One fewer state senator and representative doesn't mean Downtown issues will have a tougher time at the Capitol, politicians say
New state legislative districts unveiled by a special Supreme Court-appointed panel on March 19 rearranged and simplified Downtown's political map, at the price of one state representative and one senator.
A pair of DFLers, Rep. Phyllis Kahn and Sen. Larry Pogemiller, had represented Downtown's residential riverfront and the core east of Hennepin Avenue and north of 7th Street. But the judges drew the southern border of their District 59 at the Mississippi River, pushing the duo north.
Downtown will now be split between District 58, currently represented by State Sen. Linda Higgins and Rep. Greg Gray, and District 60, represented by Sen. Myron Orfield and Rep. Margaret Anderson Kelliher. All are DFLers.
District 58 picks up the Downtown riverfront and the central business district to 7th Street. District 60 gains some Loring-area condos and creeps two blocks north from 9th Street to 7th Street.
Downtown voters will fill two open seats, since Gray is giving up his seat to run for State Auditor, and Orfield is retiring from the legislature.
Within 24 hours of the redistricting plan's release, two hopefuls annouced their candidacy for Orfield's seat: DFL State Rep. Scott Dibble, who currently represents the district south of Lake Street, and School Board chair Catherine Shreves, also a DFLer. Anderson Kelliher has announced she will remain in House district 60A, which includes Downtown.
Candidates for the 58B house seat include lawyer Keith Ellison and Minneapolis Public Housing Authority employee Valorie Jones. Another rumored candidate is Alicia Bennett, the daughter of Ernie Belton, until last year the Park Board commissioner for part of Downtown. Higgins will run for Senate re-election.
Gray cheered the addition of wealthier riverfront-dwellers to his old House district, which is dominated by north Minneapolis. "It is currently the second-poorest in the state," he noted. "I think it is better to have diversity. This district needed to have middle-income people."
Gray said that while poorer north-side constituents will outnumber Downtown denizens, he expects the latter to have significant influence because upper-income people tend to vote and participate in higher numbers.
"I think people on the riverfront are progressive politically, and they'll provide infrastructure for campaigns and conventions," Gray said.
Kahn said that while she regretted losing riverfront constituents. "You never lose your friends and keep responding to their concerns no matter where they live. I\'m sure they will find [Higgins] to be a superb Senator and advocate."
District 60's senate race is shaping up as a battle of heavyweights. Dibble and Shreves hold elective office and have been endorsed in previous races by the DFL party. Both say they will abide by the party's endorsement that delegates will determine this spring. Shreves said her strength is "education, which is half the state budget."
Dibble is expected to stress his expertise on transportation and working with Minneapolis neighborhoods, his day job.
Other candidates may yet join the race. DFL nominees will almost certainly face a candidate from the Green Party, which showed strength in last year's City Council races.