MANKATO - More than two dozen southern Minnesota residents spoke their mind on the divisive issue of redistricting Friday night at the Special Redistricting Panel's hearing in Mankato.
The Panel was appointed by the Minnesota Supreme Court to oversee challenges over the redrawing of congressional and legislative district lines. The plan consists of six judges: Wilhelmina Wright of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, Ivy Bernhardson of Hennepin County Family Court, James Florey of St. Louis County, Edward Lynch of Dakota County and John Rodenberg of Brown County. Wright was named the presiding judge.
The panel has toured eight major locations around the state this month, capping the tour off with Friday's Mankato hearing. The trips were designed to gather information from citizens on their concerns about proposed changes.
Dayton and the Minnesota Legislature have until Feb. 21 to pass new compromise district maps into law. If the maps are not passed by that date, the Panel will take over and draw the new district lines.
For Brown County and New Ulm, the changes could be dramatic. The proposals submitted by the Minnesota House and Senate, which were vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton, would have redrawn both of New Ulm's current legislators out of the area. The House proposal split Brown County into two districts. New Ulm and a small sliver of Brown County would join a northern district, while Rep. Paul Torkelson would have been shifted into the southern district that also covered Watonwan County and Martin County. Meanwhile, the Senate proposal kept Brown County whole while expanding as far northwest as Sibley and as far south and Martin. The trade-off was the loss of most of Redwood County in the district and Sen. Gary Dahms being shifted a western district.
City Manager Brian Gramentz said the City of New Ulm has little concern about the redistricting issue.
"None of the proposal divides New Ulm. What's of interest to the City is how the counties will look afterwards, especially with the county board. We currently have one full member and 2 partial members for the rural area. The depending on the change, we could get more full members," said Gramentz.
At the meeting, there were no speakers on behalf of Brown County at the hearing. Six members of the Brown County Republicans, including three board members, attended the event.
"We hoped to speak at the hearing, but we didn't realize until a week ago that you had to register three months in advance," said Connie Neal, secretary of the Brown County Republicans. "Our instead is pretty simple: keep all of Brown County in one district. Hopefully, with Rodenberg on the panel, we'll still have our interests heard."
With the rest of the communities at the hearing, there was two major requests from the speakers: don't divide the city of Mankato and split the communities of Albert Lea and Austin into separate districts.
The Austin and Albert Lea division had the most speakers, with the general theme being that the two cities have grown apart with different objects. The consensus was that Albert Lea had become more rural, while Austin remained a corporate focused town.
Mankato's division received nearly as many comments, primarily from Mankato citizen concerned about losing their political voice. City Manager Pat Hentges suggested that the required redistricting populations could be drawing lines close to the city limits and pushing rural portions into other counties.
The Panel will begin hearing oral arguments on the criteria for drawing the maps on Oct. 26. Parties can submit their motion to adopt redistricting plans by Nov. 19 and oral arguments will begin Jan. 4, 2012. Dayton and the Legislature still have until Feb. 21 to pass a compromise district map.
Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at email@example.com.