Thursday, May 05, 2011 By Aaron Brown
I still don't know how much it's worth fretting about the initial redistricting plan put forth by the GOP. The plan is only reality with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's signature. Lacking that. the courts would end up drawing the lines as they did 10 years ago. That said, the Republican plan is worth noting and something close to these lines could potentially be affirmed by the Supreme Court, which is significantly more conservative now than in 2002. So I will focus on what these lines mean for northeastern Minnesota and you can draw larger conclusions from there. The full report is here.
Under the guise of offering Iron Range DFL incumbents a chance to keep their seats, state Republicans have drawn lines that will greatly diminish the influence of the Iron Range in all but one House district and one Senate district.
These are the current seats self-identified by the Iron Range delegation:
Current Representative and District: Tom Rukavina (DFL) - District 5A
This House district is currently enjoys the most "pure" (as Rukavina would say) Iron Range precincts and mining activity. It includes the Quad Cities of Virginia, Mt. Iron, Eveleth and Gilbert, east Range towns like Biwabik, Aurora and Hoyt Lakes and surrounding townships.
In the new GOP-drawn district Rukavina is placed in the new 4B, which includes his home in Pike Township outside his hometown of Virginia, but not Virginia. It does not include Mt. Iron or Eveleth. Smaller east Range towns remain, but in place of the big towns Rukavina's district now includes several eastern Duluth precincts and the "exurban" townships north of Duluth. Duluth city precincts and Range towns have not shared a House district since the first roads were cut. Rukavina is not known for saying warm, fuzzy things about Duluth.
Current Representative and District: David Dill (DFL) 6A
This House district includes the Vermilion Range towns of Ely and Tower, much of northern St. Louis county and the north shore counties of Lake and Cook.
In the new GOP-drawn District 4A Dill keeps Lake and Cook counties, much of northern St. Louis and gains a little jaunt down to Virginia. Dill, a more conservative DFLer, will enjoy a safe seat. However after his eventual retirement this could be a somewhat competitive district that happens to include the strong DFL city of Virginia.
Current Senator and District: Tom Bakk (DFL) -- District 6
This Senate district is half Range, half Duluth. Rep. Mary Murphy's Hermantown and Proctor district is the other half, so Bakk is used to representing both Range and Duluth issues.
The new GOP-drawn District 4 is actually fairly similar for Bakk. He gains Virginia. Safe seat for him.
New District 4: Rukavina, Dill and Bakk favored to win, with new difficulties. District is mostly the same though there are some unnatural breaks for the House districts.
Current Representative and District: Tom Anzelc (DFL) -- District 3A
(Major disclaimer: Tom is a friend and I run his campaigns). Since I moved out to the woods of Itasca County I've learned a lot about this large, unusual district. It includes the western Mesabi Range towns from Bovey to Keewatin, the northern woods townships of Itasca County, and all of Koochiching and Lake of the Woods counties up along the border. DFL index runs in the mid- to high-50s, mostly because of the Range towns and International Falls.
The GOP-drawn district is the same, except in order to make up for the population shortage some northern Beltrami County precincts, including Lower Red Lake, a tiny sliver of Clearwater and a tiny part of St. Louis County (Nett Lake) are drawn in. This makes for a much larger district but one that is more or less the same in terms of competitiveness. It's been gently listing more conservative as Range towns shrink, but this district was remarkably left alone. The new Beltrami and Clearwater precincts offer challenges, but mostly in drive time.
Current Representative and District: Carly Melin (DFL) -- District 5B
Right now this is Hibbing, Chisholm, Range townships, Floodwood and Duluth exurbs. The new GOP-drawn district, now called 3B, is probably the safest, most Iron Range-y of all the proposed House districts. It adds Mt. Iron, Eveleth and other parts of Rukavina's district, shedding the more conservative southern townships near Duluth.
Current Senator and District: David Tomassoni (DFL) -- District 5
Tomassoni currently enjoys the safest Iron Range DFL district. You couldn't draw a more Iron Range focused district than the one he has now. The new GOP-drawn District 3 would be half comprised of this Range district, but he has never represented the western half which includes significant amounts of non-Range territory and borderland.
New District 3: Anzelc, Melin and Tomassoni. Anzelc and Melin would be favored to hold districts similar to their current environs. Tomassoni is also favored but would have to work very hard in new territory.
Current Representative and District: Carolyn McElfatrick (R) -- District 3B
McElfatrick picked off her western Itasca and Aitikin County seat from the DFL in 2010. Anchored by Grand Rapids, the current 3B is the most competitive district in the Range sphere of influence. The new GOP-drawn District 6A would be similarly competitive, though it adds a couple of right-leaning Itasca Co. townships, ceding some of Aitkin Co. and picking up DFL-leaning Coleraine, the western-most Mesabi Range city.
Current Senator and District: Tom Saxhaug (DFL) -- District 3
Saxhaug's current district includes Lake of the Woods, Koochiching, Itasca and Aitkin counties. It's a huge district, DFL-leaning, with Saxhaug outperforming the index mostly on account of weak opponents. His new GOP-drawn District 6 would be dramatically different. He'd lose all of 3A and gain new, much more conservative territory to the south.
New District 6: Very competitive. McElfatrick in a toss-up, Saxhaug potentially in trouble.
- I didn't talk about Duluth (new District 8) or what could happen in the new District 6B. I have to learn some new counties.
- This plan missed some obvious Range-area continuity issues. The Quad Cities, now in one district, are divvied up into three House districts. That's a huge disservice. Similarly, Bovey and Coleraine are split up.
I'm not saying the Republicans necessarily did anything out of line. In this redistricting business it seems you have to choose between drawing lines dedicated to population balance and defending potential legal challenges or "perfect world" districts that might pit three incumbents against each other. Republicans chose the former but would be criticized either way. Is redistricting political? Yes, it is.
Range voters should certainly get involved in this discussion. Review the maps and chime in with the public comments. Our state legislative districts are important. But don't forget the more important fact: You are more important.