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Gov. Gary Herbert signed into law on Thursday new congressional redistricting maps, despite threats of lawsuits by Democrats, critical petition drives by reform groups and editorials urging a veto by the state's major newspapers.
"I find that the Legislature followed the law, and the outcome, although not entirely satisfactory to everyone, is reasonable," Herbert said in a written statement after signing redistricting bills in private.
"Let us remember, in the final analysis, our representatives are not chosen by lines drawn on a map; they are elected by the people of Utah," Herbert said. "Redistricting is an emotional and complex issue. For more than six months, the state Legislature engaged members of the public in an unprecedented way."
But Kelli Lundgren, with Represent Me Utah!, complained that the final congressional map was negotiated largely behind closed doors by Republicans on Monday, and that the public and Democrats saw it only about an hour before it was passed by the House and a couple of hours before final passage in the Senate at 10:42 p.m.
"I am very disappointed, but knew it [a signature by the governor] was coming," she said. "Politics was the priority for that map, and it is designed to give Republicans more of an edge. ... They rushed it, and it has a lot of messy lines because of that."
Lundgren had told the press and the governor's office on Thursday that she planned to deliver on Friday petitions signed by more than 5,000 people urging Herbert to veto the map.
The governor's press secretary, Allyson Isom, said she had agreed to accept the petitions as the press watched but said the office felt it was under no obligation to warn the reform group that the governor planned to sign the bill a day earlier. "We had already received input on the issue from their group," Isom said, saying the governor knew of their opposition.
Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis also had been threatening to sue if the congressional map were signed into law. He said after Herbert signed it, "The chances are very good that we will let a judge decide if the Legislature did a fair job on congressional redistricting," and said the party is meeting with local and national lawyers to examine a possible lawsuit.
He added, "The maps truly are a disgrace. It has been heartening to see the response across the state and in editorials in virtually every newspaper saying that this map is a facade, and that saying it is something other than feathering their nest has been exposed, and the emperor has no clothes. The Legislature has no shame."
GOP lawmakers have worked hard to try to make the new plan defensible in court. They have said the main criteria that courts consider is how equal each district is in population to protect the idea of one person, one vote. Three of the four new districts are exactly equal in population, and the fourth has only one person more. Lawmakers held hearings around the state on redistricting, and allowed citizens to draw their own maps online and submit them for consideration.
But Democrats say the adopted plan can still be attacked legally by contending that Republicans went out of their way to ensure districts are as Republican as possible, and argue that Democrats and independents are essentially disenfranchised by not having a real opportunity to elect anyone to Congress except a Republican.
The new map splits Salt Lake County into three slices, combining each with swaths of rural areas elsewhere. Democrats say that "pizza slice" plan dilutes their votes in their one stronghold in the state to increase odds of electing Republicans in all districts. But GOP leaders say it helps ensure that each of Utah's members of Congress will represent both rural and urban issues.
Democrats say their data show that each new district is at least 62 percent Republican, and that the new 2nd Congressional District where Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, lives is 65 percent Republican. Republicans say Democrats are exaggerating, and that districts are at least 59 percent Republican, and that Matheson's new district is 60 percent Republican just a bit more than the 58 percent Republican tilt they say exists in his current district.
Matheson notes that his current district was cut up fairly evenly between the new 2nd, 3rd and 4th districts, and said he is considering running in any of them or possibly running for governor or the U.S. Senate.
The governor also signed on Thursday bills that create new district boundaries for the Legislature, but those were less controversial and both Republicans and Democrats said they were pleased with them. Democrats praised them as examples of good bipartisan work, and said they lamented that such collaboration fell apart on congressional maps.
The state Senate map puts only two incumbents into the same new district: Sens. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City, 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. Fisher was the only House member to vote against its map.
In Utah County, GOP Reps. Steve Sandstrom, of Orem, and Chris Herrod, of Provo, were drawn in the same district. Sandstrom is considering a run for Congress, and Herrod is considering a run for the U.S. Senate.
In Weber County, Reps. Brad Galvez, R-West Haven, and Jeremy Peterson, R-Ogden, were drawn into the same district.