Census data forces Minnesota lawmakers to grapple with remap

By STEVE KARNOWSKI Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — New census data has given legislators tasked with redrawing Minnesota’s political map a lot to think about, and they only have a few months to agree or to punt the high-stakes job to the courts.

So lawmakers and political operatives from both parties have been studying the granular data ever since the U.S. Census Bureau released it Thursday. The numbers provide the first detailed look from the 2020 headcount at population and demographic shifts. They show how Minnesota’s population has shifted toward the Minneapolis-St. Paul area from rural counties, and that while the state remains overwhelmingly white, it’s more diverse than it used to be.

By law, Minnesota’s political maps must be redrawn by Feb. 15 so candidates can file for the 2022 elections. The changes are bound to impact control of the divided Legislature and the makeup of the state’s congressional delegation. Given that Democrats narrowly control the House and the Senate Republican majority is even slimmer, both parties have a lot on the line. Even though history strongly suggests they’ll fail to agree, they’re at least going through the motions of trying.

“My hope is to see a way we can come together and send a message to the state that bipartisanship isn’t dead,” said Sen. Jason Isaacson, the lead Democrat on the Senate Redistricting Committee.

The Republican chair of that panel, Sen. Mark Johnson, of East Grand Forks, was not available for an interview Friday, a Senate GOP spokeswoman said. Johnson’s committee held a listening session Monday in Bemidji, while the House panel next Wednesday will kick off a series of nine hearings.

State Demographer Susan Brower said the new numbers show that 78% of Minnesota’s growth came in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, including the urban core and some suburbs, but there were also pockets of growth elsewhere, such as Olmsted and Stearns counties, which include Rochester and St. Cloud.

Racial equity is already shaping up as an important consideration in the state where George Floyd’s death sparked a nationwide reckoning on race. Hamline University political scientist David Schultz said mere incremental changes to legislative district boundaries, which has been the traditional practice, won’t be enough. Common Cause and other racial justice groups filed a preemptive lawsuit last month that makes similar arguments.

“You can’t just say, ‘I’m going to draw the districts in the cities or the inner-ring suburbs the way they’ve been done,’ Schultz said. “They’re going to have to be more conscious of how they impact communities of color and communities of interest, especially in the wake of George Floyd.”

The legislative map, with 67 Senate and 134 House districts, will be tough, given that it probably will require shifting seats away from rural Minnesota. Schultz estimated the change could result in a net gain of three or four House districts and two Senate districts where Democrats should have the advantage. Republicans are unlikely to roll over and accept that, he said, so he’s confident that redistricting will end up in the courts, which have already appointed a five-judge panel for the job.

Schultz said the demographic shift creates an opportunity for remedying Minnesota’s deep racial disparities. He said it probably won’t be possible to address all of them without first tackling the disparities in turnout, which drive disparities in election outcomes.

While Minneapolis is still majority white, it’s less so than in 2010. So the professor said there should be “enormous pressure” to redraw the legislative maps to reflect the growth in the African American population in north Minneapolis and the Somali American population near the University of Minnesota to create more opportunities for electing Black lawmakers. He also noted that the new data shows that minorities are now the majority in St. Paul.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, of Brooklyn Park, said racial equity will be a priority for Democrats in the process.

“After the racial reckoning that we’ve had since the murder of George Floyd, I think that is still the top of mind for people, that we have a country that lives up to its ideals for everyone.” Hortman said

The congressional map may be easier to redraw, given that there are only eight districts. But there will have to be some significant changes, even assuming an incremental approach.

The new data shows that the 7th District in northwestern Minnesota is nearly 40,000 people short of its ideal size, while the 8th in the northeast is over 37,000 under. Those are already the state’s two biggest districts by area, and they’ll have to get even bigger.

But the west suburban 3rd District is almost 25,000 over. The 5th, which includes Minneapolis, is almost 23,000 over. And the north and west suburban 6th, which extends to St. Cloud, is almost 21,000 over. They’ll need to become more compact.