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Redistricting: Torkelson out of Brown County

No incumbent in new 16B; Walz faces tougher district

February 22, 2012
By Josh Moniz - Staff Writer , The Journal

NEW ULM - The release of Minnesota's new redistricting maps on?Tuesday revealed political districts that will shake up local politics in the 2012 elections.

Redistricting will place Brown County in a new district without a sitting Minnesota House incumbent. It will also reshape the 1st Congressional District, making it a tougher challenge for incumbent Democrat Congressman Tim Walz's reelection.

A bipartisan panel of Minnesota judges drew the districts after the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton failed to pass compromise maps last year. The next step will be passage of the plan in the House and Senate and signing by Dayton.

The panel's rationale stated it took a neutral approach to helping or hurting incumbents, with an emphasis on keeping districts as close to their current boundaries as possible. The panel also emphasized protecting minority voting rights and keeping cities from being divided.

New Political Landscape

The maps create a new state Senate district that begins with Brown County and proceeds all the way northwest along the Minnesota River to Lac Qui Parle County on the South Dakota border. In exchange for picking up Lac Qui Parle and Yellow Medicine County, the Senate district loses its portions of Watonwan County, the lower left corner of Redwood County and the lower half of Lyon County.

Fact Box

'I'm going to find a way to come back, but the new maps make that challenging,' said Paul Torkelson, 'But, it's too early to say exactly how that will work out.'

The two new Minnesota House districts - 16A and 16B - are contained within the Senate District 16, and are divided just within Redwood County's border in the shape of its county lines.

As a result of the new district, Rep. Paul Torkelson (R-Nelson Township) will no longer be the incumbent representative of Brown County. Instead, he will be in the new 23B district that consists of the top right corner of Watonwan County, all of Blue Earth County except the Mankato area and most of Waseca County.

The new district pairs Torkelson with Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Vernon Center). In fact, Torkelson's portion of Watonwan County is added to what was almost exactly Cornish's prior district.

Torkelson said he will run for reelection regardless of the district he ends up living in. He said that he is not yet willing to release any detailed plans on his future prospects.

"I'm going to find a way to come back, but the new maps make that challenging," said Torkelson, "But, it's too early to say exactly how that will work out."

One possibility open to Torkelson is to move so that he can represent the new district in Brown County. His portion of Watonwan County in his new district only covers three townships and less than 5 percent of the county.

Torkelson has not made official statements yet on whether he would move. If he would decide to move somewhere besides his current home, he must reside in the new location for at least six months to be eligible in the 2012 elections. The requirement gives state legislative candidates a deadline of the first week in May to move.

Meanwhile, Sen. Gary Dahms (R-Redwood Falls) officially announced his reelection campaign for his new Senate district. Dahms said he's pleased with his new district, which gives him two Republican friendly counties in which he already had connections. But, he said he was saddened to see portions of Watonwan County, Redwood County and half of Lyon County, disappear from his district.

"I'm pleased with the new maps, and I look forward to meeting with my new constituents," said Dahms.

He also said he was disappointed to lose the close working arrangement with Torkelson.

"However, I'm not counting [Torkelson] out. I'm completely sure he'll find a way to stay in the Legislature," said Dahms.

Congressional districts

The new congressional maps will create new dynamics to the race for Minnesota's 1st District. So far, the race remains between incumbent Walz and his two Republican challengers, Sen. Mike Parry of Waseca and former legislator Allen Quist of St. Peter.

What the congressional map does change is the political density of the 1st District. The district loses the political mix of Wabasha, Cottonwood, Murray and Pipestone counties, though Pipestone carried a heavy Republican contingent. The difference is more than made up by the additions of Le Sueur County and most of Rice County, which carry deeply Republican populations.

Walz was already labeled one of the national Democrat Party's 20 most vulnerable incumbents prior to the map's influx of Republican voters, and he won his last election by a narrow margin.

(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at



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