A Drop of Ink
Metro Legislators Gain Influence In Redistricting
When the official 2020 Census figures were released last year, they showed Minnesota’s population at 5,706,494. As expected, the data affirmed the seven-county metropolitan area growing the fastest. It now accounts for nearly 3.2 million of the state’s residents, having grown by more than 313,500 people in the last decade. Those seven of Minnesota’s 87 counties account for more than 56% of the state’s population.
More than 32% of the state’s population resides in just two counties, Hennepin and Scott, the homes to Minneapolis and St. Paul. These two counties have a population greater than the 75 counties that rank 13 through 87 in population.
Based on the 2020 U.S. Census, each of the state’s 67 Senate districts should have a population of 85,172 residents and each of its 134 House districts 42,586 residents.
Dividing Hennepin County’s population by 42,586, you get more than 30 House seats. You would also get 15 Senate seats dividing its population 85,172.
The combined populations of Swift, Stevens, Chippewa, and Pope counties equal one house seat. For a district large enough for one senate seat, you would have to add Lac qui Parle, Grant, Traverse, Yellow Medicine, and Big Stone counties.
These figures should give you an idea of the battle rural Minnesota faces in getting heard in St. Paul.
With these demographics in hand, it was to be expected that we would see more seats concentrated in the state’s metro region when the state Supreme Court-appointed panel released its redistricting maps last week.
For many rural areas of the state, redistricting has meant larger geographic districts as they expanded to gather the required population. It has led to fewer rural districts. Meanwhile, legislative districts around the seven-county metro area are becoming smaller, but there will be more of them.
Based on recent elections, the Twin Cities metro area is decidedly Democratic in its voting, while rural Minnesota has grown increasingly dominated by Republican voters. Growth in the Twin Cities gives its population a greater voice in statewide elections. The 2018 race for governor illustrates its electoral power.
Tim Walz won the race for governor in 2018, getting 1,392,348 votes – with 899,942 of those votes coming from the seven-county metropolitan area. Walz beat Hennepin County Commissioner and Republican candidate Jeff Johnson by 372,396 votes in those seven counties.
The four rural Minnesota congressional districts that encompass nearly all ofthe state except for the metropolitan area, the 1st, 2nd, 7th and 8th, favored Johnson giving him 609,749 votes to Walz’s 572,326 – but that provided him only 37,423 votes more than Walz.
Just three counties – Ramsey, Hennepin, and Dakota gave Walz 704,395 votes to Johnson’s 333,024 – Walz won the three by 371,371 votes; that is a staggering vote total to overcome in the other 84 counties of the state.
The loss of rural population doesn’t only mean less representation at the Capitol. It also means less influence in determining the legislation that moves through the Senate and House. It means leadership positions will be in the hands of metropolitan legislators. Urban legislators will have a significant say in legislation affecting rural business, agriculture, groundwater and surface water, school funding, aid to cities and counties, and more.
“The growing number of urban districts can in fact impact the ability of largely rural issues to even ‘make the agenda,’” a 2020 report by the Center for Rural Policy & Development report states. “The legislative system relies on filtering bills through committees before they go to the full legislative body. Recognizing that it is simply not possible for all issues to go before a committee or to receive equal time, it is up to those committees to choose which bills will be considered.”
Its report shows a noticeable shift in the balance between rural and metropolitan chairs of the Agriculture, Education, Taxes, and Transportation committees – four of the most important in the state Legislature.
“The shift in chairmanships is noticeable,” the Center’s report says. “It’s logical that urban legislators would focus more on urban issues. They are after all tasked with representing their constituents. But the situation becomes a problem if Twin Cities legislators no longer see an incentive to cooperate with rural legislators.”
As the Twin Cities continues its steady population growth while much of rural Minnesota sees a declining population, its influence in state political outcomes grows. However, not everyone sees all doom and gloom in the 2022 redistricting maps.
“In Greater Minnesota, the maps aren’t likely to spark a huge shift in control of power,” Walker Orenstein, a staff writer for MinnPost, reports. “Republicans hold most rural seats while the DFL has seen some success in districts centered on bigger cities and college towns. That trend is likely to be similar in 2022 and perhaps beyond.”
He sees opportunities for both parties to pick up seats in rural districts. There are opportunities for Republicans whose districts are becoming more red and as long time Democrats who were able to win in those districts choose not to run.
On the other hand, some Republican districts have picked up parts of larger cities with a stronger Democratic voting base.
As an advocate for rural Minnesota who constantly seeks policies that improve our economies, schools and help build our population, we fear the consequences of our weakened voice in state government.
In the coming years, it is crucial we learn to build bridges between rural Republicans and metropolitan Democrats. If all we do is villainize one another, it will make the job of fighting for the needs of rural Minnesota all the more challenging. Respecting one another while debating our differences starts with the campaigns this summer.