Several local legislators aren't sure they will run for re-election. Rep. Elaine Elliott, D-Aberdeen, won't because of health concerns. And new legislative boundaries make the future even more uncertain.
Three Aberdeen area Democrats — Paul Dennert, Jim Hundstad and Dennis Feickert — said they could have a better feel for whether they'll seek re-election once the new lines are finalized. Rep. David Novstrup, R-Aberdeen, now has twin daughters and said he will take his young family into account before making a decision.
As they do every 10 years, state legislators will meet in special session to finalize the new district borders. The map previously approved by the 15-member redistricting committee divides Brown County into three districts from its current two. While some local leaders and lawmakers oppose that change, most concede that it's almost certainly not going to be undone.
Whether the county being further parceled among legislative districts is a good thing depends on whom you're talking to. Opponents would rather districts 1 and 3 be more geographically compact to keep them somewhat in line with the Aberdeen trade area. Residents of Rosholt in northeast Roberts County or Estelline in Hamlin County don't often come to Aberdeen, they say.
Democrats also have made accusations that Republicans wielded their power to draw borders favorable to their candidates. They say the new legislative boundaries could have been drawn by a computer or, perhaps, the nonpartisan Legislative Research Council.
Proponents, though, say the new plan gives Brown County a chance to be represented by nine state lawmakers — two representatives and one senator from each district. In two districts, there's a maximum of six legislators.
No Brown County lawmakers were on the redistricting committee, which will take an hour of public testimony starting at 8:30 Monday morning before it approves a final map to be considered by the full Legislature. Both chambers convene at 10 a.m. with the House expected to vote on the new boundaries first.
Julie Johnson, head of the marketing, promotion and economic development group Absolutely! Aberdeen, said she wasn't surprised by the absence of Brown County lawmakers on the committee even though Aberdeen is the third largest community in the state. Without Aberdeen or Brown County legislators on the committee, keeping the county from being parceled three ways became challenging, she said.
Johnson said there doesn't seem to be much support from the bulk of lawmakers for keeping Brown County in two districts. While there likely will be some tweaking of the proposed boundaries in northeast South Dakota on Monday, the changes probably will be minor, she said.
"We don't have any partisan agenda one way or the other," but want to ensure the region is represented by high-quality lawmakers, Johnson said.
The committee's proposed boundary map was released without notice Sept. 23, Johnson said. It was approved the next week. That made it tough for Aberdeen-area officials to voice their preferences, she said.
Rep. Susan Wismer, D-Britton, one of three Democrats on the redistricting committee, agreed with Johnson that the map release date and lack of notice didn't give Brown County much time to react. That was disappointing, she said. But, there was little guidance from Aberdeen or Brown County at committee meetings before then to give members a feel for how the county should be divided, she said.
Wismer said some adjustments to Brown County are likely. For instance, moving the Claremont town precinct from District 3 into District 1 would keep the Langford school district in a single legislative district and impact only a few hundred people. Because the population of each district has to be roughly the same, changing the borders of legislative districts at the last minute can get dicey. The aim for this year, based on 2010 census numbers, is to have roughly 23,000 people in each district.
It would be nice, Wismer said, if the committee squared up Brown County by adjusting the boundary between districts 1 and 3 so it would divide the county in more of an east-west fashion than the suggested north-south. That would keep keep the Groton and Langford school districts whole and reduce the geographic footprint of District 1, she said. Such a suggestion, though, would likely have to be recommended by Republicans to gain headway, she said.
Aberdeen officials are expected to make a pitch Monday to redraw many of the boundaries in northeast South Dakota. Under it, Marshal, Day, Roberts and part of Codington County would comprise District 1. District 2 would be largely Aberdeen. District 3 would include rural Brown, Clark, much of Spink and part of Codington counties. But the odds of those changes being approved are long, most local officials say.
A map that would keep Brown County in two districts was previously submitted to the committee, but no changes were made.
Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg, is also a member of the redistricting committee. He said many citizens don't realize the number of court cases and rules that impact how legislative boundaries are drawn. The process starts on the reservations to ensure there is proper American Indian representation. Once those lines are in place and boundaries in larger communities are drawn, many of the remaining borders often largely draw themselves, he said.
The process isn't as partisan as some claim, and the committee has made adjustments based on feedback, he said.
"I think that's a good sign of a representative democracy when you see that the public does have an impact on the way that's being done," Brown said.