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Tom West: Oberstar's biggest opponent of the decade to be Father Time

Nobody but nobody made out better in the court-ordered redistricting of Minnesota's political boundaries than 8th District Congressman Jim Oberstar. With the new boundaries, the biggest opponent the 14-term DFLer will face in the next 10 years wi...

Nobody but nobody made out better in the court-ordered redistricting of Minnesota's political boundaries than 8th District Congressman Jim Oberstar. With the new boundaries, the biggest opponent the 14-term DFLer will face in the next 10 years will be Father Time.
Under the plan announced Tuesday, Oberstar has to give up some marginal districts in Benton and Sherburne counties near St. Cloud, but in return he gains the portion of Morrison County (near Little Falls) west of the Mississippi River plus all of Hubbard and Wadena counties. Those are all solid DFL areas. A candidate who has been winning every election by a landslide in the past, Oberstar, 68, now has an even brighter future.
The same cannot be said of other members of the Minnesota delegation. In the 1st District, Republican Gil Gutknecht has served four terms, but has never won more than 56 percent, even against weak candidates. Under the new boundaries, the 1st District loses strong Republican areas in the outer suburbs south of the Twin Cities and gains seven rural counties in the southwestern corner of the state that should probably be called swing districts, but have tended to be more DFL than not in recent years.
Facing the toughest decision is freshman Republican Rep. Mark Kennedy. He can be a carpetbagger and move a few miles into the new 2nd District which is mostly the area that Gutknecht lost. The battle in that district will be for the GOP endorsement, and if he can fend off other Republican challengers, Kennedy would be home free. On the other hand, he could stay where he has been living in Wright County and face off against DFL incumbent Bill Luther in the new 6th District. Kennedy would be the underdog, but the district is different enough that he would still have a chance.
The judges were almost as kind to three metro representatives as they were to Oberstar. Martin Sabo, DFL-Minneapolis, Betty McCollum, DFL-St. Paul, and Jim Ramstad, R-Bloomington, were given districts that they should win easily. In particular, the judges opted to include Edina in with Eden Prairie, Minnetonka and Wayzata, thus creating a "wealth" district for Ramstad. They could have put Edina in with Minneapolis in exchange for some of the poorer northern suburbs, but perhaps they were actually trying to create communities of interest.
In the 7th District, DFL incumbent Collin Peterson still has a district he could win, but the question is whether he or anybody else would want to. The district includes 35 of the state's 87 counties, and it is more than 350 miles from Sibley County in the southeast to Kittson County on the Canadian border. The auto dealers will be loving Peterson or whomever is elected because they will be burning through a car a year covering a district that size.
In the reshuffling of state legislative districts, the spotlight locally is suddenly shining on Rep. Dale Swapinski, DFL-Duluth.
He has been thrown in the same House district with Rep. Mike Jaros, DFL-Duluth. While Jaros 58, who has served 13 terms since 1972 (skipping two terms from 1980 to 1984), has suggested he is nearer the end of his legislative career than the beginning, he said Friday that he is definitely a candidate for re-election.
With the deaths of Rep. Willard Munger and Sen. Sam Solon and the retirement of Sen. Doug Johnson, the Northland has lost 107 years in seniority in just the last few years. Jaros' seniority is needed. He notes that if the DFL regains control of the House this fall, all of northeastern Minnesota's representatives except Swapinski and Tony Sertich of Hibbing will become committee chairs.
Meanwhile, the word on the street is that Swapinski is going to challenge new Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon for the Senate. Seniority won't be an issue if he does, since Prettner Solon has been in office less than two months.
In other redrawn districts, those Republican diehards who caucus in Northland phone booths had hoped to get a district that picked up the east end of Duluth and then wrapped around to the west to pick up Hermantown. They got a suburban district, but not what they needed. New District 6B, where Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, lives, includes the cities of Hermantown, Proctor, Scanlon and Thomson; the townships of Canosia, Midway and Rice Lake and only four precincts in Duluth. Those four precincts are on top of the hill and include Kenwood, Duluth Heights, that area of Piedmont beyond Trinity Road and the Thompson Hill area.
However, precinct vote totals from the 2000 election suggest that District 6B is still solidly DFL. A look at the 2000 presidential election results in those precincts (figuring that George Bush was the most viable Republican candidate on the ballot) finds that Bush took only 36 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, Al Gore garnered 60 percent and Ralph Nader took 4 percent.
Interestingly, the only district in the area where the Republicans may stand any chance would be in District 6A, where Rep. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, resides. It's a little known fact that Bush actually carried Cook County in 2000. In the precincts of the new District 6A, Gore won just 51.5 percent of the vote, Bush had 41.7 percent and Nader had 6.8 percent.
I'm not saying Bakk has much to worry about. First elected in 1994, his vote totals have steadily improved ever since, and in 2000 he ran unopposed. The new district runs up the east edge of St. Louis County and then skirts west north of the Iron Range. It's just that Bush fared better in that area than anywhere else in northern Minnesota. If the GOP finds the right candidate, and if the Green Party also puts up a strong candidate, the district could be up for grabs. Those are imposing "ifs."
The big story locally out of legislative redistricting is the dance between Swapinski, Jaros and Prettner Solon.
Tom West is the editor and publisher of the Budgeteer News. He may be reached by telephone at 723-1207 or by e-mail at tom.west@duluth.com .

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