Dems: N.D. population gains favor their party

BISMARCK (AP) – North Dakota Democrats believe that the state’s oil-driven growth in population may one day loosen the Republican hold on the state, leading to more evenly redrawn state legislative districts.

“We will be a competitive political party for years to come and even more so as our population continues to grow,” Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, said. “There has been an effort by the supermajority in the Legislature for a partisan advantage.”

North Dakota Republicans currently holding two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate, and hold the governorship.

The booming oil patch in the western part of the state has attracted thousands of new residents in the past few years, reversing a decades-long trend of population loss.

North Dakota has just one at-large congressional district, meaning it can’t be gerrymandered. But that hasn’t stopped Democrats from complaining that Republicans draw local district boundaries that help the GOP elect state lawmakers.

“North Dakota has a very strong culture of fairness,” said Robert “Bo” Wood, a University of North Dakota associate professor of political science. “A party in power can certainly do what they want but if they would start following squiggly lines and making super bendy things, my guess is that voters, whatever their party, would see that as too aggressive and push back.”

Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed legislation in 2011 that keeps North Dakota’s Legislature the same size for 10 years. The redistricting plan was written by a Republican-controlled committee of lawmakers, a plan some Democrats said handicapped them.

The newest district map created new districts in south Fargo and West Fargo, and two in north Bismarck, while dissolving districts in rural central and northeastern North Dakota.

The redistricting maneuver put two Democratic

senators in the same

district. One opted to run for governor.

Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, chairman of the redistricting committee, said most of political bickering over the redistricting plan came from within his own party. “The pain fell heavier on Republicans,” he said.

The plan put two Republican senators in the state’s northeast corner in the same district, while leaving a surplus of GOP House members in three other districts, forcing incumbent lawmakers to run against each other. The redistricting plan resulted in Democrats picking up a House and Senate seat in Fargo, while Republicans gained two House seats and one Senate seat in the Bismarck area, he said.

North Dakota led the nation with 2.6 percent population growth in 2013 but still has just 725,000 residents, ranking it only ahead of Vermont and Wyoming. Its population would have to nearly double by 2020 to have a chance of gaining a second U.S. House seat, North Dakota’s demographer Kevin Iverson said.