Redistricting puts House Majority Leader in tough spot

Matt Dean
Minnesota House Republican Majority Leader Matt Dean.
Courtesy of Matt Dean

Many state lawmakers will spend the next few weeks learning their new political boundaries and meeting new voters.

The once-a-decade redistricting process pairs 48 incumbents. And one of them who is paired in the same district with a member of the same party happens to be the second-most powerful person in the Minnesota House, and he has yet to say what he will do.

House Republican Majority Leader Matt Dean is responsible for ensuring that Republicans vote for key pieces of legislation. He also helps set the House agenda and controls the Republican debate on the floor. One thing Dean does not control is how the boundaries of his district would be drawn, after the courts took over the process.

A five-judge panel announced the new political boundaries for Congress and the Minnesota Legislature late last month. The court's decision left many lawmakers trying to decide whether to retire, move, or run against another incumbent.

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The new boundaries split Dean's current legislative district into four different seats. It also paired the Dellwood native with Rep. Carol McFarlane, R-White Bear Lake. While McFarlane announced that she will run for re-election, Dean is taking a more cautious approach, opting not to announce his intention.

"I'll be making an announcement on that very shortly," Dean said.

Dean said he has been focusing on recruiting candidates and ensuring that other paired incumbents resolve their differences than on his own campaign plans. But he rules out several options. Dean said he is not moving into another district and will not challenge Democratic Congresswoman Betty McCollum. Instead, he said the new district is the only office he is considering.

"I'm not worried about being first or trying to make a lot of delegate calls immediately," Dean said. "That's not playing into my timing. What is playing into my timing is what is going on in the rest of the caucus."

But the new map puts him in a tough spot. If Dean runs, he'll be forced to challenge a Republican incumbent — a lawmaker he helped re-elect in past years.

Dean must also take care not to be critical of McFarlane, because some of the delegates he will be courting have known McFarlane for years.

McFarlane has represented the area as a state lawmaker since 2006 and sat on the White Bear Lake School Board for six years. She said she will run for the seat regardless of what Dean does.

"In my heart this is what I knew what I needed to do. My family is behind me and my constituents," McFarlane said. "I needed to do something."

McFarlane's new district includes most of the area she currently represents. She said that she will emphasize her community involvement in the district. McFarlane said she is telling Republican delegates that they should not focus on who holds the higher position in the House but rather on who is a better fit for the district.

"It has nothing to do with Matt and I. It has to do with my community and the public service that I've been doing for over 30 years. This is just a continuation," McFarlane said. "It was nothing about personalities."

The additions to the district, including Hugo and North Oaks, are much more conservative, and McFarlane stresses that she is willing to work with members of both political parties. The endorsing convention for the seat will be on March 31.