ND GOP redistricting draws Dem complaints

Bismarck Tribune, The (ND) - Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Author: By DALE WETZEL Associated Press

A Republican plan for new districts in the GOP-controlled North Dakota Legislature could force the state Senate's newly elected Democratic leader to choose whether to run for governor or campaign against another incumbent to stay in the Senate. 

The blueprint puts Sen. Ryan Taylor, D-Towner, whom Senate Democrats chose as their floor leader in December, in the same district as Taylor's predecessor in the job, Sen. David O'Connell, D-Lansford. A legislative district may have no more than one senator or two House members representing it. 

Taylor recently announced he was exploring a run for governor. Should he decide against a campaign, he would have to face O'Connell in June's Democratic primary election to have a shot at representing the proposed District 6, which includes Renville, Bottineau and McHenry counties. 

"We'll see where this goes," Taylor said. "If the majority (Republicans) want to make the (Democratic) minority even more minor with these tactics, I guess that shows they may be great in numbers, but small in their motives." 

Republicans hold a 35-12 advantage in Senate seats, and outnumber Democrats in the House, 69-25. 

Sen. Raymon Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, the chairman of a legislative committee that is drafting the new district map, said Monday the map's design was reasonable. 

It affects a dozen incumbent Republican legislators and only three Democrats, Holmberg said. They are O'Connell, Taylor and Rep. Robert "Tork" Kilichowski, D-Minto. It puts a pair of Republican senators, Joe Miller of Park River and Gerald Uglem of Northwood into a newly fashioned District 19, which would include most of rural Grand Forks County and a chunk of eastern Walsh County. 

"The bottom line is: Two regions of the state are underpopulated. (Taylor) happens to be in one of them, and there's a bunch of Republicans in the other one," Holmberg said. "That's just the way it goes." 

Taylor is a member of the redistricting committee. He said he was shown a copy of the proposed map last week. 

"We know there's going to be changes in rural districts in North Dakota, but it seems suspicious, maybe malicious, that they would take the leader and try to eliminate that leader, or the former leader, in one fell swoop," Taylor said. 

O'Connell said the plan did not bother him. 

"I guess I kind of expected it, all the way around," O'Connell said. "I have no heartburn over it at all, especially if Ryan is running for governor." 

North Dakota now has 47 legislative districts, each of which is represented by a senator and two House members. If new districts have more than one incumbent senator or two House members, the affected legislators have to run against each other to keep their seats. 

The Legislature is in charge of drawing a new district map every 10 years, after the federal census is taken, to account for population changes and ensure each legislator represents approximately the same number of people. 

The committee's proposed map eliminates two rural districts in northeastern and north-central North Dakota, and carves out new districts in west Fargo and eastern Bismarck. 

The proposal is not a finished product. A public meeting is being held Sept. 27 in Devils Lake to hear comments on the map, and competing plans could be offered. Miller has drawn a separate plan that increases the Legislature's size to 49 districts and does not force him to run against anyone to keep his seat. 

The map shifts two incumbent Republicans, Bismarck Rep. Dwight Wrangham and Fargo Rep. Randy Boehning, into new districts that are created in those cities. 

Four GOP House members - Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield; Duane DeKrey, R-Tappen; Jon Nelson, R-Rugby; and Dick Anderson, R-Willow City - are put in a freshly drawn District 14, which includes Pierce, Sheridan, Wells, Kidder and western Benson counties. It is about 130 miles long from north to south. 

Weisz is chairman of the House's Human Services Committee, while DeKrey is chairman of its Judiciary Committee. 

Kilichowski and three GOP House members - Joyce Kingsbury, R-Grafton; Gary Paur, R-Gilby; and Wayne Trottier, R-Northwood - are included in the proposed new District 19. 

Rep. Glen Froseth, R-Kenmare, is shifted into District 4, a heavily Democratic area that includes the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. It is now represented by two Democratic House members, Tom Conklin, D-Douglas, and Kenton Onstad, D-Parshall. 

Republican legislative colleagues said Froseth, 77, who was first elected to the House in 1992, was not planning to run for re-election.