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Live Blog: Redistricting Hearing at the Capitol

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10:05 a.m. Several prominent former Minnesota officeholders will testify this morning on redistricting before the Senate's Committee on State and Local Government Operations and Oversight. Redistricting will be a big issue in Minnesota - especially in light of the fact that the Gopher State may lose 1 seat in the U.S. House after the 2010 U.S. Census. (Iowa is also on the brink of losing a seat). The Senate witnesses today - including former Governors Carlson and Quie and former Vice-President and U.S. Senator Mondale - are part of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance's Minnesota Redistricting Project. The Project aims to establish an independent commission of non-partisan retired judges to draw new districts, instead of the partisan process that is in place now. The Project believes an increase in electoral competition will create results which will contribute to improving citizen confidence in the power of their vote.

10:08 a.m. The meeting is called to order by Senator Ann Rest. Peter Wattson, Minnesota Senate Counsel is the first witness, giving background information on redistrcting. Senator Pogemiller has introduced a bill (S.F. 2211) which would establish an independent redistricting commission with a stated goal of making districts more competitive. Senator Rest has introduced a bill (S.F. 595) which would set up a comission via a constitutional amendment. The Pogemiller bill would subject the commission's recommendations to an up or down vote by the legislature, while the Rest plan would not.

10:18 a.m. Wattson describes how there was no redistrcting in Minnesota from 1913 to 1958, largely because of the influence of rural legislators on the process (redistricting would then have reflected shifts in population away from the rural areas to larger cities).

10:21 a.m. In 1980, an amendment was proposed to the state consitution to establish a bipartisan reapportionment commission. It was not ratified because it did not receive an 'extraordinary majority' (This requirement necessitates that the proposal receive a majority of all who are voting at the election, not just those who vote on the amendment. Normally, this requires approximately a 60 percent 'yes' vote to achieve ratification.):

Total votes at election: 2,079,411
Yes votes: 1,036,581 (49.8 percent)
No votes: 754,935 (36.3 percent)

The amendment was approximately 3,125 votes short of ratification.

10:23 a.m. Former Republican Governor Arne Carlson is the next witness to testify. Carlson believe there is a growing cyncism about politics; that there is a growing and truthful perception, especially regarding the influence of money on politics. He states the current system finds incumbents seeking their own constitutencies instead of constituencies picking their officeholders. Carlson describes why an independent commission is needed - that a legislative body should not be in the business of making all the rules and regulations that govern the conduct of their challengers. Carlson likens the U.S. system of 'rigging the system' to that of the old Soviet Union.

10:30 a.m. Former Democratic Senator and Vice President Walter Mondale is the next witness - who gets a birthday greeting from Senator Rest. Mondale states the goal should be to create a redistricting process that builds on democratic principles and is fair and competitive. Mondale states modern technology can now redraw districts in an instant that will protect incumbents or advantage the party controlling the redistricting process.

10:40 a.m. Mondale describes processes like 'packing,' 'cracking,' and 'kidnapping' to maniuplate the redistrcting today. He says the current process is designed against the center, and for the activist extremes, and therefore many Americans feel left out of the process. Mondale says we have an institutional crisis on our hands, but that Minnesota can lead the nation in this matter and that leadership of both parties in both houses support the premise of the need for reform.

10:50 a.m. The next witness is former Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe. Moe has served on several redistrcting committees (1981, 1991, 2001). Redistricting poisons the political environment, says Moe, and invevitably invovles the judiciary.

10:53 a.m. Moe says the commission should oversee the Federal U.S. Census. The state demographer estimates Minnesota is currently about 2,000 residents away from losing a seat in the U.S. House, and the margin of error in the Census can be as high as 1 or 2 percent. Moe states an independent commission will minimize political polarization and keep legislators focused on what they should be doing - representing the people of Minnesota.

10:55 a.m. Former Governor Al Quie is the next witness. Quie recounts how redistricting affected his elections for the U.S. house in the 1960s and 1970s. (Quie represented the state's First Congressional District from 1958 in a special election through 1978). Quie believes geographic commonality is an important feature of redistricting.

11:05 a.m. Former Secretary of State Joan Growe is the sixth witness of the day. Growe begins by mentioning how the nation often looks to Minnesota, as we have a reputation of a fair, open, honest electoral system, and one with very high participation rates. Growe believe redistricting should be completed by the end of November in years ending in '1.' She also believe the public should have some input in the process and that the redistricting standards should be established into statute (compactness, protecting political subdivisions, political competitiveness, communities of interest etc.).

11:17 a.m. In answer to a question from Senator Rest, former Governor Quie gives the line of the day, stating that the way his First Congressional District was drawn he felt he "could win the seat two years after I was dead."

11:25 a.m. Former state Senator Moe believes it is important to have legislative enactment of a commission's redistricting recommendation, and that he is confident it would pass.

11:35 a.m. Senator Pogemiller raises the question of the tension between introducing competitiveness and maintaining communities of interest.

11:40 a.m. The next witness is former state representative and former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz. Blatz states that although the legislature wants to keep control of this process, it is not working - creating unnatural constituencies. The current process, she says, is disfunctional as it was intended. Blatz believes the state Supreme Court's role should only be a last resort, and that it is not proper to do fact-finding in a process that should be meant for another branch of government.

11:50 a.m. The final witness is Professor Larry Jacobs, Director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the Humphrey Institute. Jacobs compares the three different plans that have been introduced in the Senate (the two mentioned above, plus Senator Michel's bill, S.F. 1810). The Pogemiller bill comes closest to the recommendations made by Mondale and Carlson, in that it introduces competitiveness into the redistricting process.

11:58 a.m. Jacobs lauds Senator Rest's plan for its boldness as well as for getting it on the ballot in 2008 - Jacobs says this is an urgent issue. Back to competitiveness, Jacobs states that even in the 'tsunami' election year of 2006, more than 85 percent of incumbents in the state house and senate won re-election, and the controlling party won open seats in 70 percent of house districts, and 85 percent in the senate.

12:02 p.m. Senator Rest adjourns the meeting.

12:10 p.m. Members of the Minnesota Redistricting Project, including Mondale, Carlson, and Moe are now taking questions at a news conference on redistricting.

12:18 p.m. Carlsen explains the importance of competitiveness in redistricting. Under the proposed system Carlsen states there will be a bigger 'middle' in districts, requiring legislators to appeal to a broader 'base.'

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