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'Highly partisan' congressional maps proffered by House Redistricting Committee
  • Updated

Congressional and legislative maps, redrawn using data from the 2020 Census, could bring changes to area voters, particularly when it comes to who’s on the ballot next November.

The maps, proposed by the Minnesota House Redistricting Committee, would move all of Rice and Goodhue counties into the 1st Congressional District now represented by conservative Republican Jim Hagedorn. The southern portion of both Scott and Dakota counties would also move to CD1. The 2nd Congressional District, represented by DFLer Angie Craig, would shift to the northeast and farther into Washington County.

State legislative maps, also presented to the Committee last week, keep Rice County divided into two legislative districts, but instead of the more southerly district now represented by John Jasinski including a healthy chunk of Steele County and the northeastern portion of Waseca County, it would include portions of five counties.

In the new Senate District 62 would be all of Waseca County and only Deerfield and Medford townships in Steele, nearly all of Le Sueur County, Rice County townships Erin, Shieldsville, Morristown, Warsaw, Walcott, Richland, Wells and Cannon City, three northeast Blue Earth County townships and Blakely Township in the far southwest corner of Scott County.

As drawn, the maps appear to put both Jasinski and Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, who now represents Senate District 20, in the proposed District 62. Though only some of Lakeville is included in the new Senate District 57, the map appears to show Sen. Zach Duckworth’s remaining in the newly numbered district.

The northern part of Rice County would be placed in Senate District 57. The proposed district is fairly compact and includes 19 townships and a piece of one other in Rice, Dakota and Scott counties. In Rice County, Wheatland, Webster, Forest, Bridgewater, Northfield and Wheeling would be combined with Greenvale, Waterford, Sciota, Randolph, Eureka, Castle Rock, Hampton, Vermillion and townships along the southern Scott County line.

The maps, as proposed ensure, the area’s state representatives aren’t placed in a district with another incumbent.

But these maps are far from final.

While Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, the committee chair, said both redistricting proposals meet the committee’s constitutional and legislative responsibilities, the lead Republican on the panel, Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, called them “highly partisan” and said they’d been drawn without input from his party.

“I do have to make it very clear to anyone who is listening that there was no Republican participation in this map or in the map that was presented last week,” Torkelson said, adding that neither proposal is a step toward achieving an agreement that can become law.

Murphy acknowledged the proposals are not perfect, but are meant to start the conversation.

“I truly believe we could pass a bill out of the Legislature … by working together,” she said.

Public testimony on the proposals is scheduled be taken late next week.

The nonpartisan House Research Department summary of the congressional redistricting proposal outlines several guiding principles. They include:

• each district will have an “ideal” population of 713,312;

• each district is to be compact and contiguous;

• the principle of “nesting” used in state legislative districts isn’t used for congressional districts;

• congressional district numbers begin in the southeast corner of the state and end in the northeast corner;

• attention is given to the impact on racial and language minority communities in the districts’ design;

• division of federally recognized American Indian reservations is only possible in limited circumstances; and

• division of counties, cities, school districts and towns must be minimized.

The new maps are required by the Minnesota Constitution in the wake of the 2020 Census, which is used to detail each state’s population growth and shifts over the past decade, and update boundaries so each district has roughly the same number of people and is therefore represented equally.

Districts where population was lost or grew more slowly are expanded geographically while boundaries of faster growing districts shrink. But how those changes are made can have political consequences, which has proven to be an obstacle lawmakers could not overcome when this process has taken place over the last several decades.

Because the Legislature has been unable to reach an agreement on the final maps, the state’s courts have had to step in to determine the new districts and are preparing to do so again.

Officials say the redistricting process must be completed by Feb. 15, 2022 so that next year’s election cycle can proceed on schedule.


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Getting to know you: Byerly assumes Carleton presidency
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Earlier this fall, Alison Byerly began her tenure as the 12th president of Carleton College. She succeeds Steven Poskanzer, who led Northfield’s east-side college for 11 years.

Byerly, the first woman to fill the presidential role since Carleton’s 1866 founding, was inaugurated in ceremonial fashion at Skinner Memorial Chapel Oct. 16.

