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Suburbs take seats from rural Minnesota, Bachmann says she'll run in new 6th District

ST. PAUL -- The long trend of rural Minnesota losing lawmakers continued today as five judges released new U.S. House and state legislative maps that reflect fast growth in Twin Cities suburbs.

Even so, in the U.S. House districts released today, the judges kept the districts fairly close to current boundaries. Three congressional districts are mostly rural and the other five are mostly suburban or urban.

"The plan established by the panel is a least-change plan to the extent feasible," the judges said in their order.

Northeast Minnesota's 8th District, represented by Republican Chip Cravaack, changes the least, picking up more voters in the Bemidji area. Western Minnesota's 7th District -- served by Democratic U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson -- adds all or parts of three counties to the south and more of Stearns County but otherwise looks much the same.

Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann's 6th also looks much like it did, although it loses much of Washington County, east of St. Paul. Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum's 4th expands into Washington County to link St. Paul and eastern suburbs.

Bachmann and McCollum now may live in the same district, but the U.S. Constitution does not require a U.S. House member to live in the district he or she represents. Bachmann plans to seek re-election in the 6th.

To the south, Republican Rep. John Kline's 2nd expands into Wabasha and other counties, while two Minneapolis-area districts show relatively little change.

Minnesota kept eight U.S. House seats after the 2010 census, although just barely. Each district contains just less than 663,000 people.

In the Legislature, rural districts expanded in the judges' map as those around the Twin Cities shrunk geographically to account for population shifts.

Each of Minnesota's state Senate districts has about 79,000 people, twice that of a state House seat.

"The panel has established and utilized politically neutral redistricting principals that advance the interest of the collective public good and preserve the public's confidence and perception of fairness in the redistricting process," the judges wrote in their order.

Much of the Twin Cities' population growth has been in the outer-ring suburbs, known as exurbs. Today's new maps reflect a longtime move of people from rural Minnesota to the Twin Cities area.

However, since many suburbs also include farmland, separating suburbs from rural areas sometimes is difficult.

Making comparing rural and suburban areas even more complex is the fact that the Twin Cities metropolitan region often now is considered an 11-county area. In the last census, it was considered seven counties.

Redistricting is more than political sport. Even though no one accuses the five judges of drawing the new maps for partisan advantage, how they drew lines will go a long ways to determine how competitive races will be between usually conservative Republicans and mostly liberal Democrats.

In some states, one party controls the legislature and governor's office, giving that side a chance to draw lines favoring the party. In Minnesota, the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton last year could not agree on new maps, throwing the decision to the courts.

Redistricting is required by two U.S. Supreme Court rulings and the Minnesota Constitution as a way to keep the same number of people in elected officials' districts.

For instance, after the 2010 U.S. Census, Minnesota's eight congressional districts varied in population from 614,624 in the St. Paul area to 759,478 in a district on the north edge of the Twin Cities. Redistricting was needed to even out populations of all the districts at about 663,000.

The same was true of the 201 state legislative districts, with populations of the exurbs around the Twin Cities growing most rapidly while many rural areas grew slower or lost population.

Knowing that Minnesota politicians have a history of not agreeing on new district maps, with the courts forced to make the final decision, Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea of the Minnesota Supreme Court last year established a five-judge panel to hold hearings around the state and establish congressional and legislative district lines.

Gildea set up the panel based on a court case filed more than a year ago asking the courts to be involved. A case also filed in federal court remains on the books, but was suspended pending state court action.

Besides hearing from citizens around Minnesota, the five judges have heard from the two major political parties and others interested in the new maps.

In coming days, some legislators and potential candidates may consider moving to a new district. A legislative candidate must live in the district at least six months before the Nov. 6 election day.

U.S. House members do not need to live in the district they represent.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.