Legislators consider future in new political boundariesby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. PAUL, Minn — As some lawmakers ponder their political futures, leaders in the House and Senate study newly released political boundaries to determine which party they might favor in November.
A set of new boundaries released this week by court-appointed panel pairs 48 incumbents in the House and Senate, forcing those lawmakers to consider their political futures: run against an incumbent, move to a new district or retire.
While dozens of Bemidji residents visited the State Capitol on Wednesday to celebrate Bemidji Day, Gov. Mark Dayton hosted a gathering in his reception room. He was flanked by Republican Sen. John Carlson and DFL Rep. John Persell, both of Bemidji.
Despite its special day, Bemidji lost clout under redistricting. Six incumbent lawmakers are now fighting for three districts in the region around the city. Two sitting senators, Carlson and DFLer Tom Saxhaug are paired. Four incumbent House members will also run for two seats. Persell will run against Republican Larry Howes. DFLer Tom Anzelc has also been paired with Republican Carol McElfatrick.
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For his part, Persell said he is running to win in November.
"You look at the map and it looks like my district. I have a comfort level with that so if you campaign hard on the issues," Persell said. "Nothing has changed for me."
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Some legislators have made their decisions already.
For example, Democrats Frank Hornstein and Marion Greene have decided that they will run against each other after they were paired in a Minneapolis district. Greene says the two are friends but are each committed to staying in the Legislature.
"We both wish it weren't this way but it is what it is and it's about continuing our work here," Greene said. "It's not about any strife between us. He and I continue to get along."
Other members have options. A few House members will run for open Senate seats to avoid incumbent pairings. Others say they need to talk with their families and supporters before making a decision. Republican Al DeKruif is considering a run against Republican Sen. Julie Rosen, who said she is committed to making another run. DeKruif says he won't move into an open seat and could challenge Rosen for the Republican endorsement.
"If I get the nod from everybody that I should do this and then in my guy I feel right then I'll go," DeKuif said.
As those legislators consider their political futures, leaders in the House and Senate watch the big picture. DFL House Minority Leader Paul Thissen is hopeful about his party's chances in November.
"We're in a strong position to win the majority under this map. We have a lot of work to do. This is a competitive map, but a competitive map is all we can ask for," Thissen said.
House Republicans argue, however, that population trends in the suburbs and exurbs will help them keep the majority. Republican senators are confident that they can hold the majority. Republican Sen. Geoff Michel said nearly-two thirds of the new Senate districts backed Republicans Tom Emmer and Tim Pawlenty for governor, but notes that President Barack Obama won in 40 of the 67 districts in 2008.
"I think you can probably have a dozen competitive or swing districts in the state Senate and it will be a mix of the suburban and the outstate seats," Michel said.
Both Michel and Thissen say voter turnout and the national political climate will play a large role in determining party control in the Legislature.
The new boundaries may marginally help Republican incumbents, but the presidential election will greatly influence which voters show up in November and which party will control the Legislature, said Gregg Peppin, a former Republican staffer in the Minnesota House who now runs a website that analyzes the new districts.
"Minnesota is much more vulnerable, shall we say, to those national swings, and that didn't used to be the case," Peppin said.
FINAL COURT ORDER
- Morning Edition, 02/23/2012, 7:20 a.m.