for PDF format
of Meeting with Larry Jacobs
Civic Caucus, 8301
Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55447
Friday, December 1,
speaker: Larry Jacobs,
Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, Humphrey Institute,
University of Minnesota
Johnson, chair; Lee Canning (by phone), Chuck Clay, Bill Frenzel (by
phone), Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland, Jim Olson (by phone), and Wayne Popham
Context of the meeting--
Caucus is reviewing the state's elections process to see if changes in
election laws would have an impact on reducing polarization and paralysis
in state government. Today we are meeting with a distinguished professor
who specializes in elections.
Lawrence R. Jacobs, the Walter F. and Joan Mondale Chair for Political
Studies and director of the Center for the Study of Politics and
Governance at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. He also
is a professor in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Political
Science. His specialties are Presidential and legislative politics;
elections and voting behavior; public opinion and polling; American
political history; Midwestern swing states; third party politics; Social
Security and health care policy.
Opening comments and discussion--
comments and in discussion with the Civic Caucus the following points were
1. Election was no tidal wave--
The 2006 elections were unusual. In a normal year you might expect
see a change of 50-60 seats in the House and Senate. This year there were
35 seats that changed, 29 in the House and six in the Senate. The
changes were about one-half of what occurred in such years as l994 and
election produced a shift of voters from Republican towards Independent,
and from Independent toward Democrats. Polling revealed that Democrats
entered the election with a 10 percent advantage.
2. A troubling reality--
Despite the national feeling over the Iraq
war and other issues, still about 90 percent of the House was re-elected
and about 80 percent of the Senate seats that were up for re-election. We
now have a political aristocracy. Some non-political reasons account for
the large number of seats that didn't change hands. One non-political
reason is that people seem to live near others who think like them,
Democrats in urban areas and Republicans on the urban fringe. Incumbents
get elected where you have clusters of people who think alike.
election demonstrates the capacity of legislators to draw the boundaries
of their districts with such precision that they can rig the system. The
effect is that legislators can choose their voters rather than voters
choosing their legislators. Look at the 6th Congressional District in
Minnesota, for example, where the boundaries were drawn to give a clear
said that a fundamental conflict of interest occurs when a legislative
body does its own redistricting.
3. A big spread in typical elections--
Since 1970 the average margin of victory in Congressional races
nationwide was 29 percentage points. Jacobs has more limited data for
legislative races in Minnesota,
but he said the average margin of victory in the Minnesota Senate was 26
percentage points in 2000, and 24 percentage points in 2002. The average
in the Minnesota House was above 20 percentage points.
4. Lack of real competition--The
big spreads in victories in these races concerns Jacobs. The spreads
represent a lack of real competition.
5. Clarification on "reapportionment" and
"redistricting"-- Jacobs said
the words are not interchangeable. He uses "reapportionment" to refer to
the process of dividing up the state so that each district has
approximately the same population. He uses "redistricting" to refer to
designing the districts in such a way to accomplish certain goals, such as
satisfying civil rights requirements. "Redistricting" would also include
drawing boundaries to protect incumbents.
6. Inquiry by the Center for Study of Politics
Jacobs said that the center he heads at the Humphrey Institute is
working on redistricting policy. An advisory committee headed by Walter
F. Mondale and Arne Carlson is advising the Institute on redistricting.
There's a chance that the advisory committee will come out with
recommendations in 2007.
said that the courts in Minnesota
in recent years have been turned to so frequently that some legislators
are not bothering to spend much time on redistricting. The courts should
not be placed in the position of having to settle such political issues
routinely. That represents a powerful threat to the credibility and
legitimacy of the courts.
7. Check examples of
Both Iowa and
Arizona have established non-partisan groups for redistricting. An
interesting contrast exists between the two approaches, Jacobs said. In
Iowa the Legislative Service Bureau has the primary responsibility for
drawing proposed congressional and legislative districts, subject to
legislative and gubernatorial approval. The Legislative Service Bureau is
prohibited from making competition a criterion. That is, the Bureau is
not allowed to look at the political composition of proposed districts.
In Arizona an entirely different approach is taken. There, the
non-partisan commission is required to make the districts competitive.
Arizona is one of six states that place final authority for redistricting
in a commission. The other five states are Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New
Jersey and Washington. Indiana employs a "fallback" commission if the
legislature is unsuccessful in passing a congressional plan.
8. Reduce, not eliminate, the number of "safe"
districts-- It's not possible
to create competition in every district because of where people have
chosen to live. But you can reduce the number safe districts and in the
process reduce some of the polarization, he said.
Consider other changes?--
In response to
a question, Jacobs said he is open to the possibility that, say, three
House members might run at-large in the same legislative district.
Jacobs doesn't have a strong feeling about other changes, such as instant
runoff voting, but he said he is open to considering them. He has some
questions about instant runoff voting, he said, because allocation of the
second choices doesn't seem to satisfy voter intent. He said that
redistricting is so important that he'd not put any other election change
10. Advancing the date of the state primary--
Advancing the primary date is OK, he said, but the "bone marrow"
change remains redistricting.
11. Legislative leadership controlling campaign
Jacobs said he agrees with critics who
believe that legislative caucuses have too much authority in controlling
campaign funds because the caucuses can direct money to candidates who
agree to back the caucus leadership--thereby furthering polarization.
12. Long term problem with drawing boundaries--
A Civic Caucus member observed that gerrymandering has been around
since 1812 when Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry drew a district that
looked like a salamander. Jacobs replied that today's computers give much
greater ability to design districts for political purposes.
13. "Competitive" districts don't need to be
50-50-- Jacobs said that a
district can be deemed competitive even if one party has a 10 percent
14. How to have a non-partisan commission--
Asked how you could create a commission that is non-partisan,
Jacobs replied that one requirement could be that no one could serve on
the commission and then become a candidate for elected office within a
three year period.
15. Consult with the Center for Democracy and
encouraged the Civic Caucus to consult with Harry Boyte, director of the
Center for Democracy and Citizenship at the University
16. Thanks-- On behalf of the Civic
Caucus, Verne thanked Jacobs for meeting with us today.
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. Core participants
include persons of varying political persuasions, reflecting
years of leadership in politics and business.
A working group meets face-to-face to
provide leadership. They are Verne C. Johnson, chair; Lee
Canning, Charles Clay, Bill Frenzel,
Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland,
John Mooty, Jim Olson, Wayne Popham and John Rollwagen.