Tom Bakk | Glen Stubbe photo
by Tony Petrangelo
Jan 16, 2019, 7:00 AM

Minnesota Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk has one priority for 2021: Gerrymandering Minnesota

This is a paragraph from a recent J.Patrick Coolican piece in the StarTribune:

Indeed, at a Chamber of Commerce dinner last week, Bakk said redistricting is his reason for running for re-election in 2020. This must sound strange to a layman’s ears, who might guess that a lawmaker would want to craft education or health policy. Not so for Bakk. Faster population growth in the metro area means that greater Minnesota and the Iron Range in particular are likely to lose legislative seats after the 2020 census — and with it, political influence. Bakk wants to stop it, if only for another decade.

What Tom Bakk is saying, without actually using the word, is that he wants to gerrymander Minnesota in 2021.

There’s no way around it. The only way to preserve the political influence of an area that doesn’t have the population to merit that political influence is to gerrymander the district lines in such a way as to maximize the influence of the area.

Call it the #Bakkmander.

The thing is, according to the newly released American Community Survey numbers, the Iron Range doesn’t actually stand to lose that much influence.

Below is a table with population numbers from the 2010 Census and the 2017 American Community Survey for the six counties that make up the Taconite Assistance Area of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation board (as good a proxy for what actually constitutes the Iron Range as anything else).

2017 2010
State 5,490,726 5,303,925
SD target 81,952 79,164
HD target 40,976 39,582
Aitkin 15,841 16,202
Cook 5,270 5,176
Crow Wing 63,505 62,500
Itasca 45,237 45,058
Lake 10,578 10,866
St. Louis* 114,228 113,961
Total 254,659 253,763
SDs 3.1 3.2
HDs 6.2 6.4

* Population totals for St. Louis county are without Duluth

What you see is from the table above is that after the 2010 Census the Iron Range consisted of about 3.2 Senate districts and 6.4 House districts. According to the 2017 ACS numbers the Iron Range now consists of about 3.1 Senate districts and 6.2 House districts. That’s a decline of 0.1 Senate districts and 0.2 House districts, hardly anything that would warrant the drastic actions that Tom Bakk seems to think are required.

There has been a thing happening on the Iron Range this decade that has been fairly dramatic though, observe the two-party vote share in the Governors race from 2010 to 2018:

2018   2010  
Iron Range 50.6% 49.4% 59.2% 40.8%
State 55.9% 44.1% 50.2% 49.8%

The Iron Range has gone from being a reliable source of DFL votes to not being that. In 2010 Mark Dayton won the Iron Range by almost twenty points when just looking at the two-party share of the vote while at the same time he was barely winning statewide. Fast-forward to the last election and the Iron Range supported Tim Walz by just over a point while he won the state by almost 12 points.

So what’s Tom Bakk doing here? I suspect what Tom Bakk means when he talks about preserving the political influence of the Iron Range, is preserving the political influence of his cronies within the Iron Range.

Shortly after the elections last November I wrote a piece advocating that the DFL work with Republicans to establish an independent redistricting commission ahead of the 2020 redistricting cycle. Since that time the highest ranking DFLer in the state Senate has gone on-the-record as pro-gerrymandering, meaning that the likelihood of an independent redistricting commission has gone down while simultaneously growing in importance.

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