Minnesota House DFLers unveiled a new congressional map Tuesday that would shift district boundaries for the party's most vulnerable incumbent, as Democrats try to maintain control of Congress in the 2022 midterm elections.
The proposal accounting for population shifts in the past decade already faces stiff resistance from the GOP in a fight likely to end up in court, with the Republican-controlled Senate expected to offer its own plan. But it is the first look at proposed congressional district changes after months of public input in front of a House redistricting committee that presented the maps Tuesday.
"I believe that what I will release today is the 'people's map,' as it reflects as much of the testimony received whenever possible," said the committee's chair, Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown.
The plan would push Democratic Rep. Angie Craig's Second Congressional District, which currently runs from the southern Twin Cities suburbs to Wabasha County, farther into Washington County. At the same time, the southern parts of her district, including Goodhue and Wabasha counties, would move into Minnesota's GOP-held First Congressional District.
"They went to great contortions to protect Angie Craig and Dean Phillips," said Gregg Peppin, a Republican strategist in Minnesota, adding that the proposal "radically redrew the second and the fourth to help Angie Craig."
Craig, in her second term, is expected to face a tough re-election battle after winning a close contest last fall over Republican Tyler Kistner, who is running again.
"Minnesotans deserve districts that are fair, reasonable and respectful of communities of interest," Craig said in a statement, noting that the proposed House map is "another step in a process that will most likely be decided by the courts."
Both Craig and fellow Democrat Phillips, representing the suburban 3rd District, are already a focus of the House GOP's campaign arm as Republicans try to win back control of the chamber.
"We are confident that, no matter what the district looks like, that Angie Craig will lose her seat to Tyler Kistner in 2022," Kistner's campaign said Tuesday before the proposed lines were released.
In the 2020 election, Minnesota voters sent four Democrats and four Republicans to the U.S. House, with DFL members holding seats in the Twin Cities and two suburban districts. Republicans control the state's more sprawling rural districts.
Minnesota narrowly managed to avoid losing a congressional seat earlier this year following the results of the 2020 census and the nationwide redistribution of the U.S. House's 435 seats. An earlier census data delay only added to the challenges of redrawing the maps. The Minnesota Legislature faces a Feb. 15 deadline to agree on new maps, and failure to do so by then means the state's courts can take on the task as they have in the past.
The GOP lead on the House redistricting panel, Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, complained that "there was no Republican participation in this map," underlining the partisan divide that could make meeting the Feb. 15 deadline difficult.
"We heard many times in early committee meetings that the goal was to actually pass maps out of committee and agree with the Senate and get maps on the governor's desk in time for them to become law," Torkelson said. "This is not a step."
Murphy said Republicans have had the same access to committee testimony and the 10 public court hearings held across the state.
"I truly believe we could pass a bill out of the Legislature this year if working together in cooperation," Murphy said.
Public affairs strategist Todd Rapp, a former political director of the DFL party, said the proposal would make Craig's seat more suburban-centric. The 6th and 7th Districts, meanwhile, would likely remain under GOP control for the next decade, he said.
Rapp said he believes House Democrats wisely avoided drastic changes in a possible bid to retain some influence over the redistricting process, should it again be punted to the courts.
"If the Legislature can't come together – and I think the odds are against that they can come together – then the strategy is becoming whether or not they can encourage the courts to at least show some deference to the thinking that each legislative body brought forward," Rapp said.
In June, the Minnesota Supreme Court appointed a special redistricting panel of five judges to consider any challenges to newly drawn state legislative and congressional districts. The panel held a series of public meetings last month to gather feedback, anticipating that the judicial branch would again need to intervene.
Under the Feb. 15 deadline, the Legislature must agree on a plan and DFL Gov. Tim Walz must sign off to forestall court intervention.
The panel is in response to the latest in a decades-long tradition of lawsuits asking the state's court system to draw Minnesota's political maps based on arguments that the Legislature has failed to do so itself dating to at least 1971.
Peter Wattson, a former longtime attorney for the state Senate and general counsel to Gov. Mark Dayton, is among the Minnesota voters leading the charge in court this year. Given Minnesota's divided Legislature, he does not expect a change from the half century of how redistricting has taken place.
"This is why I'm suspecting there hasn't been many news stories about it, because it isn't new," Wattson said of the process so far. "It's the same old, same old: We've done this before, we know how to do it, the courts know how to do it, the parties know how to do it, the Legislature knows how to do it and they are just following the path that has been established by their predecessors."
Staff writer Briana Bierschbach contributed to this story.