The process of drawing the lines for Minnesota’s Congressional and Legislative districts has been anything but open and has violated Senate rules requiring a three-day notice for Senate hearings say DFL leaders. As a result, the hearings were known to just a “few capitol insiders” say DFL Senators Tom Bakk and Ann Rest in a letter to Republican Senate Majority Leader Ann Koch and Senate Deputy Majority Leader Geoff Michel.
The DFLers released the letter today to highlight to the media the non-responsiveness of Republicans on the redistricting issue and to counter Republican requests for an alternative DFL redistricting plan.
In the letter, Senators Bakk and Rest says the DFL will not be making any redistricting proposal “in the interest of promoting bipartisan discussions”. Instead, they ask Republicans to work with the DFL to develop redistricting principles that “are truly open and fair”. Principles for the Republican redistricting plan have been released approximately at the same time as the plans, leading DFLers to charge that the redistricting “principles” were really just justifications for a predetermined plan.
The letter asks that the Republican plan be taken out to communities for comment as the Republican majority originally promised. On the House side, Republican Representative Sarah Anderson conducted three hearings in greater Minnesota, but that was before release of the census data which drives the redistricting. The DFL says at all three of those hearings people asked the committee to come back to their communities once the maps were drawn so they could see and comment on them. They never did.
Even though the hearings on redistricting have been held with very short notice, Republicans have taken heat from the public indicating more discussion about the plan is really desired. The conversations between Redistricting committee chair Anderson and testifiers have been terse. During the only House public hearing held on the legislative redistricting plan since it was released, Representative Anderson interrupted non-partisan testimony from Mankato City Manager Tom Hedges when he used the word “gerrymander” to describe one of the lines in the Republican map. She objected to the use of the word and interrupted him twice more and then dismissed him before he could finish his testimony.
Representative Melissa Hortman (DFL) then asked Anderson “Could we allow the witnesses to just share their thoughts and not argue with them as they present it?” Applause then broke out in the hearing room to which Anderson banged her gavel and told the public “you are out of order. I will not have you outbursting like that at all.”
Hortman went on to ask “Typically when a member presents their bill, they sit at the testifying table. And typically what occurs is when a witness testifies on the members bill, then the members of the committee will ask questions and the witness may respond and the author of the bill may respond. But typically the author of the bill does not sit in the chairmanship and interrupt witnesses who are testifying with questions, comments and concerns about the members bill. And I think that little bit of separation maybe, would make the process flow a little smoother. I just offer as a constructive suggestion that there are a lot of people who have things to say and there’s two ways we could do it. One, we could just listen and then we can ask questions at the end so we can get through as many people as possible or the member who is presenting the bill could go to the testifying table to provide some distance between the testifiers and the author of the bill.
Anderson replied ” Well I appreciate that feedback Representative Hortman. But I’ve seen it done many different ways. Some chairs have decided to stay at the table and some have gone up to the testifier table. So it’s done both ways. And this is the way I prefer to do it.
Representative Karen Clark (DFL) then asked Anderson to “show mutual respect”.
“We have people who have come a long distance. If you could, please adopt an attitude of lets listen to the witnesses first and then the kind of correction you just wanted to make, go ahead and do it afterwards. I feel I really didn’t get to hear the end of what the concern was of that particular witness. So I’m hoping for the subsequent witnesses we can actually hear them out and if you want to make sure that they understand something about the process you don’t think they understand that would be OK. But we didn’t really get to hear the whole concern. … Let’s just be a little more calm and mutually respectful.
Anderson replied “I would like the respect on this level as well. When people say that this plan is ‘gerrymandered’, I take great offense to that. This plan is a good plan that is fair to the entire state of Minnesota and when someone accuses me and this committee of putting together a gerrymandered plan I , I find that offensive.”