Redistricting pits party mates -- and genders

  • Article by: LORI STURDEVANT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 27, 2012 - 8:10 PM
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Among the five emotion-laden intraparty legislative contests spawned by redistricting this spring, the headliner will be Saturday.

That will be in Republican District 38B, where powerful four-term House Majority Leader Matt Dean of Dellwood squares off against three-term Rep. Carol McFarlane, a former member of the White Bear Lake school board.

Two more pairings of note on Saturday involve state senators. In DFL District 66, it's former gubernatorial candidate Sen. John Marty of Roseville, now in his eighth term, vs. Senate newbie Mary Jo McGuire of Falcon Heights, who finally returned to the Legislature in 2011 after her seven-term career in the House was disrupted by redistricting 10 years ago.

And in Republican District 31 on the north-metro fringe, three-term Sen. Michael Jungbauer of East Bethel is pitted against first-term Sen. Michelle Benson of Ham Lake.

For a preview of these affairs, er, contests (gotta watch my legislative metaphors this year), I looked in on last Saturday's DFL convention at Washburn High School in south Minneapolis.

No, I wasn't lost -- not more than usual, anyway. I know that the political predilection of the deeply DFL by-the-lakes neighborhoods of Minneapolis differs markedly from the paler blue Roseville area and the distinctly Republican-red St. Croix valley and northern exurbs.

But there's one obvious parallel between the three endorsement battles on tap Saturday and the one that District 61A DFLers decided for five-term Rep. Frank Hornstein over first-term Rep. Marion Greene. In that race, as in the ones on tap this Saturday, a veteran male legislator was paired by the luck of judicial mapmakers' draw with a less-tenured, less-known female.

Greene conceded shortly before the third ballot's results were to be revealed. She didn't go without a fight -- one in which she openly played the gender card.

"There is a war on women in this country, and the best way to win a war on women is to elect women!" she said in a rousing but unfruitful speech after the second ballot. "Leadership isn't about seniority. Leadership is about the future."

But at the Legislature, leadership is indeed about seniority. That mattered to the numerous city and county elected officials who were on hand wearing Hornstein's campaign T-shirts and stickers -- including prominent women.

"Minneapolis has lost so much seniority lately," noted Hennepin County commissioner Gail Dorfman. She ticked off recent and pending legislative retirements from the city's delegation -- Linda Berglin, Larry Pogemiller, Linda Higgins, Margaret Anderson Kelliher.

"We can't afford to lose more influence."

Hornstein is the ranking DFLer on the House Transportation Policy and Finance Committee. If his party returns to the majority, he'll hold the gavel on a committee that will decide the fate of transit investments the city considers crucial.

Geographically, the new District 61A is more Greene's than Hornstein's. In White Bear Lake next Saturday, the new District 38B is more McFarlane's than Dean's.

But geography didn't count as much as relationships last Saturday. Hornstein is an exceedingly likable fellow, and his longer and deeper connections to party insiders sealed Greene's fate. His longer record as a passionate, Paul Wellstone-style champion of social justice served him well, too. Both of Minnesota's big party bases love a candidate who can deliver rhetorical red meat.

That brings down the curtain on Greene's short legislative career, at least for now. She took the pledge that party activists exact from candidates; she will not contend for her seat in the Aug. 14 primary.

All of this week's contenders have taken the same vow to "abide."

It's a vow that had one DFL sage shaking his head last Saturday. Former U.S. Rep. Martin Olav Sabo is a loyal party man. But he thinks it antidemocratic for candidates to be chosen by "fewer people than live in my condo building." He voted "no endorsement" on Saturday.

"There are two good candidates here. Why not let the people decide? It would be a race that would get people involved, and encourage much greater participation. It would be good for the party. Why not go to a primary?"

Some of Greene's supporters left the Washburn High auditorium asking the same question.

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Lori Sturdevant is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist. Follow her blog, Minnesota Matters.

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