Posted on Thu, Feb. 07, 2002 story:PUB_DESC
Our View
Reject redistricting plan that separates north, south

Residents of the Iron Range, Duluth and surrounding townships gave passionate testimony at a hearing of the Minnesota Supreme Court's special redistricting panel in Duluth on Tuesday. They know how much is at stake for Northeastern Minnesota in how congressional and legislative districts get redrawn after the 2000 census.

The chief issue in redrawing Minnesota's eight congressional districts is whether we need to do "radical surgery'' to reflect the shift of population to Twin Cities suburbs, as House Republicans suggest, or make relatively minor changes to traditional boundaries, as the Governor's Citizen Advisory Commission and Senate DFLers recommend.

The traditional "four corners in and metro areas out'' concept has served Minnesota well for more than 100 years. As the Governor's Citizen Advisory Commission and DFL plans show, that concept is still workable -- and reflects 21st century needs to build coalitions among core city, suburban and rural constituencies.

The court should work within that traditional concept, updating it to reflect population changes.

The "radical surgery'' option preferred by House Republicans creates self-contained suburban districts that essentially abandon their central cities (and the rural areas of the state) politically and economically. We don't want to entrench fragmentation and interjurisdictional competition. Rather, our districts should reflect a shared sense of community and common destiny.

The Republican plan creates homogeneous congressional districts -- one core city (Minneapolis-St. Paul), six suburban, one northern. The Governor's Citizen Advisory Commission and DFL plans better reflect the diversity of the state.

It's important that Twin Cities suburban residents have some understanding of unique northwestern and Northeastern Minnesota economic interests -- and vice versa. In the northeast, we have shipping, timber, mining, environmental issues relating to the Great Lakes ecosystem and forest ecology. Residents in the northwest face agriculture and flood plain issues.

Isolate the entire northern part of the state in one district, and the state loses the benefit of having several members of Congress working on these issues.

The Republican plan literally creates districts that are worlds apart.

Northern Minnesota would suffer the most. Representatives and candidates for political office in the proposed northern district would have to travel from Grand Marais near the Canadian border in the east to Moorhead near the South Dakota border in the west -- an eight-hour, 50-minute trip of 400 miles on two-lane roads -- to meet with constituents. At present, the greatest distance in the 8th Congressional District is from International Falls on the Canadian border to Anoka in the Twin Cities suburbs, a 290-mile trip that takes 4 hours. That's already difficult enough.

As St. Louis County Commissioner Joanne Fay told the judges, make it possible for representatives and candidates to get from point A to point B. Others reiterated the point: The natural flow of people and things in northern Minnesota is north-south, not east-west.

The court will order new district lines on March 19 -- unless the unlikely happens and legislators and Gov. Jesse Ventura agree on a plan. Reject the House Republican congressional redistricting plan and work with the Governor's Citizen Advisory Commission and Senate DFL plans.