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Redistricting a key topic at House candidate forum

BEMIDJI—With redistricting on the horizon after the 2020 census, citizens asking questions at a candidate forum for Minnesota House Districts 2A and 5A on Thursday wanted to know how those running for office think it should be handled.

The political event, organized by the nonpartisan Citizens for an Informed Electorate group, featured the four candidates running for the House seats.

• Incumbent District 2A Rep. Matt Grossell, R-Clearbrook. A 53-year-old retired Clearwater County Sheriff's deputy.

• Democratic-Farmer-Labor party candidate for District 2A Michael Northbird. A 36-year-old environmental program manager for the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe and resident of rural Cass Lake.

• Incumbent District 5A Rep. Matt Bliss, R-Pennington. A 54-year-old business owner, who operates Bliss Point Resort.

• DFL candidate for District 5A John Persell. A 68-year-old environmental policy analyst for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and rural Bemidji resident.

On the subject of redistricting, the candidates were questioned on whether they would back the idea of an independent commission handling the process.

"I support the idea," Northbird said. "I don't think anybody involved in government should be able to manipulate their own government in that kind of way, to benefit themselves or their party. It should be non-bias, nonpartisan and neutral. We have some pretty smart people out there, I think that there could be some algorithm that would take the human piece out of the situation."

"I do not support an outside commission to redistrict," Bliss said. "Terms 'non-bias' and 'non-partisan' are wonderful in concept, but I don't believe they're realistic. We wear our politics on our sleeves and we're responsible to the voters. I think that's the way it should go. In the Legislature we tried to put forward guidelines for redistricting, which did not pass. I'll work on that again to make sure it goes through."

"I don't see any reason to not have an independent commission," Persell said. "I may be the only person up here who's been through redistricting. It's a job that gets so political, because of the stakes that are out there. I think it's better left to an independent commission. I can't think of a reason why partisan politicians would stay in the center of it."

"I trust our people to make sure things are done properly and in good faith," Grossell said. "The people doing the redistricting, whoever's doing it, I trust they're going to work together in good faith for the betterment of our state, not the detriment."

Other topics discussed at Thursday's forum included the cost of daycare, how to support sustainable energy, maintaining the quality of Minnesota's waters and the influence of negative ads in elections.

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 6.

Matthew Liedke

Matthew Liedke is the city, county and state government reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He also covers business, politics and financial news.

(218) 333-9791
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