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Minnesotans tell judges to save communities in redistricting

ST. PAUL -- Minnesotans with similarities should be put in the same congressional and legislative districts, a five-judge panel heard time after time Wednesday night.

The panel heard a dizzying array of opinions about how new congressional and legislative district lines should be redrawn, but preserving "communities of interest" stood out as a common refrain.

"We see a 'community of interest' as a grouping of people in a geographic area that share common interests: a city, a school district, a sovereign entity or even a cultural community like the Somalis in Cedar Riverside or a transportation corridor like the pockets of farm communities along the Minnesota River," said Candi Walz, chairwoman of Draw the Line Minnesota's citizens redistricting commission. "Redistricting should aim to preserve, rather than divide, representation for these people who share common interests."

At the two-hour hearing, others argued that districts should be made more competitive, saying one political party should not expect to control any district. That would produce a better congressional delegation and Legislature, ones that better respond to voters, the judges heard.

It was the second of eight public hearings on redistricting, to be followed later this month by political organizations telling the judges how they would like to see boundary lines drawn. The judges plan to release their decision on Feb. 21, unless the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton surprise everyone and agree on their own maps.

Republicans passed redistricting plans before the Legislature adjourned in late May. Dayton vetoed the plans, saying he cannot sign any major election-related law without broad bipartisan support, and Democrats say they were not included in drawing up the GOP plans.

Presiding Judge Wilhelmina M. Wright of the Appeals Court opened the hearing saying that the judges cannot wait to start the work once they know politicians have failed. "We must be prepared to act."

Wright promised that she and her fellow judges will keep the public in mind when designing new districts.

On Wednesday, 24 people gave the judges their spin on how to draw the lines, a federal requirement every 10 years to keep all districts' population the same.

Congressional districts need about 660,000 people, while state House districts will have 40,000 people (and Senate districts twice that).

Walz said her group held hearings in 18 locations across the state.

"In Willmar, we heard from people living in the smaller rural communities that they feel their interests are often overshadowed by the larger regional centers," Walz said in testimony prepared for delivery to the panel. "In Duluth, we heard from tribal leaders concerned that northern Minnesota's Indian country has been divided between two congressional districts -- a division they feel diminishes their ability to be heard in Congress or in Minnesota."

Walz suggested that the judges allow the public to comment on proposed redistricting maps before they are made final, but the judges gave no indication that would happen.

Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea appointed Wright, Ivy S. Bernhardson of Hennepin County, James B. Florey of St. Louis County, Edward I. Lynch of Dakota County and John R. Rodenberg of Brown County to decide redistricting-related issues.

The judicial panel began its public hearing schedule in Bloomington Tuesday night (each two-hour meeting begins at 6:30 p.m.). Others are:

- Tonight, Minneapolis Public Schools John B. David Education Center, 807 Broadway St. Northwest.

- Monday, Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College amphitheater, Cloquet.

- Tuesday, Beltrami County Administration Building, Bemidji.

- Wednesday, Moorhead City Hall.

- Oct. 13, Stearns County Administration Center, St. Cloud.

- Oct. 14, Blue Earth County Justice Center, Mankato.

The hearings are open for the public to view, but it is too late to sign up to speak at them.

Several agendas are full, as were the first three in the Twin Cities, but some are pretty short. Just six are to speak in Moorhead, including Mayor Mark Voxland and state Rep. Morrie Lanning. In Cloquet, the speaker list is seven people long and in Bemidji 13 plan to speak.

Written comments about redistricting still may be submitted to or to Bridget Gernander, 305 Minnesota Judicial Center, 25 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., St. Paul, Minn. 55155, by Oct. 21.