Lawmakers prepare for new districts, campaign season

Maggie Hessel-Mial

As the state legislative session comes to a close, incumbents in the Legislature and their opponents are gearing up for a campaign season boasting 201 open legislative seats.

University-area legislators such as Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, and Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, are planning their respective seventh and 15th term campaigns, while Republican Party members are waiting for conclusive redistricting plans before committing to candidates.

After each census, which occurs every 10 years, the state’s 201 legislative districts change shape to accommodate shifting populations.

The state court will announce new district lines Tuesday.

New districts mean incumbents could face their legislative colleagues as areas are meshed together, prompting some policy-makers not to run again in the November elections, said Rep. Len Biernat, DFL-Minneapolis.

Despite the uncertainty of where the lines will be drawn, legislators say they are making plans and getting their issues out.

Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, is finishing his first term representing the West Bank and plans to run again with a platform based on education.

“I’m focused on how legislation can aid the future of the state,” Davnie said. “Students are all about the future.”

He said he has maintained correspondence with students and hopes to continue that dialogue should he be re-elected. Representing a district that includes part of the University campus is also a priority for him, he said, because he wants to work with students on a regular basis.

Sen. Julie Sabo, DFL-Minneapolis, is also hoping to serve a second term. Sabo said her main concern is the large picture of housing, education, transportation and better jobs in the state.

But she said she doesn’t think Minnesota has achieved the goals she set out to work on and said she should be given another term. She said she still has work to do to increase affordable housing and sustain early childhood programs.

“I want to do damage control,” Sabo said. “I want to work to preserve the early childhood programs that are under attack by the House Republicans and the governor.”

Nestled between districts 62 and 59, the University area is historically DFL dominated. But Republican Party representatives aim to bring a legislator with more conservative ideas into either district, said Steve Sumner, the Republican Party’s Senate District 59 co-chairman.

“We want someone with experience in the education realm, and someone looking to get things done and get results in the education arena,” Sumner said.

Sumner said his party wants to end the long political run of legislators such as Pogemiller and Kahn and wants a candidate who will effectively represent the district.

“Kahn keeps popping up bills that don’t represent the mainstream residents in District 59B,” Sumner said.

He said he is concerned Pogemiller is more focused with following DFL ideology rather than the concerns of district constituents.

Kahn said her biggest accomplishments in office include authoring the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act – which banned smoking in public buildings – and fighting for equal access in athletics for women at the University.

She said she is confident she can do the best job for students because of the nearly 30 years of experience she has had in office.

“I know what to do. I know my way around the place,” Kahn said. “I know how to get things done, and I work on a lot of issues students are interested in.”

Sumner said he thinks Republican candidates will concentrate mainly on education and housing. But he thinks it will be difficult running against the incumbents because of their long tenure.

“It’s hard for us to run a solid campaign against long-time legislators,” he said. “It will be an uphill battle.”

With the uncertainties about district lines and prospective candidates, it’s still unclear as to how the next months of campaigning will go.

Both University legislators and prospective opponents agreed that working on issues affecting education and the University is a priority.

“Education is my deepest value,” Davnie said. “I know the opportunities it has afforded me in my life. Higher education has got to be a priority and that’s not going to change.”

Maggie Hessel-Mial covers the state Legislature and welcomes comments at [email protected]