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Talks to redraw congressional map put on hold

Published October 5, 2011 11:55 am

Congressional districts • Legislators to "take a step back," reconvene Oct. 17.
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Instead of just fighting with Democrats and reform groups, Republicans in the state House and Senate battled each other Tuesday over how to redraw congressional districts. They ended in a stalemate, then recessed until Oct. 17 to allow time to find a compromise.

"We have not coalesced," Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, the House chairman of the Redistricting Committee. "We're still trying to work out some of the issues," said Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, Senate chairman of the committee.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said, "What we don't want to do is rush this. We want to make good decisions. We want to make the right decision, so we decided to take a step back, let the committee do more work and have the public involved."

Meanwhile, Democrats complained that the Republicans are negotiating and drawing final maps behind closed doors without input from them or the public. "It's corrupt. It's unAmerican. If the public were here, it would be outraged," said Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis.

Sumsion and Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said several revisions of House and Senate proposals are still in play. They said most maps are variations of maps that have been in the public, but Democrats said they expect that some are new.

Okerlund said the joint Redistricting Committee will meet Friday at 9 a.m. to discuss at least one redrawn version of the House proposal, and perhaps one from the Senate. He said the Legislature ­— which was in the second day of a special session on redistricting —is then expected to take a couple weeks to seek a compromise before meeting again.

The intraparty fight started when House Republicans tried to push a new plan that had not been vetted in public hearings. Sumsion said it was drawn in response to a desire by Gov. Gary Herbert to add more rural land to the new 4th congressional district, which had included only western Salt Lake and Utah counties in plans passed earlier by the Redistricting Committee and the Senate.

Sumsion said that cutting up Salt Lake County into "pizza slices" and combining each with large swaths of rural area would ensure all members of Congress from Utah would represent both urban and rural interests. Democrats say it is an attempt to dilute their votes in Democratic Salt Lake County to improve odds that Republicans will win all districts.

Waddoups said Senate Republicans believe the Legislature should stick to plans that had been discussed in earlier public hearings, and said the House version was a complete rewrite. He said Senate Democrats also said the House plan would drastically hurt their party, and he said Senate Republicans had not had enough time to review whether that is true.

At a morning meeting of the joint Redistricting Committee, House Republicans voted down allowing further consideration of a compromise plan that the Senate Republicans had drawn with Democrats. After that, Senate Republicans in turn voted down the new House plan that its members wanted to move forward.

After the impasse, most lawmakers spent hours and hours sitting and waiting while leaders sought compromises behind closed doors. At one point, a couple of comical YouTube videos were shown on the House chamber screens to bored lawmakers.

Waddoups said Senate Republicans endorsed in their caucus a plan that would divide Salt Lake County into four slices, instead of three like the original version it passed. It looks similar to the Senate's original plan, but adds to the 4th District in western Salt Lake and Utah counties parts of Juab County and Sanpete and Emery counties. That new district has no incumbent.

That tweaked proposal, like the original Senate plan, would also draw the 2nd District of Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, to include all of Salt Lake City, parts of southern Davis County, eastern Tooele County and most of southern Utah.

The House plan for the 2nd District had attempted to split Salt Lake City, and send Matheson's district eastward into the Uintah Basin. House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, said moving Matheson's district eastward is among proposals still in play.

Meanwhile, the tweaked plan that the Senate now endorses would give the 1st District of Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, most of northern Utah and military base areas of Tooele County and a small canyon portion of Salt Lake County. The 3rd District of Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, would include eastern Salt Lake and Utah counties, the Uintah Basin and Carbon and Grand counties.

While Republicans met behind closed doors, Democrats and reform groups groused. "As we sit here, maps are being drawn in secret behind closed doors," complained Sen. Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights.

Similarly, Sue Connor, with Represent Me Utah!, said, "It's like they wasted their money on all the hearings they held, and the programming that allowed people to draw and submit their own plans. They ended up doing something else, and didn't listen."

Anthony Kaye, with the Utah Democratic Lawyers Council, testified to the redistricting committee on Tuesday that he thinks all "pizza slice" plans are unconstitutional because they seek to unfairly dilute Democratic votes in Salt Lake County so that Democrats will receive far fewer elected offices than their overall percentage of votes deserve.

Meanwhile, lawmakers late Thursday passed final district maps for the state Senate and House, and sent them to Gov. Gary Herbert for his signature.

The Senate map put only two incumbents into the same new district: Sens. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, and Pat Jones, D-Holladay. However, Romero has already announced that he plans to run for Salt Lake County mayor. Romero was the only senator to vote against that Senate map.

The House map puts 10 incumbents in districts against each other.

In Salt Lake County, incumbents put into the same districts are: Reps. David Litvack and recently appointed Brian Doughty, both Salt Lake City Democrats; Democratic Rep. Janice Fisher and Republican Rep. Fred Cox, both of West Valley City; and Republican Reps. Todd Kiser, of Sandy, and LaVar Christensen, of Draper.

In Utah County, GOP Reps. Steve Sandstrom, of Orem, and Chris Herrod, of Provo, were drawn in the same district. In Weber County, Reps. Brad Galvez, R-West Haven, and Jeremy Peterson, R-Ogden, were drawn into the same district. —

Maps online

The Senate and House maps are online at www.redistrictutah.com. The House version is titled Congress: Rep. Ipson "Update to Sumsion 6a". The Senate-approved map is titled: Congress: Redistricting Committee Adopted "Final Congressional Map 9/29/11″






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