Not much changed in the Minnesota Legislature in this election cycle. Most incumbents were re-elected. We still have a three-headed monster running the show -- a Republican House, Democratic Senate and Independent Gov. Ventura.
Though the 2001 session of the Minnesota Legislature is a budget session, it undoubtedly will be overshadowed by a huge redistricting battle. Democrats will want a map that favors the election of Democratic legislators; Republicans will want a map that favors the election of Republican legislators. Together, they will draw an incumbent-protection plan.
Gov. Ventura, who has no county-by-county party machinery, we hope will insist on a map that keeps natural communities together and assures competitive elections in the next decade.
In fact, why not establish an independent, nonpartisan commission that uses nonpolitical criteria to draw a plan? In Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Iowa, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington, nonpartisan commissions will draft redistricting plans. Some commissions will have the direct authority to enact a redistricting plan, others will have to submit theirs to the state legislature for final approval.
Minnesota's current system, where a legislative committee made up of Democrats and Republicans draws a plan, assures an "Incumbent Survival Plan."
Look no further than the state's redistricting software program to see how it works. The software includes the residence of each incumbent in the redistricting database, as well as party voting patterns by precinct. Both Republican and Democratic incumbents will be able to compare the impact of different redistricting plans on their future electoral chances. In fact, the software will even warn incumbents if the districts they've drawn would pit them against other incumbents in the 2002 election.
As Rob Richie, director of the nonpartisan Center for Voting and Democracy, describes the process, "Quite literally, incumbent politicians use increasingly sophisticated computer software and demographic data to choose the voters before the voters have a chance to choose them."
Even the U.S. Supreme Court has noticed the legislative tendency to focus on the creation of "safe" districts. In one case cited by Justice Stevens, "The Legislature obligingly carved out districts of apparent supporters of incumbents... and then added appendages to connect their residences to those districts. The final result seems not one in which the people select their representatives, but in which the representatives have selected the people."
In the 1990s, each Minnesota House district had about 33,000 people; each Senate district, about 66,000 people. After Census 2000, each Minnesota House district will have about 36,000 people; each Senate district, about 72,000 people. Because our population is declining in Northeastern Minnesota, we will lose two House seats and one Senate seat. Our districts, some already extremely large in territory, will get even larger in size.
Redistricting will be important to Northeastern Minnesota, as all of Greater Minnesota continues to lose power to the growing Rochester-Twin Cities-St. Cloud corridor. But the solution is not to lock in one-party districts or assure safe seats for incumbents.
To assure competitive elections, take the redistricting process out of the hands of the incumbents and their parties and give it to an independent, nonpartisan commission.
-- Duluth News Tribune
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