New election maps will force tough decisions for incumbents, create opportunities for fresh faces

Four plans were considered, but a state court panel published maps that adopted a ‘least change’ approach

By: - February 15, 2022 4:11 pm

The Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul as the sun sets on Election Day, November 3, 2020. Photo by Tony Webster.

Minnesota congressional and legislative maps for the next decade were released by a Minnesota court panel on Tuesday, with new district boundaries reflecting the movement of the state’s population during the past decade. 

The Twin Cities metro will gain representation, especially in the Legislature, after its population increased substantially during the decade, while many greater Minnesota areas either stagnated or lost population.

Nick Harper, civic engagement director for the League of Women Voters, which filed a brief in the redistricting case, said the judicial panel took a “least change” approach — meaning making few major alterations while still incorporating the census data. 

“No one got everything they wanted, but that’s to be expected,” Harper said.

That in turn helps Republicans, who are better off with the status quo, some redistricting watchers said. 

“It’s decent news for the GOP,” said Aaron Booth, a political consultant with expertise in redistricting. Some longtime Republican incumbents, however, will face a newly challenging environment, including state Sen. David Senjem of Rochester and state Sen. Roger Chamberlain of Lino Lakes. 

Both are now in districts that were strong for Democratic President Joe Biden in 2020. 

But the interests of some voters, namely Latinos in Chaska, Shakopee and Jackson; Black voters in Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center; and Indigenous voters in north-central Minnesota, were split at the state House level, said Common Cause Minnesota Executive Director Annastacia Belladonna-Carrera.

“Unfortunately, without an independent redistricting commission, the Legislature and court’s processes are not set up to adopt maps that reflect Minnesota’s dramatic population changes centered around the voices of the new communities driving that growth,” Belladonna-Carrera said in a statement.

The electoral maps will force some incumbents to make decisions about their future, as a handful are confronting vastly different districts, as well districts that will require them to run for reelection against their colleagues, including in their own party.  

Among them are members of leadership, including House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, who is now in the same district as state Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton.*

For the DFL, Senate Minority Leader Melisa López Franzen of Edina is now in the same district as state Sen. Ron Latz of St. Louis Park.  

The long-awaited release of the new maps comes months after both the DFL-led House and GOP-majority Senate, and a panel of judges appointed by the Minnesota Supreme Court, took testimony and hearings on how the new maps should look. 

For decades, the Minnesota Legislature has failed to come to agreement on new maps after the decennial census, relying instead on state courts to draw the boundaries of congressional and legislative districts, serving to prevent widespread gerrymandering. 

Four different groups filed and argued in favor of their own maps that they said helped preserve the voting strengths of various communities, including tribal nations, rural, urban, exurban and people of color.

“Although we did not adopt any party’s proposed redistricting plan in its entirety, some proposed elements are reflected in our congressional plan,” the judges wrote in their order, characterizing their changes as “restrained.” They received input from nine in-person public hearings and one virtual hearing.

“(W)e are not positioned to draw entirely new congressional districts, as the Legislature could choose to do,” the judges wrote. “Rather, we start with the existing districts, changing them as necessary to remedy the constitutional defect by applying politically neutral redistricting principles.”

The 2020 Census results, which had been delayed by the pandemic, did not cause Minnesota to lose any congressional seats, which would have resulted in a dramatic reshuffling of districts. 

Here are some interesting nuggets from the new maps. 

Congress

One of the most closely watched congressional districts was the Second, which is represented by DFL U.S. Rep. Angie Craig. It traded some more rural counties and picked up an exurban county, but it did not greatly benefit Craig, who still faces a similar partisan makeup in her district, Booth said.

Craig is expected to be in one of the closest races in the country, facing off in a rematch against GOP challenger Tyler Kistner. 

“While I am, of course, disappointed that the new boundaries do not include all of the cities and towns that I currently represent in Congress, I look forward to being the voice of several new communities across Minnesota,” Craig said in a statement reaffirming her intention to seek reelection.

Kistner, who lives in Prior Lake, said in a statement that he looked forward to meeting with voters from the newly-included parts of the district, which now includes Le Sueur county. 

In a win for Ojibwe tribes in the state, the Eighth District now groups together Native reservations that had previously been divided between the Seventh and Eighth districts. 

State Senate

Rochester has been home to strong population growth in the past decade, and the new district lines in the region are likely to scramble their Senate delegation. 

Senjem, serving his sixth term, is now in a strong Biden district, while his GOP colleague, Sen. Carla Nelson, is now in a more GOP-leaning district, but she now shares a district with a GOP colleague, Gene Dornink of Hayfield. 

The Senate GOP caucus will have many tough talks, as a number of their members now face the prospect of having to run against their colleagues. In addition to Nelson and Dornink, they include Carrie Ruud of Breezy Point, who is paired with Justin Eichorn of Grand Rapids; and Mary Kiffmeyer of Big Lake, who is paired with Andrew Matthews of Princeton.

“It’s a difficult conversation when members get paired together,” said Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, noting that as a caucus it does not weigh in on who should run or who shouldn’t. “We do not pick winners or losers… That is a decision each member has to make on their own.”

State House

The House maps feature changes that will force many incumbents to run against each other, but it also creates open seats in 10 House districts where no sitting legislator currently resides. 

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, had little reaction to the new maps on Tuesday. “With the maps now released from the judicial panel, we will begin the process of analyzing the information, which will take some time,” Hortman said. 

“It’s the ultimate political chessboard and the pieces got tossed in the air,” said Amy Koch, a GOP political consultant and former Senate majority leader. 

“There’s no way there were this many pairings in 2012,” she said, referring to the last time the court published new maps. By Koch’s count, there are at least 20 pairings in the House.

Some of those House matchups include nine GOP pairings, seven DFL pairings and four DFL-GOP pairings, including DFL Rep. Tina Liebling with GOP Rep. Nels Pierson and DFL Rep. Rick Hansen of South St. Paul with GOP Rep. Keith Franke of St. Paul Park.

Koch said she is taking a longer view than just 2018 and 2020 results as she looks toward November. 

“It’s still a great year for Republicans,” she said, noting that, in 2018 and 2020, the national mood had soured against GOP President Donald Trump. Biden districts, she said, are not a good gauge of how competitive House and Senate seats will be for Republican lawmakers.

*A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the new maps paired up two Republican lawmakers in the same district.

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Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez

Ricardo Lopez was a senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.

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