ST. CLOUD (AP) -- Witnesses testifying before a Senate working group on legislative redistricting said they want to see a plan that separates the St. Cloud area both from the Twin Cities and from mostly rural parts of central Minnesota.
Some 25 people attended a City Hall meeting, and about half a dozen testified. Almost all those testifying said they wanted to see St. Cloud's role as a regional center recognized by new legislative districts.
"If we're spread too thin, no one is going to specifically focus on (the region)," said Lori Long, a City Council member who testified.
Lines have to be redrawn by March 2002 for the fall election, when every legislative seat will be open.
Redistricting happens only once every 10 years, coinciding with the release of updated population counts by the U.S. Census Bureau. A similar reapportionment will take place for Minnesota's congressional seats.
The goal of the intensely political process of redistricting is to make every vote equal by having each lawmaker represent roughly the same number of constituents. The outcome can influence the strength of each party in government as well as -- consequently -- the policy priorities that win out.
Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, who heads the Senate Redistricting Committee, hinted at the possibility of a special session later this year to agree on new lines. The issue may eventually be decided by courts.
In preparation, a five-member judicial panel will soon begin to hear motions related to redistricting. Republicans are pushing for the panel to intervene if Ventura and lawmakers haven't come to an agreement within a couple of months -- before the Legislature is scheduled to begin its session next year.
People at the St. Cloud hearing didn't give their thoughts on the once-a-decade redrawing of legislative boundaries without throwing a few jabs at legislators.
"You are all playing out what I call an advertisement for why I am sitting here," said Mike Landy, a St. Cloud City Council member and Independence Party member. "Politics have ruined (the process). A computer is less political. There's no reason that you can't plug the numbers and criteria in and then tweak the plans that the computer generates."
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