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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published February 17 2012

Minnesota Legislature: Politicians await word on redistricting

ST. PAUL – The most important day of the 2012 Minnesota legislative session, for some at least, could be Tuesday.

That is the day when a state judicial panel is expected to release new legislative and congressional district maps. Any legislator who wants to stay in office will want to look at the new maps immediately, then many will feel a strong need to head back home, meet new constituents and win their support.

While Tuesday is a legislative redistricting deadline and widely is expected to be the day new maps are released, the courts refuse to confirm it.

The release “will probably suck all of the oxygen out of the building,” said House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove.

Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said the new maps “will throw this place into a tizzy.”

Some predict legislators’ interest will lag after the new maps appear, perhaps shortening the session. Others say lawmakers will continue to work as normal.

“We are going to continue with our schedule,” Zellers said, adding that legislators “are not here for maps.”

But the maps are important to those thinking about running again. There is almost no way to draw new maps without pairing incumbents in some districts. And some incumbents may find districts with little resemblance to ones they have represented.

Zellers pledged that any redistricting distraction will be temporary. But Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said leaders will discover many members want to go home soon.

Potential legislative and congressional candidates who have been on the fence decide in the next few days, based on how the new districts look.

New maps are required by a pair of 1964 U.S. Supreme Court rulings, as well as a Minnesota Constitution provision, that require elected officials’ districts to have nearly the same number of people.

Rural districts have grown slowly in the past decade, or even shrunk, and will expand geographically to keep the same number of people as the rapidly growing suburbs.

A five-judge panel has held hearings around the state in anticipation of the Legislature and governor failing to agree on new maps, an assumption that proved correct.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.