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Where the people are

Published (5/6/2011)
By Brenda van Dyck
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State Demographer Tom Gillaspy answers a question about House districts with the highest and lowest minority populations during a March 29 meeting of the House Redistricting Committee. (Photo by Tom Olmscheid)It should come as no surprise to anyone who’s witnessed the spread of new housing developments in the outlying Twin Cities metropolitan area that these places are among the fastest growing in the state. Some areas even lead the nation in their growth. This data came out of the 2010 Census, which legislators are now using to draw new legislative and congressional district boundaries.

While the state of Minnesota has grown in population by 7.8 percent in the last decade to reach 5,303,925, this growth was not evenly distributed across the state. According to State Demographer Tom Gillaspy, the most rapidly growing areas are the communities surrounding the Twin Cities, while the areas with declining population are in the northwestern, northeastern and southwestern areas of the state.

In addressing the House Redistricting Committee earlier this session, Gillaspy said that the average House district has increased by 2,869 people in the last decade. But there are wide swings in levels of growth for different districts. Some districts have grown rapidly, while others have declined. At an extreme, there is an 86 percent difference in size between the largest and smallest districts in the state.

Overall population growth in the state is a little lower than the national average of 9.7 percent, but some counties in Minnesota were among the fastest growing in the country. These include Scott, Carver, Isanti, Wright, Sherburne and Chisago counties. For example, the highest overall population growth was in Scott County, which grew 45 percent over the last decade. Gillaspy said this reflects people’s desires to live in rural areas, but also to be close to the amenities of larger metropolitan areas.

Ideal district population

Based on the census numbers, the ideal population for a House district in 2010 is 39,582; for a Senate district it’s 79,163.

The most populous House district is 35A, which is in Scott County and represented by Rep. Mike Beard (R-Shakopee). It has a population of 59,872, which is 51.3 percent over the ideal population. When this district was created in 2002, it had a population of 36,485 — 0.62 percent below the ideal population at that time.

Swift County in western Minnesota had the largest population decline of 18 percent. It also houses part of the district with the smallest population; that district is 20A, with a population of 32,187, which is

18.7 percent below the ideal population. District 20A borders South Dakota and is part of Big Stone, Lac qui Parle, Lincoln, Swift and Yellow Medicine counties. It is represented by Rep. Andrew Falk (DFL-Murdock). When this district was created in the last round of redistricting, it paired two incumbents against each other. (Both members retired from the Legislature that year, and the seat was won by DFLer Aaron Peterson.)

Gillaspy said that the population increases and decreases have followed the same patterns for many years. Rural areas that experienced economic declines in the 1980s continued to decline, while suburban areas continued to grow. Many of those rural counties that have experienced long-term population decline are also places where the average age is older than the rest of the state. Gillaspy said there is not a lot of potential for turnaround in these counties.

The central cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul also lost population. With the exception of District 59B, which is in northeast Minneapolis, all of the House districts in St. Paul and Minneapolis are between 2 percent and 18 percent below the ideal population.

Gillaspy said the differences in population among legislative districts now are greater than they were in 2000, but not as large as those in 1990. There is a range of about 25,000 people between the largest and smallest House districts.

Redistricting tries to equalize these differences in population changes, and invariably, redrawn boundaries sometimes put two existing members in the same district and create new districts with open seats. After district maps had been redrawn by court order in 2002, the plan resulted in 34 incumbents paired against each other and 17 open seats. There were seven districts with Democrats versus Republicans, five with Democrats versus Democrats, and five with Republicans versus Republicans. Often incumbents of the same party won’t run against each other; they’ll retire or move to a newly created bordering district.

New Congressional boundaries

The Legislature will also redraw the boundaries of U.S. congressional districts. Before the census data came out, there were concerns that the state would lose a U.S. congressional seat. That did not occur. But there are major differences in population. Districts 2 and 8 have substantially higher population than other districts. The ideal population for congressional districts is 662,991. The 2nd District has a population of 74,000 over the ideal, and the 8th district has population of 94,300 over the ideal.

Four of the eight congressional districts have populations under the ideal. The 7th district experienced the largest decline in population; it is 46,900 under the ideal.

Brenda van Dyck is the editor/publications manager for the House Research Department.

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