MARSHALL - Today is a big day in Minnesota politics, and it has nothing to do with a new Vikings stadium, the bonding bill, constitutional amendments or reform of any kind.
Today is the day new political boundaries in the state will be released by a panel of judges. Redistricting is the once-a-decade process that redefines the state's eight congressional and 201 legislative districts to reflect population changes during the last 10 years.
This affects every legislator at the state Capitol as well as the state's elected officials in Washington. And because policymakers have no idea what to expect, all eyes will be on the new map, which will directly affect this year's election as new borders for the next 10 years are formed and politicians will be introduced to new constituents as districts are reshaped.
"We don't have a clue what it's going to look like," District 21 Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, said Monday. "To be honest, I haven't really had time to put a lot of thought into it. I'm sure (Tuesday) when we get around 11 o'clock everyone will be talking about it, saying, 'Oh, by the way, today is the day, we need to see where we're at.'"
"I think there are some folks talking about it, just from the standpoint that we've spent a lot of time getting to know the folks we represent," District 21A Rep. Swedzinski, R-Ghent said. "But we all realize the only constant in the world is change. If there are going to be some new districts being created, I think that's kind of in the back of people's minds. It will mean different things to different people."
Republicans passed redistricting bills in 2011 but DFLers rejected them and Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed them because of the lack of bipartisan support. That meant redistricting fell once again into the laps of five court-appointed judges, who today will release the new map and the new face of Minnesota politics.
Dahms said while legislators continued their work Monday, redistricting is in the back of everyone's mind, but because the legislators don't have any influence on the final outcome, most have kept to the task at hand.
"I think once we find out what the new districts are it will start to weigh heavily on people's minds," he said. "Especially if you're in a district where you get paired with another person from your party. When it's party versus party that can cause some stress."
Dahms said he needs to pick up somewhere around 9,000 constituents in his district and said he has seen several maps that would accomplish that. One map sees his reach expanding into parts of Renville, Cottonwood and more of Watonwan counties. Another had him picking up the northern half of Redwood, to go along with Lyon, Swift, Chippewa, Lac qui Parle and Yellow Medicine counties. Still another, he said, included that combination, along with portions of Renville and Cottonwood counties.
"It's just all over the map," Dahms said. "We'll just have to see where it all lays out. Whatever it is we will work with it."
Swedzinski said the fate of southwest Minnesota's districts could be determined by how the panel of judges proceeds with the map drawing. If the judges started putting this puzzle together with this corner of the state, for instance, the local district boundaries might not change that much.
"If the new plan started in southwest Minnesota it would be easy to keep our county lines together," he said. "But if they started in the northwest or the metro area, if we're the last ones on the map, we might get chopped up a little bit because there are less options. My assumption is there won't be that much change here; I'm hoping for not much drastic change."
The population trend doesn't favor rural Minnesota. The 2010 Census showed that more people have migrated from greater Minnesota to the metro area in the last 10 years, and that, combined with metro residents flocking outward a bit, has created a squeeze play on the outer-ring suburbs of the Twin Cities.
"You've got migration out of Minneapolis and St. Paul into the suburbs, they're growing and shrinking, and we're shrinking generally because other parts of the state are growing so fast," Swedzinski said.