On April 26, 2021, the 2020 census data facilitated US reapportionment of congressional seats, with Minnesota retaining eight congressional districts. Most folks assume that all census data were released at that late April date. They were not.
Just enough information was released to make congressional reapportionment possible. Demographic numbers—pertaining to gender, race, age, ethnicity, and a snapshot of our human relationships—are still to come. Minnesota district maps for Congress, the Minnesota House, and the Minnesota Senate cannot be drawn without the essential demographic details.
State Senator Mark Johnson, head of the Minnesota Senate Redistricting Committee, projects that the demographics will be available in late August. Laurie Pryor, Minnesota House Representative for southern Minnetonka and northern Eden Prairie (district 48A), understands that some data will not be ready until September.
Steve Cwodzinski, Minnesota senator for southern Minnetonka and all of Eden Prairie (district 48), feels sorry for all potential candidates for the Minnesota legislature, be they incumbents or new faces. He notes that few people realize the burdensome commitment of hours and personal expense made by the candidates. Each of these people will not know until at least late summer 2021 which newly drawn district they will be seeking to represent.
Cwodzinski is concerned too that any incumbent residing near the current boundary of the incumbent’s legislative district might find out late in the year that he or she has been drawn out of the newly designed district—Laurie Pryor could be an example.
The legislature’s constitutional responsibility
Per the Secretary of State’s redistricting guide, the state constitution gives the Minnesota legislature the job of redistricting and—invoking the concept of “one man one vote”—requires that congressional districts have equal populations, Minnesota house districts have equal populations, and Minnesota senate districts have equal populations. Another requirement is that a district have “compactness”–not having wandering, irregular boundaries that make the district look like a strange cartoon creature. Also, “minority voting strength should not be diluted.”
Will divisions between the national parties and within each national party have a substantial effect on Minnesota redistricting?
State representative Mary Murphy, head of the Minnesota House Redistricting Committee, feels that parties are not the issue and that “one” responsible state legislature can achieve fair redistricting. Cwodzinski feels that more powerful than a Republican-Democratic divide is Minnesota’s urban-rural divide.
All things considered, is the Eden Prairie/Minnetonka area really diverse enough to influence the process of redistricting?
Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn, Minnesota House Representative for central and southern Eden Prairie (district 48B), says that Eden Prairie has one of the highest Somali populations. Cwodzinski notes that the area’s populations from Somalia and the Asian subcontinent are significant and “should be heard.”
Cwodzinski feels deep in his heart that it would be healthy for democracy if each new district were drawn to be “competitive”, rather than either a Republican district or a DFL district.
Philip Fuehrer, chair of the Independent-Alliance Party of Minnesota, also calls for competitiveness as essential for each district.
Kotyza-Witthuhn puts it slightly differently saying, “The most important thing is that districts are responsive to Minnesotans.”
Peter Wattson, a redistricting expert, is party to a current lawsuit maintaining that the Minnesota legislature is incapable of creating a successful redistricting map. In an early May interview with MinnPost’s Peter Callaghan, he notes that since 1971, regarding redistricting, “the Minnesota Legislature has always failed to do its constitutional duty.” Importantly, he does concede that while the legislature has to conform to a number of requirements for redistricting (equal population, compactness, geographical features, “communities of interest,” protection of minority voting strength, balanced treatment of incumbents, etc.), the courts have traditionally limited themselves to two requirements: equal population and some fairness for minorities.
Independent Fuehrer advocates what Wattson’s analysis suggests: “an independent redistricting commission. . .taking the courts out of the process.”
What the candidates are doing in the interim
Meanwhile the incumbents are busy building their own brands.
Cwodzinski says he is known as an advocate for education, the environment, and promotion of democracy. He also notes that he is a fan of health care and mental health care.
Pryor feels that she has the image of being a thoughtful person who thinks about every issue and tries to be truly representative.
Kotyza-Witthuhn says that she is a suburban mom raising four kids in the community. She believes that she has a voice as a parent and administrator. She says she is the voice of young families, is a millennial, and at the same time has a background in business.
Asked what 2022 politics will look like, Cwodzinski says that the pandemic and the turmoil of the last year have opened our eyes to such things as the police versus minorities. As a teacher of history, he wonders if the 2020’s following the pandemic will be somewhat bizarre and unpredictable like the 1920’s that followed the 1918 pandemic. He does warn that we now know that we cannot be free and ignorant.
Pryor too says that in the last year we have become acquainted with so many things we did not know. And what comes next we can’t quite say.
Kotyza-Witthuhn believes that coming out of COVID, people are ready for positive messages and elevated discourse.