BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota's Legislature will remain the same size for 10 years under legislation signed by Gov. Jack Dalrymple on Wednesday, to the dismay of rural lawmakers who believe adding more districts would help reduce the growth of their territories.
``I think the real loser probably was the rural area of the state,'' said Rep. Jerry Kelsh, the House Democratic leader whose district includes Sargent County and parts of four neighboring counties in rural southeastern North Dakota. ``I'm hoping that ... at some point, we have the intestinal fortitude to put on some more districts, that give us some more representation.''
The redistricting plan was written by a Republican-controlled committee of lawmakers over five months. It won final Senate approval Wednesday, and Dalrymple signed the measure later in the day.
Republican senators rejected a Democratic proposal to change the redistricting map's boundaries in central North Dakota, which would have avoided putting Sen. Ryan Taylor, D-Towner, the Senate's minority leader, into the same district as Sen. David O'Connell, D-Lansford. Taylor succeeded O'Connell as Democratic leader a year ago.
``It shows fewer fingerprints of actions taken to protect or damage the prospects of individual legislators,'' Sen. John Warner, D-Ryder, said of the Democratic plan.
Taylor said he was particularly bothered by a newly created district, No. 14, that includes Pierce, Sheridan, Wells, Kidder and part of Benson counties and measures more than 130 miles from north to south.
``It's stretched like it's been on the torture rack,'' Taylor said.
Republicans hold two-thirds majorities in the North Dakota House and Senate. Sen. Raymon Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, chairman of the redistricting committee, said the redistricting job was done with little partisan bickering.
``We found a great deal of commonality in what we were doing, particularly in the east,'' Holmberg said in a Senate speech Wednesday. ``The whole eastern third of the state was done ... without much rancor at all.''
Each district is represented by two House members and a senator, which gives the Legislature 141 members.
The district map creates two new districts in north Bismarck and south Fargo and West Fargo, while erasing districts in rural central and northeastern North Dakota. The changes were needed to account for population shifts in the past decade.
The Legislature may have as many as 54 districts. Lawmakers said that raising the current number of 47 districts to 50 or 51 would have helped slow the growth of rural districts, which often have to expand to take in the needed number of people.
Holmberg said there was little sentiment among legislators to do that, and Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, the House majority leader, said that holding the line at 47 districts tells North Dakotans ``we aren't growing the size of our government.''
The plan also moves Republican Sens. Joe Miller of Park River and Curt Olafson of Edinburg into the same district in North Dakota's northeastern corner.
It leaves a ``surplus'' of GOP House members in three other districts, where the affected lawmakers will have to run against each other to keep their Capitol jobs.
``There's a few people that we would have preferred to protect that we weren't able to get done,'' Carlson told a meeting of House Republicans on Tuesday night. ``I'm sorry that there's some people that have to run against each other, but I don't see how we're going to avoid that.''
Carlson said he was pleased with the redistricting committee's work in creating the two new districts.
``This is a Republican plan for the next 10 years,'' Carlson said at the House Republican meeting in the Capitol. ``Those new districts should be Republican, and I believe they're very Republican. There should be six new Republican members (of the Legislature) as we go into the next election cycle.''