Fresh evidence that Minnesota politics is slipping down a rabbit hole into hyperpartisanship came last week in hearings on bills that would set rules for redistricting — in 2021.

Last I checked, this year is 2017.

Redistricting — the postcensus redrawing of congressional and legislative district boundaries and its attendant opportunity to gain partisan or regional advantage — is akin to a blood sport for political insiders. It's odd but not surprising that it would already be on the minds of legislators and their retinues. Officials at the highest national levels of both parties are reportedly hard at work on schemes to "win" the next redistricting round.

But it is surprising — and legally far-fetched — that their fixation has morphed into Republican-sponsored bills that attempt to tell the 2021 Legislature what to do. And it's odd — or it would have been, in a more genial civic time — for such bills to draw several dozen animated citizens to two committee hearings last week. Most of those who approached the microphones said they had come to oppose what they deem a menace to democracy.

The menace? That's another oddity. The provision that drew their displeasure would specify that "legislative and congressional districts must be drawn by the Legislature, consistent with the requirements of the Minnesota Constitution, article IV, section 3."

In other words: Do what the Constitution says.

To appreciate why that directive sets some folks on edge, a quick dive into Minnesota redistricting history is in order.

The Constitution indeed gives the Legislature and the governor the power to draw district lines. It's a power they did not exercise in the modern era until the federal courts forced their hands, first in 1959, then in 1966. Since then, this state's penchant to elect governors and legislative majorities of mixed partisan persuasions made agreement on new maps impossible in 1971, 1981, 2001 and 2011. In each case, either federal or state courts took over and completed the job. (In 1991, the same would have happened, had GOP Gov. Arne Carlson not botched his veto of the DFL-controlled Legislature's bill. A lawsuit ensued that resulted in affirmation of the Legislature's maps with a few technical corrections.)

The result, I'll claim, has been a plus for Minnesota democracy. Plenty of competitive districts have been created. Gerrymandering for partisan advantage hasn't happened. A larger share of candidates than in many other states feel compelled to appeal to more than their own partisan base to win election.

Yes, this state has endured its share of gridlock amid so much competition. But it has also avoided lurches to the policy extremes seen in Wisconsin and, this year, Iowa. Neither party's devotees have been marginalized to the point of alienation. That's no small achievement.

"Let the Legislature do it" in 2021, as the bills sponsored by GOP Rep. Sarah Anderson and Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer specify, would be consistent with the Constitution but not with past practice. "Let the courts do it" would better match the Minnesota pattern.

"Let a bipartisan commission do it" is the alternative recommended in 2008 by a panel of elder statesmen that included Republican Carlson and former Democratic Vice President Walter Mondale. It would assign the mapmaking to a panel of five retired judges, who would send their handiwork to the Legislature for up-or-down action. Around the country, 13 states assign redistricting to a bipartisan commission; 10 others use a commission as either an adviser or a backup to their legislatures.

Something along those lines was favored by representatives of Common Cause, Minnesotans for Clean Elections, the League of Women Voters and the just-plain citizens who showed up in legislative hearing rooms last week. They don't think they'd like the maps that might be drawn if Minnesota voters uncharacteristically put all of state government in one party's control in 2021. They worry that if these bills become law, the commission alternative won't get fair consideration in 2021.

Which, it would seem, is their objective.

Republicans in Minnesota don't have their hands on all the levers of state government, as they do in 25 other states. But they like to think they're one gubernatorial election away from that feat — something their party has not achieved in nearly half a century. That possibility has them daydreaming about drawing maps that would put their party in the driver's seat for a decade, and concocting bills intended to help those dreams come true.

It says much about the heightened partisan tensions in today's body politic that their very early bills are meeting with outspoken resistance from Minnesotans who consider the GOP's redistricting dream a nightmare for democracy.

Lori Sturdevant is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist. She is at