Minnesota's new political map tests friendships, careers

  • Article by: RACHEL E. STASSEN-BERGER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 28, 2012 - 5:56 AM

A redrawn political map by a judicial panel shifts power among legislators, breaking alliances, raising tensions.


DFL Senator John Marty on the Senate floor Monday, February 27, 2012. Marty was pitted against longtime ally and buddy DFL Senator Mary Jo McGuire from redistricting.

DFL Sen. Mary Jo Mc-Guire had one hope as she waited for word on what her legislative district would look like on the state's new political map: "Just please let it be my own."

That was not to be. Instead, McGuire learned that her Falcon Heights home would be in the same east metro district as longtime Sen. John Marty, a Democrat from neighboring Roseville. "I want to run. She'd like to run. We both care about each other. We are both friends," Marty said. After several meetings, by Monday the two political allies reached their unpleasant solution. They will face off.

Across the Capitol, similar struggles are playing out. The tension is palpable, because far from just new squiggles on a map, redistricting is a once-a-decade tale of shifting political power, friendships challenged, alliances broken, careers upended and new ambitions born.

"You've got to talk to your friends. You've got to talk to your political supporters and then maybe you've got to talk to a Realtor," said Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina. He predicted an "Oklahoma land rush" of legislators hopping from one district to another.

The map released by a judicial panel last week also held a nasty surprise for first-term Sen. Al DeKruif. The Madison Lake Republican finds himself in a district that includes his home -- and 96 percent of a district that Fairmont Republican Sen. Julie Rosen has represented for a decade. Only two of the townships he represented are in the new district that pits him against a Senate powerhouse.

DeKruif said he has talked to Rosen. "She feels that this is her district ... and I understand that," he said. Taking the weekend to mull his prospects, DeKruif has concluded he will not wage a fight against Rosen and is thinking of moving to a nearby Senate district that lacks an incumbent.

Redistricting can also cut short relationships legislators have cultivated for years with the voters they represent.

Rep. Alice Hausman counts herself one of the lucky ones. She has her district to herself, but areas she represented for years were carved up and redistributed -- the result of population changes. "These are really our families, our communities," said Hausman, a St. Paul DFLer in her 12th term. "Virtually all of my (old) district is gone. ... I felt a little like I was in mourning."

Redistricting rebalances political representation among areas where population has grown or shrunk. Mapmakers are supposed to take into account geography and "communities of interest," but sometimes the resulting lines defy both.

Southwestern Minnesota's Watonwan County was split four different ways under four redistricting proposals. In the final plan, the tiny county of 11,000 residents lies in two districts.

"It's been sliced and diced, time after time," said Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Nelson Township. Torkelson has come up against odd political lines before. Under the old map, his house was in one district, but his mailbox -- down the gravel road from his homestead -- was in another.

Michel, whose district came through mostly intact, will be drawn into a different kind of problem. A boundary line in Edina cuts through two adjacent buildings on France Avenue that are part of the same condominium complex. Edina City Clerk Deb Mangen is asking Michel, who chairs the redistricting subcommittee, to help work things out.

Dean's dilemma

Perhaps no result was more stunning to legislators than the news that House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, had been thrown into the same district as fellow Republican Rep. Carol McFarlane of White Bear Lake. A key decisionmaker in the House and a rising star in the GOP, Dean could see his political career cut short.

McFarlane wasted little time in letting it be known that she intends to defend her district, which includes about 80 percent of the area she has represented for six years. "I grew up in that district, I raised my family there, my grandchildren are in that area," McFarlane said. "It's my history and I want to stay." She had one conversation with Dean last week and he "asked for some time." McFarlane said she never heard back from him.

On Monday, Dean said that "I understand that Representative McFarlane has decided to challenge me and I will be making an announcement very soon."

He walked away from reporters inquiring further, saying, "I think probably I've communicated what I am going to communicate. So, that's it."

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • Twitter: @rachelsb

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