District lines unclear, candidates run for Legislature anyway

a person votes in a voting booth
A resident votes in local elections at the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center in Minneapolis on Nov. 2.
Tim Evans | MPR News file

The 2021 municipal elections are over, and already some candidates are announcing they're running in 2022. There's a complication though — because of the once-every-10-year process of redistricting, many of those candidates don't know yet exactly what area they will represent if they win. 

And some may not even live in the district they hope to represent. 

Matt Norri of Virginia, Minn., recently announced that he’s running as a Republican candidate for what is now House District 6B, saying he wants to help protect mining and forestry in northern Minnesota.

Man in sweater in front of bridge
Matt Norri of Virginia, Minn., recently announced that he’s running as a Republican candidate for what is now House District 6B. Redistricting could change the district boundaries.
Courtesy of Matt Norri

But the district Norri wants to represent, which is currently held by Rep. Dave Lislegard, DFL-Aurora, could look a lot different when new maps are finalized early next year to account for population changes. Still, Norri said he’ll be a candidate no matter what happens.

“However it works out, I’m just really comfortable with the whole area, and I feel like we’re on the same page up here,” Norri said.

Justin Stofferahn of White Bear Township is a newly announced DFL candidate in what is now House District 38B. That’s the seat incumbent DFL Rep. Ami Wazlawik is leaving when her term ends next year. Stofferahn was an unsuccessful candidate last year in the larger Senate district. He acknowledged the uncertainty of getting in now but said it’s important to get his campaign going.

“This area is going to be contested heavily in a general election,” Stofferahn said. “So, we want to make sure we have time to start putting together the kind of campaign that it’s going to take to win.” 

Man in front of bus speaks into microphone
Justin Stofferahn of White Bear Township is a newly announced DFL candidate in what is now House District 38B.
Courtesy of Justin Stofferahn

The same uncertainty applies to incumbents who want to run for reelection. All 201 legislative seats will be on the ballot, 134 in the House and 67 in the Senate. They could all have new boundaries. And the law says Minnesota legislators have to live in the districts they represent.

Rep. Dan Wolgamott, DFL- St. Cloud, who is heading up the candidate recruitment efforts for House Democrats this cycle, said he knows some candidates are waiting to see the new maps before announcing their plans, but others are ready now. His advice?

"If you know you want to run, go ahead and run,” Wolgamott said. “Go ahead and start raising funds, start knocking on doors, start doing community town halls and connecting with people."

Wolgamott is not waiting. He plans to announce his own campaign plans in a couple of weeks. 

"I can't control the lines, but I can control how hard I'm working to throw down for St. Cloud at the Capitol," Wolgamott said.

The Legislature has until mid-February to approve new maps or a court-appointed panel of judges will do the job. And after that a lot of candidates will be checking to make sure they live where they think they do. 

A decade ago, redistricting placed Republican Rep. Paul Torkelson in the same southern Minnesota House District as fellow Republican incumbent Tony Cornish. Both lawmakers wanted to run again. Torkelson ended up moving from Watonwan County to neighboring Brown County and into a House district with an open seat.

torkelson and baker
Rep. Paul Torkeson (left) and Rep. Dave Baker talked in 2018 outside the Minnesota House chamber about their bill to reimburse deputy registrars for MNLARS woes.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News 2018

“I was paired with Rep. Cornish in the district that my farm is in,” Torkelson said. “But the district that I represented, most of it, sat there without an incumbent. So, politically it was easy. Personally, it was a little more challenging.”

Torkelson, who is serving his seventh term, is the Republican lead on the House redistricting committee. He doesn’t have a problem with candidates announcing before the maps are complete.

“If you’re interested in elected office, then sometimes it’s good to get an early start and just assume you’re going to find a ring for your hat to land in,” Torkelson said.

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