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Local officials voice concerns with proposed redistricting maps

House Photography file photo

Every 10 years following the census, legislative and congressional district boundaries are redrawn to be as nearly equal in population as practicable to ensure equal representation.

In recent weeks, the majority party of House Redistricting Committee unveiled proposed maps for Minnesota’s new legislative and congressional district boundaries. The process must be completed by Feb. 15, 2022, so that next year’s election cycle can proceed on schedule.

If legislators fail to reach an agreement, state courts would again perform the role of mapmaker.

At the state level, the proposal would establish ideal populations of 42,586 people for each House district — about a 3,000-person increase from the current mark — and 85,172 people for each Senate district. Each of the state’s eight U.S. House seats would have an ideal population of 713,312.

“These redistricting maps were drawn keeping in mind our intent to be fair and transparent and open,” said Rep. Mary Murphy (DFL-Hermantown), the committee chair, during a hearing Wednesday. Murphy said the proposals are “the people’s maps,” noting the multiple committee hearings held to receive public input, including ones focused on each Congressional district.

The committee expects to approve a package Dec. 9 that would be introduced as a bill when the Legislature reconvenes Jan. 31, 2022.

What has been introduced likely won’t be the only plan under consideration next week.

“We are listening to what is being brought forward today and it will have an impact on our work as we prepare to present an amendment,” said Rep. Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska), who called the current maps “highly partisan” and said they were made with no input from his party. “We’re looking forward to presenting something that we believe will reflect the concerns of the citizens of Minnesota.”

Just before lunch Wednesday, a quintet of interested parties got the first of two chances to voice their opinion on the proposed maps. A second public hearing is set for 7 p.m. Thursday.

A common theme of concern is separating communities that have worked in tandem.

“To reach out to multiple [representatives] is an issue,” said Rogers Mayor Rick Ihli. “We’ve been extremely happy with how it’s been for years … we like our neighbors and we work well together.”

Rep. Ginny Klevorn (DFL-Plymouth) acknowledged the concerns of Ihli, but noted some of the state's fastest growth has come in those districts on the northwest edge of the metro area whose current members are currently more than 4,000 constituents above the proposed population cap. Klevorn’s district is more than 6,800 beyond that cap.

On the other hand, Rep. Jeremy Munson (R-Lake Crystal) noted having more legislators representing a particular area means more lawmakers pushing for those locales at the State Capitol.

“You would have two representatives that would be able vote on these projects,” Munson said. “Two senators that would be able to vote on these projects as opposed to one.”

Former state representative and current Blaine Mayor Tim Sanders countered, saying — while that is true — a city could be placed with other communities that do not have similar interests or need.

“Then it really does feel like the district is being divided and that your voice is potentially diminished,” Sanders said. He added that his rapidly growing community expected change, but called the current plan “quite burdensome.”

The proposed maps, Sanders said, would put Blaine in three House districts, two Senate districts, and would remove the city from its current Congressional district and place it into two new ones.

Speaking from more than 150 miles up Interstate 94, mayors Ben Schierer of Fergus Falls and Ron Grobeck of Ottertail shared concerns over the geographic increases in their more rural and less populated areas. For example, Schierer said, Otter Tail County is now fully within one Senate district — which also contains part of another county — but the new lines call for a senator to represent parts of 11 counties.

“I’m worried a small city like ours would get lost in a district that’s split between so many counties and doesn’t include cities that we regularly work with in Otter Tail County,” Grobeck said.

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