Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Nov. 13, 2000

After winning election, commissioners face redistricting

By John Holler

As the votes finally came in over the wee hours of the morning following election night in Wright County, it was obvious that the makeup of the Wright County Board would remain the same.

Commissioner Ken Jude enjoyed a double-digit percentage victory over Grace Pederson in District 1, getting 4,177 votes as opposed to 3,389 votes for Pederson, while Russek defeated Bill Warner by nearly a two-to-one margin, earning 4,643 votes to Warner's 2,446 votes.

However, neither was overly excited about the prospect of winning, because, before the polls had even closed, both knew they likely would have to go through the process again in two years, despite being elected to four-year terms.

"My campaign has been difficult and you never like to have campaigns that get on the ugly side," Jude said after the Nov. 7 board meeting. "But, when it's all over, even if I win, I'm going to have to do it again in two years and we're probably all going to be facing election races."

While Commissioners Dick Mattson, Pat Sawatzke and Elmer Eichelberg are all scheduled to come up for election in 2002, Jude is assured to face another challenge and Russek is very likely to be forced to run again because of redistricting of the state and local voting districts. Because census data will become available at the end of this year, the states will find out how many legislative districts Minnesota will have (currently at eight House of Representative seats) and be forced to divide those districts equally in March 2001.

Then, it becomes the county's turn. Once the state has agreed on how the congressional districts are divided, the county must do the same and, with the expanding growth on the eastern end of Wright County, the districts for Russek and Jude are almost sure to change.

"When the redistricting process is done, the county's population is divided by five to arrive at a figure," county coordinator Dick Norman said. "Once we have that figure, every commissioner district must fall within 10 percent above or below that number. To make sure that all the districts are as equal as possible, some districts will either have to add or lose a city or township to make that happen."

Because of the explosive growth of the past 10 years in the St. Michael-Albertville, Monticello, Buffalo and Delano areas, it is expected that the districts for Sawatzke, Russek and Eichelberg will all get somewhat smaller in number of jurisdictions, while Jude and Mattson will see their districts expand again.

"There's a chance I won't have to come up for election in 2002, if my district stays about the same size as the average of the county," Russek said. "But, with the growth of the county in some areas and not in others, it's probably going to turn out that I'll have to run again, because any change in a district means you have to come up to a new vote."

The redistricting process must be completed within 80 days of the state legislature redistricting or 15 weeks before the date set for the 2002 primary election, whichever comes first. The process is expected to be completed by early 2002.

In 1992, the county was divided and the commissioners were given staggered terms so as to not have the possibility of all five being up for election at the same time. In 1990, four new commissioners came on board and the transition period was somewhat difficult, since none had previous county board experience. When the redistricting was done then, Norman said it was done relatively quickly - the commissioners were able to get it done in three meetings.

"We just gave them colored pencils and had them try to draw up scenarios for redistricting," Norman said. "We have a lot more technology to do it differently this time around, but I kind of liked the colored pencil approach."

The meetings will include the commissioners, Norman, auditor/ treasurer Doug Gruber and county attorney Tom Kelly. While it is unclear how much the districts will change, it is quite likely that all will change somewhat, mandating that all commissioners run for re-election - three to four-year terms and two to two-year terms.

"This is bureaucracy in action," Norman said of the prospect of having all five commissioners forced to run in 2002. "I guess we're lucky we only have to do this every 10 years."

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