The legislative session that begins Tuesday can run until May 18, but this year there will be an extra reason for legislators to want to hustle home: They need to figure out where home is.
The every-10-years redrawing of legislative and congressional districts is to be announced by a court panel by Feb. 21. The potential "pairing" of incumbents, the absorption of cities and towns into new districts, and boundaries that pay no heed to an incumbent's home address -- all this creates an urge among affected legislators to introduce themselves around the new territory.
"Once the lines come out, legislative members want to see what their new districts look like," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook. "... They're going to be representing a lot of new ground, a lot of new constituents.''
House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, agreed. "There are going to be a lot of people who are going to be out looking at their new districts," he said. "They want to kick the tires.''
Whether that means this year's session will end before its constitutional deadline in May is uncertain. But the redistricting decision always hits the Capitol with the impact of a meteor.
The background: State and federal legislators -- and city and county officials -- must represent roughly the same number of constituents. Constituents constantly move, and districts become numerically unequal. After the census, states must redraw their districts to equalize the numbers.
Redistricting is messy and political, and in Minnesota the job generally falls to nonpartisan judges. This year, control of both houses of the Legislature and the future of changing congressional districts will be greatly affected by the judges' decision. And so will a lot of personal futures.
"It causes people to want to, very quickly, get back into their districts, these new districts, establish relationships and get on with the campaigns,'' said Roger Moe, whose 22-year tenure as Senate majority leader spanned three redistricting cycles. "Also, if two people of the same party are paired up, it causes internal dynamics as well.''
In 2002, then-Rep. Mary Jo McGuire retired rather than face a friend, Rep. Mindy Greiling, when new lines put both DFLers in the same district. (McGuire is back, now in the Senate, and this will be Greiling's last year.)
Also in 2002, new maps put the homes of Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Kennedy and Democratic U.S. Rep. Bill Luther in the same district. After a series of moves, Kennedy went back to Congress (representing the new Sixth District) and Luther went home (losing to Republican John Kline in the new Second.)
So the maps and statistical summaries that come out in a month, as eye-glazing as they are, could help determine which party holds the edge in the decade to come.