Not Eudora  By Harry Welty
Published June 7, 2002

St. Louis County Election Avoidance Plan 

My favorite County Board member, Joanne Fay, is suing the St. Louis County Board. Go Joanne!

Nobody pays much attention to the County Board . Its plethora of social welfare agencies seem irrelevant to well-to-do voters and its vast size (It’s bigger than Rhode Island , Delaware or Connecticut ) means that all sorts of interest groups can lobby it without much public scrutiny. Its most vigilant and vocal critics are the almost anonymous representatives of the county’s seventy miniscule township boards. This is really too bad because the County is a political behemoth that spends half again as much money as the City of Duluth and the Duluth Schools combined.

So. Just what has the County Board done to bring about this suit? It has drawn up new political boundaries that keep as much power as possible in the hands of northern county commissioners while protecting their Duluth area ally Peg Sweeney. By Joanne Fay’s calculations the Board’s new boundaries fail to meet the standards for redistricting adopted by the Supreme Court in 1954 – “one man one vote.” Before that decision rural legislators had a stranglehold on most state legislatures because their thinly populated rural counties had more representatives than teeming big city districts. This seems to be the goal of the St. Louis County Board.

Redistricting is a big deal. Next year at least one fourth of Minnesota ’s legislators will be brand new; probably more unless every incumbent wins reelection, which would be difficult since many incumbents have to run against each other.

The 2002 Court drawn plan for redistricting kept legislative districts remarkably close in population. Out of 134 House districts the biggest difference in population between the most populous district, with 36,998 residents, and the smallest, at 36,424, is less than one percent! New demographic map making software makes drawing these districts as easy as pie. In stark contrast the proposed St. Louis County Board districts range from 26,227 to 31,433 residents. Although these two districts only vary from an average size by ten percent, the former is almost 20 percent smaller than the latter. The former is Commissioner Forsman’s thinly populated northern district. The later is the growing suburban area represented by Peg Sweeney. Her constituents will have 20 percent less voting power on the Board than Mike Forsman’s constituents if the Board plan is adopted.

It took some doing to come up with this contested redistricting proposal. Eleven plans were drawn up and presented to the County Board . The proposal adopted by the Board, and challenged by Commissioner Fay, was the only plan that both the County Auditor and the County Attorney rejected. It was also the only one that spared Peg Sweeney from having to run for reelection. Although it may technically comply with the ten percent deviation rule it ignores the fact that the US Census mistakenly took 600 of Peg’s constituents and gave them to Duluth . Even without these residents (Hermantown federal prisoners) tipping the scales for Sweeney, her district is only 24 residents shy of a new election.

By contrast the Duluth School District ’s redistricting was quite civilized. Our Duluth school administrators drew up new districts that only varied by 2 percent in population. My Second District seat is the smallest with 23,078 residents compared to 23,817 residents in the larger First District. No school board member will have to run for reelection because of a shift of population.

Poor Dennis Fink of Duluth . His district’s population has changed enough to warrant a new election. None of the northern Commissioners are sorry to see him scramble as long as they can keep Peg Sweeney in her burgeoning district. If they can keep their small districts and keep the Duluth commissioners off balance they will continue to control the County Board with its vast responsibilities.

To accomplish this, the Commissioners had to help their newest member, Paul Plesha, by removing Colvin Township from his already small district. Paul’s toughest challenger was the Chairman of the Colvin Town Board and Paul didn’t want to run against him again. But subtracting Colvin from Paul’s district required an addition and Biwabik was removed from Mike Forsman’s District. This of course made Mike Forsman’s vast 4th District the smallest of the lot, despite the addition of half a dozen lightly populated townships.

Joanne has filed a writ of mandamus to prevent the county redistricting plan from going into effect. In fact, she’s asking the court to draw up a new plan because the County Board has made such a hash of things. Wish her luck.

Joanne hired an attorney before thinking about how to pay the legal expenses. She just figured she’d shoulder them herself. Forget that! I’m sending her a check to cover some of the costs and if you’d like to help make a check out to Joanne Fay and write “redistricting legal fees” in the memo. Mail it: C/O Harry Welty, PO Box 3613 , Duluth , MN 55803

Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at: www.snowbizz.com  

Fay Vindicated The Court orders new elections and a plan is devised thus vindicating Joanne's pursuit of an honest election and fair reapportionment - from the News Tribune 8-1-2002