What kind of an impression has Northfield made on this new leader in her early months on the job?

By all accounts, a favorable one.

In a recent interview with the Northfield News, Byerly shared observations and information to help Northfielders become better acquainted with her.

Getting to know you

Although Byerly has spent a fair portion of her life in Pennsylvania — her mother was a professor at Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pa., she earned master’s and doctorate degrees in English at the University of Pennsylvania and prior to her Carleton appointment, she was president of Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., for eight years — neither Northfield nor small-town life is completely unfamiliar to her.

Byerly’s daughter graduated from Carleton in 2015 so Byerly and her husband, Steve Jensen, had visited Northfield on numerous occasions.

“It is truly the case we had heard of Northfield before our daughter started college,” said Byerly, who also has a young adult son.

“Our Middlebury friend, Jan Albers, has family here and she always spoke so warmly of her time in Northfield and at Carleton — and that’s one of the reasons our daughter applied here,” she continued.

“It has felt wonderful to be here and has been an easy transition in part because we understood even from a distance quite a bit about the area. Northfield itself, as well as Carleton, was a strong draw.”

Prior to serving as president at Lafayette College, Byerly spent 24 years at Middlebury College in Vermont, advancing there from teaching English with a focus on Victorian literature to serving as provost and, later, executive vice president.

Byerly and her husband, a serious birdwatcher, both love the outdoors and have already been taking advantage of Carleton’s Arboretum.

“There are beautiful trails in the Arb,” said Byerly, “and I’ve heard many members of the Carleton and Northfield communities say the Arb was well-traveled for fresh air and walks during the pandemic shutdown.

“I enjoy it as a place to run; it’s lovely and a relaxing way to end the day.”

When her presidential duties aren’t demanding her attention, Byerly also likes listening to music, reading, skiing and hiking.

A new home

The newest residents of 217 Union St. are finding Nutting House a perfect fit.

“Living in Nutting House is such a privilege,” said Byerly of the traditional Carleton presidential residence.

“It’s a beautiful old home with lovely woodwork, and since my field is Victorian literature — and my husband collects antique brass microscopes — my books and his collection look lovely on the built-ins there.”

Byerly took advantage of the house’s Victorian vibes to do some spooky seasonal decorating and host a Halloween open house for Carleton students.

“We probably had about 200 students stop at Nutting House on Halloween night, and it was a great way to engage students in a casual, low-impact way.”

Byerly and Jensen have been sampling “all of the restaurants” when time allows, and Byerly said she attended a few Northfield Chamber of Commerce events and other local activities earlier in the fall.

“I’ve been warmly welcomed by the Northfield community,” said Byerly.

“I certainly feel very supported by the officials and offices I’ve spoken with, and it’s good for the town to have two strong colleges, and good for the colleges as well,” she added.

“Carleton wouldn’t be as successful a college if people didn’t enjoy the town. Both Carleton and St. Olaf benefit from having a town people like to visit, and the town in turn benefits from us.”

Another aspect of “home” is recognizing those who first called it that, and Byerly says there has been increased interest on the Carleton campus of late in practicing indigenous land acknowledgment and working with the nearby Prairie Island community.

“Learning about this dimension of Minnesota culture and history is one of the things I’ve most enjoyed,” said Byerly.

“The Native American communities are integral to the state’s history, and we’re establishing a connection with Prairie Island, which is nice.

“Although we have a relatively small population of Native American students, that connection is a wonderful resource and we hope to be good partners with them in a variety of ways.”

A two-college town

Byerly firmly believes there is plenty of room in the town of cows and contentment for two colleges.

“It’s good for the town to have two strong colleges,” said Byerly.

In fact, Byerly and St. Olaf President David Anderson first crossed paths when they were both college provosts — she at Middlebury and he at Denison University.

“We knew each other previously as professional colleagues, and I was in touch with him about Northfield when my daughter was deciding to attend college here,” said Byerly.

“We will have a period of overlap before his retirement, and I hope that will be a productive period,” she continued.

