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Pioneer Editorial: Independent panel for redistricting

Some big guns recommended Tuesday that Minnesota redistricting be done by an independent commission rather than by the state Legislature, which is otherwise preoccupied with fixing a $5 billion budget gap. Republicans in charge of the Legislature, however, want to retain that privilege, and there is little wonder why.

Every 10 years, after each U.S. Census, the state is redistricted into new voting districts to maintain the constitutional principle of "one man, one vote." Districts are divided to provide equal population, and supposedly also consider contiguous demographics.

But to the party in charge, in this case the Republicans, it gives opportunity to gerrymander, or carve up the districts to benefit Republicans in the next election. Not to say the Democrats wouldn't do the same if they were in charge.

That's why it's important that a number of high-powered officials on Tuesday recommended that the Legislature appoint an independent commission to draw up the boundary lines, subject to legislative approval. The group includes former Vice President Walter Mondale, former U.S. Rep. Tim Penny, former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz, former Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, former House Speaker Steve Sviggum and former Govs. Al Quie and Arne Carlson.

While Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said he agreed with independent commission of retired judges "in principle," State Republican Deputy Chairman Michael Brodkorb expressed the GOP view as the State Constitution having "clearly laid out a fair process and procedure for redistricting and we are not interested in any process that takes away the constitutional responsibility of the Legislature and the court."

The problem is Republicans and Democrats haven't found a fair plan in 40 years that didn't end up in court. In fact, the last time the Legislature agreed on a redistricting plan without court intervention was 1966.

This time there will much at stake for northern Minnesota. Congressional district lines, already tangled around Bemidji, could shift again to leave Bemidji in either the 7th or 8th districts. Legislative districts, already large in northern Minnesota, could end up oddly shaped to benefit the GOP party, or to protect the new seat they captured.

The best method of seeking population and contiguous demographics balance is for an independent commission to work over the map-making chore without political intervention.

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