Let the line-redrawing dance begin

New census numbers will be used to redraw political boundaries to equalize districts with population shifts. The battle usually winds up being settled in the courts.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum has the state's smallest district and Republican U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann has the state's biggest, according to Census Bureau numbers released Wednesday, reflecting political shifts and setting off a massive reshuffling of power in Minnesota.

The census numbers' release begins the grinding process of redrawing all political boundaries in the state to make sure districts house equal numbers of people.

"It's like Christmas morning except it's in the afternoon and it's in March," Michael Brodkorb, the Republican Party's redistricting lead and a Minnesota Senate staffer, said of the census data's arrival.

The decennial redistricting is blood sport for partisans looking to draw lines to benefit their parties. The final lines will be used for congressional and legislative races until 2022.

The release of the numbers is the starting gun in the fight over district reshaping. Among the key implications embedded in them:

• Outstate population decline and enormous exurban growth could benefit Republicans, who tend to dominate the outer-ring suburbs. It also could mean Republican lawmakers will lose some key parts of their districts.

• Although Minnesota will retain all eight congressional seats, the center of those seats will have to change to cope with growth and decline.

• Bachmann's district, which curves north from the Twin Cities eastern suburbs and on to St. Cloud, will have to lose nearly 100,000 people to equal other districts. Republican U.S. Rep. John Kline's south suburban district, which stretches to Zumbrota, will have to lose nearly 70,000 people.

• While Minneapolis and St. Paul's population showed only small losses in the last decade, its two most urban congressional districts have too few people given the growth elsewhere. The districts, represented by McCollum, of St. Paul, and Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison, of Minneapolis, need nearly 50,000 more people to be the right size.

• U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack, a Republican who wrested his northern Minnesota seat from Democratic hands last year, could see less change in his district than many had predicted.

• The slower growth in Democratic areas compared to Republicans areas is clear in the mismatched size of legislative districts, too. Republicans represent the three most populous districts in the House and Senate. But for one Senate district now represented by Republican Sen. Julie Rosen of Fairmont, Democrats represent the three smallest districts in the House and Senate.

Democrats got some good news. Since Cravaack's district needs so little tinkering, "it makes it difficult to imagine" how the maps could be redrawn to give him many more Republican voters, said DFL Party chair Ken Martin. Although Cravaack won in 2010, the area he represents is home to people who tend to vote for DFLers in other races.

House and Senate lawmakers will next draw new political lines to equalize population in all the political districts. While Republican legislators say fairness is their watch word, their plan may not pass muster with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, who must sign off on it. If they cannot reach a resolution, the courts will redraw the maps. Courts have done so in each of the last three decades.

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • 651-292-0164

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