MARSHALL - Democratic U.S. Congressman Collin Peterson on Wednesday said he knew he needed to pick up about 70,000 people in the once-a-decade redistricting process, and even though his already-widespread district grew this week, it's nothing compared with the last time this process played out.
While Peterson's unsure if he'll be part of the political arena the next time redistricting comes around 10 years from now, he said taking on a few more counties won't be a problem this year.
"It's a lot of work getting to know a lot of people, and I went through that last time when I had 13 new counties," Peterson said. "I had to get to know 13 new county commissions, lots of new towns like Marshall, Hutchinson, Willmar, Montevideoit takes a lot of time to get to know all the city people, county people, hospital people, farmers. Peterson, who also saw a slice of Stearns and Beltrami counties thrown into his district, said he will draw on his familiarity with many of the areas that will now be officially in his district, such as those that shifted from Tim Walz's District 1 to District 7: Pipestone, Murray, and Cottonwood counties.
"The only towns that are of significant size are really Pipestone, Slayton, Windom, with a lot more smaller towns in there and I know most of those people down there anyway," he said. "I've been to Pipestone three or four times, Slayton; I know the people down there. A lot of them think I'm their congressman anyway."
Political maps are redrawn every 10 years to put equal populations in each congressional and legislative districts. The Republican-controlled Legislature passed redistricting bills last year but they were voted down by every DFLer and vetoed by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton because of that lack of bipartisan support. A court-appointed panel released the new map Tuesday.
Peterson is confident this year's redistricting won't affect him come election time as he looks to extend his political win streak.
Republican Lee Byberg offered up a challenge early in the 2010 election, but the incumbent Peterson still won by more than 17 percentage points in a four-party race. However, that 17 percentage point differential represents by far the closest race Peterson has been involved in during the last decade-plus. In the two elections prior to 2012, Peterson won by an average of 43 percentage points.
Peterson said while the overall approval rating of the U.S. Congress has dipped to about 10 percent, his approval rating recently polled out at above 60 percent.
"I think it's the Democrats that the people are more upset with, with everything that's going on in this country, but I'm not seen in that vein," he said. "We don't have the big issues in my district because the farming has been so strong, and frankly, manufacturing has been strong. We don't have the unemployment numbers in my district like they have in some places; housing, there never really was a bubble. We're like in a different world out here and we're lucky."
On the Farm Bill, which expires in September, Peterson isn't sure whether Congress will be able to advance legislation.
"The Farm Bill is gonna be a big thing this year, obviously in my district where agriculture is the primary industry, but it's unclear whether we'll be able to get it done because of all the partisanship going on and the budget," he said. "We're working with the Senate, we put together that supercommittee bill, but it will be the main focus for me. But people are concerned about the deficit - I am as well and we need to get something done with that, because we can't keep running up these deficits."