8:50 a.m. The Center for the Study of Politics and Governance is hosting a conference this morning entitled, “Toward More Open Government: A Conference on Reforming the Redistricting Process.” The headline for the event as to why this could be a pressing issue in 2011, after the 2010 census is that Minnesota is on the verge of losing one of its Congressional seats. The first panel, “Fixing a Broken System – Why Redistricting Reform?,” includes Tom Gillaspy, State Demographer, MN Department of Administration, Warren Limmer, Minority Whip, Minnesota Senate, and Larry Pogemiller, Majority Leader, Minnesota Senate.
9:00 a.m. Tom Gillaspy begins the conference discussing the prospects for apportionment for 2010. Minnesota and Iowa are among the eleven states that might lose at least one seat, for a total of 13 seats in play. The southeast and the southwest are expected to gain seats (Arizona (2 seats), Florida, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas (4 seats), and Utah).
9:03 a.m. Minnesota has had 8 Congressional seats since the 1960 census. Minnesota and New Hampshire have been the two states in the Upper Midwest and Northeast with the highest population growth rate, although both slower than the nation as a whole – hence, the Gopher State is at risk of losing a seat for the first time in 50 years.
9:08 a.m. In Minnesota, the state’s two large suburban Congressional Districts have seen vast increases in population (Districts 2 and 6). This means Districts 2 and 6 would need to get smaller in 2011, while Districts 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8 would need to get larger.
9:10 a.m. Minnesota State Senator Minority Whip Warren Limmer is the next speaker. Limmer has been in the Senate for 21 years. Limmer takes issue with the theory that redistricting is the primary cause as to why incumbents get re-elected (that politicians from both parties conspire to redraw district lines to protect incumbents).
9:15 a.m. Limmer intimates that handing off the responsibility for drawing the new district lines should be to an elected body (i.e. the legislature), rather than a body that is not elected (and thus, not accountable). Limmer says the court system is a protection for those interests who feel they have been wronged by the redistricting process — it is the “backstop,” he adds.
9:17 a.m. Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller is the third speaker on the panel. Pogemiller says there are four myths. First, that one can take the politics out of redistricting. “Judges are political people,” he adds. The second myth is that legislators only act in their personal self-interest. The reason: anyone who totally acts in their self-interest will probably not get re-elected. Most legislators, Pogemiller says, simply want their boundaries not to change. The third myth is that smart political calculations will overcome the will of the voters (that a strategically drawn map can be a ‘map for the ages’ of the controlling party). The fourth myth, the Majority Leader states, is that one can do what Tom DeLay did in Texas (gerrymandering to control the map).
9:28 a.m. Pogemiller believes redistricting should do three things: it should be a process of inclusion, a process that is open and transparent, and a process that will withstand a court challenge. Minnesota has used additional criteria to enhance the electability of minorities, Pogemiller says, as well as not dividing communities, towns, and cities.
9:40 a.m. Pogemiller has introduced legislation in the Senate to create a commission that makes a recommendation which the legislature would vote on – up or down.
9:44 a.m. Gillaspy says there will be large changes in Minnesota’s Congressional districts even if apportionment does not take away a seat from the Gopher State in 2010.
9:50 a.m. Posing a question from the audience, State Representative Phyllis Kahn (DFL-59B) asked what Minnesota could do to make sure the census is conducted more accurately in 2010. Gillaspy says Minnesota is a state with one of the lowest undercounts of its population.
9:55 a.m. Pogemiller says redistricting will not be the focus of the upcoming legislative session – the budget will. Pogemiller says the current system is not a disaster, but it could be made much more efficient.
10:20 a.m. The second panel, “Redistricting Reforms Around the Country: What Minnesota Can Learn from Other States,” is comprised of Michael McDonald, George Mason University, Ann Rest, Minnesota Senate, Laura Brod, Assistant Minority Leader, Minnesota House, and Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Speaker, Minnesota House. The panel is moderated by Keesha Gaskins, Executive Director, League of Women Voters Minnesota.
10:28 a.m. Michael McDonald begins the panel discussing the criteria for redistricting reform. The one variable that has the greatest resonance with the public are oddly shaped district lines that suggest they were drawn for ‘self-interested’ reasons. In Arizona, in which the protection of minority districts was a paramount concern in the drawing of district lines by a new Commission, the end result was that there were no more competitive districts statewide than before the creation of the Commission (whose selling point was they would create more competition in the state).
10:37 a.m. McDonald gives a variety of examples of different processes, state-by-state, in the drawing of new districts (in North Carolina, the legislature has complete control; in Maryland the governor draws up the proposal, subject to the approval of the legislature etc.).
10:43 a.m. The next speaker is DFL Senator Ann Rest (SD-45). Senator Rest agrees with Pogemiller’s earlier statement that one cannot take the politics out of redistricting, nor would that be a good thing, she adds. Rest believes the issue of competitiveness as one of the criteria for redistricting is difficult to measure and even more difficult to achieve: incumbents will get elected 90+ percent of the time, regardless of whether districts are drawn ‘competitively.’ Rest acknowledges there might be a competitive election in the first contest held after redistricting, but then most incumbents will continue to sail.
10:49 a.m. Assistant House Minority Leader Laura Brod (R-25A) has introduced legislation and makes a playful plea to House speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher (DFL-60A) to get a hearing on it in the upcoming legislative session.
11:03 a.m. Speaker Kelliher says in the past ten years there has been 50 percent turnover in the House, and that the state is experiencing more competitive races now than ever. Kelliher says the legislature has also become more diverse – the number of women, minorities, and the socio-economic range of its members. Kelliher says the important question is, “What problem are you trying to solve?” Kelliher agrees with Senator Rest that advocating redistricting reform for the simple sake of reform itself is not productive way of addressing the issue.
11:15 a.m. Senator Rest, in the question and answer session, is skeptical that including more political parties at the table (e.g. the Independence Party) would lead to an improvement of the redistricting process. Representative Brod reiterates that the drawing of district lines should be non-partisan, and should not take into account the political leanings of districts, although she would be amenable to have representatives from additional political parties involved in the redistricting process.
11:25 a.m. Senator Rest states that information can never be a bad thing, when taking different factors into account in the redistricting process, and therefore anincumbent’s address should not be forbidden. Rep. Brod disagrees and says redistricting should not be for the legislators, but for the people. Brod cites Iowa’s process of redistricting, which disallows the addresses of incumbents from being taken into account when lines are redrawn.
11:35 a.m. The third and final panel, “Competition and Minority Representation” is moderated by Marcia Avner, Public Policy Director, Minnesota Council of Nonprofits with a presentation by John Griffin, University of Notre Dame.
11:38 a.m. Griffin examines how electoral competition impacts representation of the citizenry. Griffin says citizens who live in politically competitive districts are more interested in politics, more likely to vote, and more involved in civic life. Maximizing competitiveness will increase public incentive to monitor the behavior of elected officials, and more of an ability to kick them out of office.