Capitol Watch — Redistricting (Circle the Date)

Take out your calendars and circle Feb. 15, 2022. It’s time for Capitol Watch — Redistricting Edition.

Redistricting could have been a big issue for the 2021 session, but the Census Bureau delayed the release of the data necessary to draw maps until Sept. 30, 2021. Without real data, it’s impossible to draw new congressional and legislative district lines. The lack of data from the Census creates a very short window for designing new redistricting maps. State law requires a map to be published 25 weeks before the Aug. 9, 2022 primary, making the deadline for redistricting Feb. 15, 2022. If the legislature and Gov. Walz do not agree on new maps by that date, the Minnesota courts will step in to release their maps.

The late data release makes an already impossible task even harder. Legislative committees and staff will spend most of 2021 learning the software and practicing with unofficial data. They might also revisit the principles used to draw maps such as the deviation between districts and keeping communities of interest together.

Once the data arrives in October, they will only have a few months to draw maps and build consensus. This is a very difficult process, because drafters have to appease incumbents and party interests before negotiating with the other party. It’s hard to imagine the parties coming together, especially in such a compressed time.

At some point, a group of citizens (backed by one of the political parties) will file a lawsuit alleging the current legislative and congressional redistricting plans are unconstitutional because they live in districts with substantially more people, watering down the effectiveness of their representation. Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lori Gildea will appoint a panel of judges (traditionally from the Court of Appeals) to handle the case. Those judges will immediately hire staff to begin drawing maps behind the scenes. The court will give the legislature every chance to pass a map, but new plans will be published on February 15, 2022 in accordance with state law.

That will set off a mad scramble to match candidates with districts and begin the fight for control of the Minnesota legislature.

State budget update
There was good news this week regarding the state budget with January monthly budget numbers coming in $296 million (14.1 percent) more than forecast. This is another sign that the $1.3 billion deficit predicted for the 2022-23 budget will likely shrink considerably when the next budget forecast comes out in late February. As soon as the report came out, Republican leaders (and others) immediately called on Gov. Walz to back off his $1.6 billion tax increase proposal.

Social studies standards

Thanks to our recent work publicizing the first draft of new social studies standards, the Senate Education Committee held a hearing this week questioning the commissioner about both the content of the first draft and the process. Senators were not happy about important historical concepts being left out of the draft in favor of the Walz administration’s “equity” agenda. MDE Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker defended the work of the committee and promised changes were coming in future drafts. The committee eventually passed a bill to suspend the implementation of any new educational standards for two years.

COVID-19 politics
The politics of COIVD continued this week with Democrats in the House moving a bill to codify our state mask mandate that expires only when the CDC stops recommending face coverings to stop the spread of COVID-19. That is an extremely high bar – the CDC will likely “recommend” wearing a mask long after the pandemic is over.

Republicans in the Senate went the opposite direction moving a bill through committee to remove the power of Gov. Walz to dictate when schools can open and close during the pandemic.

For his part, Gov. Walz held a press conference at a school and announced Minnesota is positioned to lead the nation in school re-openings, which is a confusing statement considering we are currently ranked 40th in that metric. He also extended his emergency order one more month, meaning the state of Minnesota will have been under “emergency” orders for an entire year. Walz also arbitrarily rolled back some of his dials, including allowing bars and restaurants to remain open until 11:00 PM. He offered no science or data to justify why bars can be open an extra hour, and he provided no details on the metrics he will rely on for future decisions. Science or power? You decide.

Rebuilding Minneapolis
One issue worth watching this session gets a hearing this week in the House Capital Investment Committee. House Democrats want the rest of the state to pitch in to rebuild Minneapolis after the riots. Their bill includes legislative findings claiming the riots were:

“compounded by other long-standing structural systems of inequality and racism within the city, state, and nation. The legislature further recognizes that some acts of protest and civil disobedience, occurring among a small minority of participants, led to severe damage or destruction to small businesses and other private property in Minneapolis and St. Paul.”

The public purpose of redevelopment is to help support enterprise development and wealth creation for persons adversely affected by long-standing structural racial discrimination and poverty and prevent displacement of low-income residents, homes, and small businesses owned by people of color and indigenous people.”

“Legislative findings” consist of fluffy language sometimes inserted at the beginning of bills that have no impact on the law, but they do give us an indication of where the Democrats are coming from proposing this legislation. Republicans contend it was poor leadership at the state and local level that exacerbated the damage, and there needs to be a reckoning on this matter before funding the rebuild of Minneapolis.

This piece originally appeared in our Capitol Watch newsletter. Click here to receive the weekly Capitol Watch newsletter.