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Harry's Gang: Weeds are thick in redistricting efforts

The whole point of a representative democracy (which is the form of government we have used in the United States for a couple of hundred years or so) is to elect one person for every certain number of people. We could use a different form of representation, maybe letting each group of like-minded people have a representative, like plumbers can elect a representative, or dog lovers get a representative, or any other myriad ways to elect leaders, but we don’t. It’s based on population, the truest form of democracy there is — one person, one vote.

So, of course, politicians are very eager to twist and manipulate that process. While they will campaign on a platform of good government, protecting democracy and pursuit of the American way, politicians are actually subverting democracy at every chance because they enjoy the power. Restricting the vote (women couldn’t vote until about 100 years ago; the black vote was restricted in many places until the 1960s), putting up roadblocks to voting to make it harder for some to vote, and drawing districts into bizarre boundaries are all designed to subvert the democratic process.

Minnesota is going through the redistricting process right now. After every Census, boundaries are redrawn to best represent the people. Defining “best” is up for debate, and debate they do. It’s up to the Legislature to set the boundaries for each state senate district; then divide it in half for each representative’s district. Since it’s the Legislature’s job, of course, they won’t do it and the courts have to get involved.

I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing. The legislature is made up of politicians who over the years have decided it’s their job to advocate for their political party, not for the people of their district. I don’t like it, but that’s how it has turned out. You would think something so basic as drawing lines on a map to make 67 districts including roughly the same population would be easy, right? Well, it is. But add politics and it becomes impossible.

So the courts are standing by, ready to make the decision. By law, I understand, if the legislature can’t get the job done by Feb. 15, then the courts take over. Judges apply different logic to problem solving than politicians do, which may be helpful in this situation. The law says districts must meet certain criteria, such as equal population, compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act, and be compact and contiguous. They must also preserve political subdivisions (cities, counties, and townships aren’t split in half) and “communities of interest.”

Such criteria is ripe for abuse by politicians who focus on ”communities of interest” rather than basic math. Courts have much less discretion to pursue political agendas and thus focus on complying with the law.

There are four parties suing the Minnesota Secretary of State office in a lawsuit that will determine redistricting. Each one has a specific agenda. There’s one group for the DFL; one for Republicans; one advocating for a “least change” approach; and one hoping to better serve communities of color.

The DFL and Republican proposals have the least amount of credibility, as they each seem to advocate for preservation of party power.

Surprisingly, the “least change” proposal seems to accomplish the same thing. It proposes keeping things as close as possible to the way things are now, which sounds good until you realize that population shifts make redistricting a critical process, not a mere adjustment.

I had an opposite reaction to the proposal concerning people of color. At first, I thought that group was undemocratic and didn’t belong in the process, as they seem to be advocating for a certain group. But after I read the proposal, it seems to make sense. There would be a house district that has a significant Native population, and the Eighth Congressional District boundary would include several major tribal nations.

Like many big jobs, I’m glad I don’t have to do it. But I am curious to see how redistricting turns out, both for federal as well as state offices. The legislative session ends May 17 and the deadline to file for state office is May 31, so we should have an answer by then.

Pete Radosevich is the publisher of the Pine Knot News and an attorney in Esko who hosts the cable access talk show Harry’s Gang on CAT-7. His opinions are his own. Contact him at [email protected].