DFL, and five are DFL vs. GOP.
"That mix speaks well of the even-handedness of the five-judge panel's work," the editorial concludes.
And that's the kind of balanced outcome the parties have not been able to deliver.
Three years ago, a panel of Minnesota leaders suggested that the state turn first, not last, to a judicial panel. Besides streamlining the process, the change would prevent a rabidly partisan redistricting in the event that one party winds up with House and Senate majorities as well as the governor's office, the Rochester Post-Bulletin rightly points out Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz agrees. Before becoming a judge, Blatz served in the Legislature, so she knows how lawmakers try to protect themselves, she told a Minneapolis TV station last year.
"As a legislator, I would say, 'What did they do to my district?'" she said.
"Not, 'What did they do to the people in Bloomington?' That's the wrong perspective to have."