Editorial: Remove parties from redistrict process

Published 8:51 am Monday, October 11, 2010

Amid all the debate over state budget deficits, job creation, transportation and other campaign topics, one important issue gets less attention.

Whoever has control of the Legislature and governor’s office after next month’s elections will wield one of the most powerful tools elected officials have: to redraw the political boundaries that will be in place for a decade to come.

If Democrats prevail and Republican U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann wins re-election, the DFL will redraw her district to make her next election one she almost certainly can’t win.

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If Republicans get the upper hand, they will try to create a single congressional district of Minneapolis and St. Paul, leaving one of the two current Democrats there now without a home district.

Those are some of the high-stakes outcomes that will come as the next Legislature uses the 2010 census information to redraw political lines so that they include equal numbers of voters.

Redistricting is necessary — as some areas gain population and others lose people, the legislative and congressional districts must be shifted. But in what is one of the most political contentious processes, where those lines are moved can dramatically benefit one party over the other for many years to come.

While politicians on both sides are again pledging to take a nonpartisan approach to redistricting, history shows that won’t be the case. In the past five redistricting attempts in Minnesota, the courts ended up stepping in.

That’s why a proposal to remove much of the partisanship from the process should be pursued.

A bipartisan commission headed by former GOP Gov. Arne Carlson and former Democratic Vice President Walter Mondale proposed a fair way to redraw boundaries. It would assign the task of redistricting to a panel of retired judges selected in a bipartisan fashion. Their proposal would then be accepted or rejected in whole by the Legislature, but it could not be amended.

The proposal, which would have to be approved by voters as a constitutional amendment, drew some support from lawmakers but not enough to make it onto the ballot. It’s an issue legislators need to take up again.

When redistricting can directly affect the political future of each lawmaker, it’s impossible to expect the process won’t break down into all-out partisanship. Giving the important job of drawing political boundaries to a skilled and neutral group that doesn’t have a personal stake in the outcome would be a wiser alternative.

— The Free Press of Mankato, Oct. 4