“It’s nice having another partner here.”

For instance, both Byerly and Poskanzer before her talked often with Anderson and other St. Olaf officials about the colleges’ COVID protocols.

“I enjoy the sense of collegiality and friendly rivalry in this two-college town,” said Byerly, “and we know that many Carleton employees have family members, friends or colleagues at St. Olaf so it’s in our best interest to avoid conflict and be aware of how each other operates.

“It simply adds to the vibrancy of the town to have two institutions here.”

Mutually beneficial

Byerly believes Carleton’s Center for Community and Civic Engagement, directed by Sinda Nichols, is an asset that benefits the greater community.

“Carleton students are very active in a series of programs with local organizations, and in some cases, there is an academic component involving either research or volunteerism,” said Byerly.

“In talking with students, I hear that one of the things they like is that the college isn’t completely separate from the town but blends into the neighborhood.”

Nichols confirms Byerly’s view that college students are interested in finding ways to contribute to the Northfield community, mentioning their involvement in organizations such as the Community Action Center, area schools and the Northfield Area Family YMCA, among others.

In one example of the win-win that arises from students’ community engagement, Nichols cited the YMCA’s CEO Krista Danner, who credited a Carleton student with creating a bilingual monthly newsletter during the summer of 2020 that enhanced the Y’s connection and communication with its patrons.

“Our students don’t want to be seen just as people who come in for a few months each year and then leave,” said Byerly, pointing to a desire among students to be civically engaged.

Byerly also sees the Weitz Center — Northfield’s former middle school — as an important touchpoint between Carleton and the community.

“With the history of the building and its placement, and the kind of programming we do there, it’s a gateway to the community and a way to connect the college to the town,” said Byerly, listing concerts, movies, art exhibits, lectures and more occurring there.

“The Weitz Center is an important cultural resource for the entire community.”

In early November, Carleton hosted an evening informational session at the Weitz Center to share with nearby Northfielders the college’s residential housing plan involving a multi-year replacement of and renovation to college housing in the neighborhood surrounding Carleton.

“Between 60 and 70 people attended within an hour and a half,” said Byerly. “We want the community to be well-informed, and we’re trying to be good neighbors in communicating our plans.”

With her birds-eye view of the Weitz Center, Byerly expects to simply observe the fabled Thanksgiving morning Northfield Rotary Club’s Turkey Trot, which is scheduled to begin near Nutting House.

“We plan to be spectators this year,” said Byerly, “but we would love to participate in the future.”


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To till or not to till: Rice County farmers advocate for no-till practices
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After harvesting their crop each fall, farmers begin to prepare the ground for next year’s crop. Traditionally, this often includes conventional tillage, that is turning over the soil. to .

Some Minnesota farmers, like Rice County residents David Legvold and Tim Little, choose a little bit more of a different approach. With a primary focus on taking good care of the soil, Legvold and Little have both implemented no-till into their fall farming practices.

Legvold and Little join just 5% of other Minnesota farmers who practice no-till/strip-till. The United States Department of Agriculture’s 2019 Census of Agriculture shows numbers three to eight times that of Minnesota. Nebraska comes in at the top of list in the Midwest at 43.4%, with South Dakota at 37.3%, Kansas at 36.5%, North Dakota at 28.9%, Iowa at 28.6% and Wisconsin at 17.8%. The USDA finds no-till has been adopted across only 21% of all cultivated cropland acres in the United States.

David Legvold has farmed in Northfield, in the southern part of the state for 44 years. His journey from conventional tillage to strip-till has been a process of experimentation, building confidence in a system and using on-farm research to drive decision making. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

The USDA finds potential benefits of no-till are well documented, and can include improvement of soil health and reducing annual fuel and labor investments. Legvold said he jumped in with both feet into no-till 24 years ago not because someone told him to, but because he chooses to let the science inform his decision making.

