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Eliminate parties from redistricting process

Quick quiz: Who are Wilhelmina Wright, Ivy Bernhardson, James Florey, Edward Lynch and John Rodenberg?

Answer: They're the five judges (appointed by four different Minnesota governors) who last year were given the unenviable task of drawing up Minnesota's new congressional and legislative districts.

How did they do?

Well, we have a sneaking suspicion that 2nd District U.S. Rep. John Kline isn't thrilled, as his new district picked up more of St. Paul and thus is presumably more left-leaning. Meanwhile, residents of Wabasha County who are fans of 1st District Rep. Tim Walz won't have an opportunity to vote for him in November.

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann might not be sending the judges any thank-you cards after being pitted in the 4th District against Democratic incumbent Betty McCollum, but it won't really matter. Candidates for the U.S. House don't have to live in the district they choose to represent (we still can't figure that rule out), so she'll simply run in the new 6th District.

Then there's the anger and/or confusion of Dodge County residents and elected officials, who look at the new map and discover that their corner of the world has been carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey. On the bright side, Dodge County will have four senators and five representatives in the Legislature next year-- but for most of these officeholders, Dodge County will make up a very small part of their constituency. That's not a good situation.

Finally, statewide there are 23 House and Senate districts that, if the election were held today, would pit incumbent against incumbent -- and 15 seats would be wide open, with no incumbents at all.

Those are the big headlines. But really, that's about it. Statewide, the judges managed to carve up the congressional districts in ways that should give neither political party any cause for alarm. In southeastern Minnesota, no legislative incumbents are pitted against each other. Some lines have shifted, and a few towns now fall in new districts, but there shouldn't be much hand-wringing about what happened Tuesday.

That means the judges not only got the job done, but they did it well. Indeed, in the House, there are six districts that pit incumbent DFLer vs. incumbent DFLer, and six that pit Republican vs. Republican. That's an impressive balancing act.

Which, in our minds, raises one simple question: Should Minnesota formally and finally abandon the illusion that the Legislature is capable of performing this once-per-decade task? Such a move might require a constitutional amendment, but given the improbability that the DFL and GOP will ever agree on a new map, is it even worth the effort of creating committees, holding public meetings and creating proposals that are dead on arrival?

Or, to make matters even worse, what would happen if in 2021, the House, Senate and governor's office are controlled by one party? Simply put, that party could ignore the opposition to create maps that are even more favorable for themselves (only to face the inevitable legal challenges, of course).

It's a system that wastes time and resources, and gives the public a false impression of transparency. We'd much prefer a system in which the judges were appointed much earlier, moving the process ahead and giving incumbents and challengers more time to weigh their options.