The dictionary tells us that "gerrymander" is the manipulation of political division boundaries to give unfair advantage to one political party over another.
Like the term "caucus" of a couple months ago, the term "gerrymander" is not familiar to, and seldom used by, anyone other than us old political hacks.
Gerrymandering is bad government. Simply stated, it is to manipulate unfairly. It is a most extreme example of abuse of legislative power.
Gerrymandering is nothing new. It’s been around at least since 1812. Then-Gov. Elbridge Gerry and his cohorts from Massachusetts crafted the congressional and legislative districts of Massachusetts in such fashion to keep his party in power in future elections, and then he bragged of his “accomplishment."
Recently, our most publicized gerrymandering has come from our neighbor to the east. Then-Gov. Scott Walker and a Republican Legislature went wild in 2011 in Wisconsin and crafted a map in such fashion that a politically evenly divided state still has a legislature that is 2:1 Republican.
Unfortunately, last year our U.S. Supreme Court issued a very political 5-4 decision that upheld the Wisconsin Republican scheme, allowing the map the Republicans drew to maximize their legislative power.
Conversely, our neighbor to the south has dealt with redistricting as it should be. For some years, Iowa has implemented a nonpartisan redistricting commission that stands ready to draw the new subdivision lines for Iowa next year, whenever the new census population figures are in.
Although Minnesota Republicans have certainly appeared the more guilty of gerrymandering efforts over the past 50 years, DFLers certainly have not been blameless in the matter.
When the Legislature couldn’t agree in 1971, the redistricting matter was turned over to a Court of Appeals panel that listened more to DFL proposals than Republican proposals and then drew a map with a “doughnut” around the Twin Cities, the east of which was crafted to favor DFL candidates.
It was intended at the time to encourage a 3-1 split metro, and 6-2 statewide. That worked for a while, but ultimately backfired.
As demographics and voting patterns changed, so did the results; and the DFL-favored district has become the most Republican in the state, now served by Tom Emmers.
Luckily, most of the Republican extremes have failed in Minnesota over the years.
The one time that the Republicans succeeded in ramming a very Republican bill through the Legislature, the then-Republican Gov. Arne Carlson screwed up and failed to sign or file the requisite documents within strict timelines; so the gerrymandering effort failed and we had another 10 years of more even or DFL-favored lines.
The most ridiculous Republican gerrymandering attempts in Minnesota over the years have been to impose a belt system, which I fear may raise another ugly head in 2021. Simple in concept, harder to draw and impossible to serve, it is a scheme of starting at the Canadian border and moving south until 1/8 of the population is contained, and drawing a straight east-west line from North Dakota to Lake Superior for Congressional District 1 or 8. Then they would proceed south for a second belt and so on to the Iowa border.
Most all of the attempts have been to place two DFL incumbents into the same district, thus eliminating one; or attaching enough strong Republican territory to a DFL incumbent to make re-election unlikely.
As a usually very partisan old DFLer, I hope we follow Iowa, not Wisconsin, and create a nonpartisan board or commission, with geographical balance, to draw the final lines in Minnesota for future decades of redistricting.