Debate on redistricting quickly turns heated

To no one's surprise, Republican-drawn maps drew loud cries of "foul" from Democrats at Tuesday's meeting.

Releasing political plans for Minnesota, the state House sounded the starting gun Tuesday in the partisan blood sport of redistricting.

In general, Republican areas of the state, particularly suburbs and exurbs, grew in the last decade, and Democratic areas shrank. It means that, as lawmakers redraw maps to equalize political districts' populations, Democrats lose strength and Republicans gain. Tuesday night, during the first hearing in which legislators examined the Republican plans, the rancor in this acutely political process was clear.

The committee room was filled with citizens wanting to speak. House Redistricting Committee chair Sarah Anderson sharply interrupted the first speaker when he suggested that the plan was Gerrymandered.

DFL Rep. Melissa Hortman of Brooklyn Park asked her not to argue with speakers. The room burst into applause. "You are out of order," shouted Anderson, R-Plymouth, banging her gavel.

After more than four hours of testimony and debate, the committee approved the draft plan on a 7-5 vote, completely split on partisan lines. Similar fights are being waged across the nation as states redraw political lines based on new Census numbers.

While state lawmakers fought over the shape of their districts on Tuesday, soon they will fight over districts for U.S. House members. Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, said the Senate would release congressional maps this week.

Michel, chair of the Senate redistricting committee, also said the Senate would probably release its legislative redistricting plan this week. He said that plan would look very similar, if not identical, to the plan the House released. The House is expected to release its plans for the new congressional districts before the end of the session.

On Tuesday night, more than two dozen citizens shared their thoughts. So many complained that one said the hearing "appears to be a kvetching session."

According to the maps drawn by House Republicans, more than a dozen Democrats would be matched against their Democratic colleagues, a handful of Democrats would be matched with Republicans and just one Republican would vie against a colleague. An analysis from Common Cause Minnesota said the plan would result in 33 safe GOP seats, 19 safe DFL seats and 15 swing seats in the Senate. The House did not release any information on the political tilt of the districts they drafted.

Democrats' disappointment and the committee's rancor could mean legislative plans will get a quick veto from Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton. "He's looking for bipartisan support," said Katharine Tinucci, the governor's spokeswoman. So far, none of the plans or principles has bipartisan backing.

Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, stopped his careful examination of the Iron Range maps Republicans had drawn, replete with multicolored highlighting of changes, to say: "It's a joke."

Like others, including citizens who spoke to the committee, he complained that his new district and those surrounding them split areas that belong together.

Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, was no more pleased with her drafted district, which has her competing for a seat against fellow DFL Rep. John Lesch. She said she wouldn't decide whether she would run for re-election until the final maps are drawn. And that, said legislative veteran, probably won't happen until lawmakers and the governor fail to agree on a plan and the courts take over next year.

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Capitol Bureau.

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