Minnesota lawmakers now have the data they need to begin redrawing the state's political map to ensure all districts are equally represented.
New census numbers show that the boundaries of all eight congressional districts must expand or contract to reflect recent population shifts. Big changes are also in store for some of the state's 201 legislative districts, where populations changed dramatically over the past 10 years.
At just under 60,000 residents, House District 35A in Scott County currently tops the list for population. The suburban Twin Cities district, which includes Prior Lake and Shakopee, grew by 51 percent since the 2000. That's more than 20,000 people. State Rep. Mike Beard, R-Shakopee, laughed when he learned about the official census data.
"It's no wonder I'm tired down here," Beard said. "Some would think it's chairing a couple of committees, but maybe it's all those people that I have I have to be accountable for. So, I'm not surprised to hear that, that we've grown that much. Shakopee and Prior Lake are just fast growing towns, and what can I say?"
If Beard decides to run for re-election next year he'll cover a lot less geography on the campaign trail.
But State Rep. Andrew Falk, DFL- Murdock, might need a new car. House District 20A, which already covers four and a half counties along the western Minnesota border, lost 19 percent of its population, nearly 7,400 residents. Falk said the district might need to add another county.
"More school districts to be responsive to, more county boards, more small cities, and so it just increases the work load," Falk said. "But as always, people deserve [a] representative. So, that's one of the things you have to do when you come form a rural part of the state."
The once-a-decade redistricting will start with new boundaries for the eight congressional districts. The target population for each is about 663,000. That means the 6th District, which currently stretches from St. Cloud to Woodbury, will need to shrink by about 96,000 people. The 2nd District will need to lose about 70,000 residents to other districts. The rest have to add people.
State Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, chairman of the Senate redistricting subcommittee, said he's ready move ahead with an open and transparent process.
"You know, the only way we're going to pass a redistricting plan this year, given the deck of cards that we have, is a plan that has bipartisan support on the floor of the Senate," Michel said. "We'll work closely with the House, and we've already started to reach out the governor. So, here we go."
One partisan fight might come if Republicans try to combine Minneapolis and St. Paul into a single congressional district. But Michel's redistricting counterpart in the House, state Rep. Sara Anderson, R-Plymouth, said there is currently no such plan.
"Right now we're just gathering the information. We're getting information from the citizens," Anderson said. "I couldn't tell you what the plan is going to be overall, because we still need to get that input and feedback from folks, and then we'll move from there based on the population and demographic shifts within the state."
Minnesota lawmakers haven't had the final word on redistricting in a long time. The courts had to step in to resolve new boundaries in 1980, 1990 and 2000. Still, Anderson and Michel both said they were optimistic about reaching a bipartisan plan in the next two months.
House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said he's optimistic too.
"I'm always hopeful that we can get our work done here at the Legislature, and it depends on how much the majority party wants to engage with us," Thissen said. "We're open and ready to do it."
Some DFL legislators support a different approach to redistricting that would rely on a panel of retired judges to draw the initial map. Republican leaders have rejected the concept, but Mike Dean, executive director of Common Cause Minnesota, is urging Gov. Mark Dayton to create such an independent panel by executive order.
"It gets around this problem of the inherent conflict of interest that exists when legislators draw the lines," Dean said. "So, we think that independent groups can do a much more objective job in developing the lines and would be ideal process."
New district boundaries must be in place by early next year, well ahead of the 2012 primary election.