ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Beltrami County adopts new commissioner districts

Decided in a 3-2 decision, Beltrami County now has new legislative districts.

Beltrami County Administration Building file photo.jpg
We are part of The Trust Project.

BEMIDJI — In a meeting on Tuesday, April 19, the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners finalized county-wide redistricting.

The vote to adopt a new map passed 3-2 with District 2 Commissioner Reed Olson, District 3 Commissioner Richard Anderson and District 4 Commissioner Tim Sumner voting in favor.

The map adopted, known as Proposal 2, has the city of Bemidji represented by two commissioners and shifts a total of 12,400 county residents into new districts.

Redistricting Plan - Proposal 2.jpg

“To me, the map Proposal 2 is the best map,” Olson said, “it meets the criteria we as a commission agreed to use.”

Proposal 2 also creates boundaries for districts with urban and rural populations in consideration, which the commissioners who supported the map believe will allow for each type of community to have their voices heard.

ADVERTISEMENT

“It allows people in Beltrami County with like concerns and similar needs to be in the same districts,” Anderson said. “This map allows three districts in Beltrami County to serve and preserve its rural setting. It has balance.”

A statement from Olson echoed this, explaining he hoped that this map would provide the best representation for all county residents.

“I believe that rural sparsely populated townships should not be in the same districts as city wards,” Olson said. “I don’t want our rural folks to be drowned out by larger urban populations, nor do I want city residents to lose their voice.”

Debate and discussion

District 5 Commissioner Jim Lucachick stood in opposition to the proposed map, however, arguing that dividing urban and rural populations was not the point of redistricting.

“It just creates more division,” Lucachick said, “everybody’s a member of this county, whether you’re in the city or rural.”

Lucachick also questioned whether this would qualify as gerrymandering.

“I’m baffled. Where in the redistricting guidelines does it say to group like-minded folks into districts?” Lucachick said. “That’s exactly what we don’t want to do with gerrymandering.”

Gerrymandering is a redistricting practice where legislators draw the boundaries for electoral districts to provide an unfair advantage for one political party over another. Gerrymandered districts are often oddly shaped and not compact or contiguous.

ADVERTISEMENT

Well not a statutory requirement, state redistricting principles in the past have included that “communities of interest should be preserved” including those with similar social and geographic interests, according to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website.

District 1 Commissioner Craig Gaasvig also didn’t support Proposal 2, citing concerns with the large number of townships and residents shifted into new districts.

“I’m against Proposal 2 because it has a huge population change, 12,400 of our residents get shifted into new districts,” Gaasvig said.

Proposal 2 also had the largest difference between district populations, though it was still within the 10% buffer allowed by the state.

“I’ve been waiting for someone to convince me why this is a good map,” Lucachick said, “and I can’t find any positive attributes on it.”

The new map also moves Lucachick’s residence out of District 5 and into District 1, meaning now that it’s been adopted he would not be eligible to run in the future for the district he currently represents.

“We’re not supposed to consider addresses,” Lucachick said and clarified that his opposition to Proposal 2 stemmed from his other concerns.

The decision on which map to support was a difficult one for many of the commissioners, each of which spent a long time considering the costs and benefits of the proposed maps.

ADVERTISEMENT

“I’ve spent a lot of time, late nights, going back and forth looking at all of these proposals and maps,” Sumner said. “This wasn’t an easy decision.”

After the discussion concluded, a vote was held on Proposal 2 where it passed with three in favor and two opposed.

“This is what happens when we have to proceed with redistricting, as tough as it is,” Sumner said. “I think each and every one of us is looking out for what’s in the best interest of the county.”

The other proposed maps can be found by searching Beltrami County Redistricting Plan online.

Nicole Ronchetti is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on local government and community health.
What to read next
John Hoffman’s first few days as Bemidji State and Northwest Technical College president kicked off the first “season” of his new tenure.
The last bang of the Red, White and Boom fireworks grand finale closed out the Bemidji Jaycees’ 78th Annual Water Carnival in colorful fashion on Monday evening.
The Bemidji City Council is scheduled to award a bid for Phase 2 of the Water Treatment Plant project during its Tuesday, July 5, session. The bid is expected to be awarded to Rice Lake Contracting in the amount of $14,198,200, the lowest of three bids that were submitted to the city.
Paul Bunyan Communications recently announced that it will return over $6.3 million to its members in 2022.