25.10.05

mpls: redistricting shenanigans

Let Tom Delay be the proof that the redistricting is one of the prime ways the political parties rig the election system. But the pitfalls of redistricting aren't just a federal problem. Drawing partisan boundary lines happens at the state and local levels, too, and the Democrats are probably just as guilty as the Republicans on this one.

For example, back in 1991 after the census, the DFL-controlled legislature passed a clearly-partisan redistricting plan that pitted a great many incumbent IR's against each other. At the time, the DFL electoral scientists (led young Rep. Rodosovich), correctly assumed that new Republican governor, Arne Carlson, would veto the plan, sending the task of redistricting to a vastly less-partisan judge.

But Carlson was fresh off the boat, and somehow one of his staff members was a day late in vetoing the redistricting plan. That night, realizing that their districting plan had gone through and become law, DFL'ers threw one hell of a party. It's safe to say that this one mistake, as much as any other one factor, led to the DFL maintaining their tenuous hold on the state house for as long as they did...

And at the local level, the current elections in the city of Minneapolis are all about redistricting. A multiple-party panel, consisting of three DFL'ers, three Republicans, two Independence Party members, and one Green, set the district boundaries back in 2002. Now we're seeing the results...

A recent City Pages article that somehow slipped by me says this:

"This race was determined the day ward boundaries were drawn," says Sean Wherley, Hayden's campaign manager, referring to the new city precinct maps that were approved in 2002. "One of the more striking things about it is that this is the first time [in 20 years] that a white person will represent what has become a 'majority-minority' ward."

It's increasingly evident that redistricting--by which Minneapolis redraws its ward boundaries every 10 years from census data--is the real "spoiler" story of the 2005 Minneapolis elections. The effects of redrawn boundaries in the Eighth Ward (one of two districts in the city where black voters have historically dominated at the polls) are subtle, but still smack of political shenanigans. In 1984, Sharon Sayles Belton, an African American, was elected to the Minneapolis City Council from the Eighth.The ward was teetering toward being one of the few areas of Minneapolis where whites were a minority. In 1993, Sayles Belton became the first black and first woman to be elected mayor of the city. Her successor in the Eighth Ward, Brian Herron, was also African American. Never before had Minneapolis seen such black representation in City Hall.

They're talking about Ward 8, where minority voters were diluted to the extent that they'll be represented by one of two white philanthropists... While that's not that bad per se, it reflects a continuing problem in the Democratic party: lack of minority engagement. As CP mentions, voter turnout in the minority sections of the ward were absolutely abysmal.

Other parts of the story:

1) 6th Ward Councilmember Dean Zimmermann was redistricted out of his ward, and into the Gary Schiff's 9th Ward. Coincidentally, the lead architect of the redistricting plan ran the unsuccessful campaign of Zimmermann's opponent in the '01 election. (Perhaps he had forgotten where Zimmermann lived?)

2) Natalie Johnson Lee's 5th Ward was packed. It was shifted northward, creating a conservative downtown (and Lake of the Isles) ward and an 80% minority Northside ward.

I guess these sorts of things are inevitable. There's always a trade-off between concentrating minorities to ensure representation, and diluting minority voices by reducing their presence in adjacent areas.

But the real shame of the redistricting issue is that it was decided by such an unrepresentative panel. Why should Green Party members get only one vote on the commission, when Republicans and Independence Party members (who probably represent less than 5% of Minneapolis voters) get five seats?

If the Green Party and minorities got hosed with the redistricting, there ought to be some sort of anti-DFL backlash in this election. And, from what I've seen reported on this issue, there won't be...

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