The science, he says, comes from work he’s done with dozens and dozens of St. Olaf and Carleton students doing their capstone research projects. Known as an educator presenter and biological farmer mentor, Legvold does quite a few presentations for various groups on agriculture, particularly soil and water quality. He also takes part in a presentation at the Minnesota State Fair in the eco-experience building/sustainability stage, “The View From the Tractor Seat.”

“Iv’e noticed for years how farmers have this proclivity to run their soil black in the fall. The science has informed me that isn’t a good thing to do,” said Legvold. “I believe if we look into the science, we learn that’s not good for the long haul health of our soils.”

By leaving the soil alone, Legvold explains there are processes that work to hold the soil together nicely, developing soil aggregation. He likes to see his soil crumble into pieces, like a piece of chocolate cake, instead of like a handful of chocolate cake mix, which is pretty powdery and will blow or wash away. With soil aggregation, Legvold says, the sugars the plant exudes hold the soil together, something he calls “worm snot.” The tunnels from worms and other organisms are called macro-pores, and provide areas for rain to wash into.

St. Olaf students used infiltrators to measure water infiltration, and poured 300 milliliters of water on soil that has been tilled numerous times. Legvold recalls it takes about 4.5 minutes to infiltrate, whereas it took 45 seconds to soak in on no-till ground.

“This is the key to keeping water out of lakes and rivers, to let it soak in,” said Legvold.

By leaving the soil alone, David Legvold explains there are processes that work to hold the soil together nicely, developing soil aggregation. He likes to see his soil crumble into pieces, like a piece of chocolate cake (as pictured), instead of like a handful of cake mix, which is pretty powdery and will blow or wash away easily. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

With conventional tillage, Legvold says there’s a lot of motion with basically no yield benefit.

“I like to feed my worms, my critters and my stuff in the soil; the residue on the top is very important,” said Legvold.

Little, too, has noticed some benefits by implementing no-till into his farming practices. He has been no-tilling since about 2005, and started growing cover crops in 2013. In the last three years, he’s been 100% no till with cover crops. Though he has a small farm operation by today’s standards, he decided to find a more sustainable way to raise soybeans and corn.

“I’ve noticed some huge improvements with keeping soil in place when you add cover crops to the mix,” said Little. “Earthworm numbers also start improving, and they do so much work underground that help infiltrate water.”

Residue from previous years of corn stalk and bean stubble protect the ground, and in the event of a thunderstorm, the heavy rain will beat on the residue before the growing seeds. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

He admits there are some problems that arise with using cover crops, and it’s not always a slam dunk, but as far as being sustainable, it’s important. Along with a difference in equipment costs, spending less in fuel, Little says there is a huge savings in soil and carbon.

The USDA says a farmer who plows 15 acres per hour, for instance, would save roughly 67 hours of work with each eliminated pass over a 1,000-acre field by adopting no-till. Depending on labor costs and equipment maintenance, that’s an additional several thousand dollars saved each year. As for fuel savings, Legvold adds that he uses 6/10 gallon of fuel per acre of soil to prepare the ground and apply fertilizer with the Soil Warrior, a strip-till machine made in Faribault.

“So by not doing heavy tillage and destroying the soil, there’s tremendous fuel savings, which is good for the environment and my pocketbook,” said Legvold.

The Soil Warrior is used for strip-tillage, and tills a path 6 inches wide and 9 inches deep. Fertilizer is blown into the zone where the crop is grown. David Legvold uses a John Deere 4650 to pull the Soil Warrior, which covers 30 feet of ground or 12 rows. (Michelle Vlasak/southernminn.com)

Fertilizer efficiency is another added benefit of no-till, as the Soil Warrior places the fertilizer right where the corn will go, instead of broadcasting it across the entire field to be cultivated into the ground later. Though there hasn’t been much progress made in Rice County with the change to no-till, Legvold says a few farmers catching on. He encourages farmers to think about the next generation of farmers and what they will have left to work with, and to trust the science.

“Degrading the soil does not give me any comfort that I am slanting things in my favor,” said Legvold. “If I take care of the soil, that stacks the deck in my favor. It’s unfortunate that in recent years trusting the science has become politicized, but we have to inform farmers of what the science is telling us.”


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