While some GOP mavericks protested, House Republicans decided Monday to go behind closed doors to discuss how to redraw congressional boundaries.
That had Democrats howling that Republicans are making decisions in secret, and that their months of public hearings on redistricting were just for show.
"It's a sad, sad day for Utahns because behind that closed door they are going to decide the next 10 years of our political future," Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis said as the meeting was closed. "They had a chance to do the right thing, but they picked the wrong way."
Republicans said one reason they closed their caucus is that Democrats have threatened to sue over what they say are unfair maps. Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said many public bodies close meetings to hold discussions about threatened litigation.
But Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, said the caucus would not be discussing lawsuits or open records requests, and would be discussing maps and policy and urged that the meeting be kept open.
Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful, said it would be wise to keep the meeting open to combat the perception that the GOP is working secretly. Senate Republicans had earlier rejected House maps worked out behind closed doors for fear that it could ignite a public uprising similar to one that occurred earlier this year when the Legislature gutted open records laws with little public input.
However, Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, said the caucus is a GOP party arm, and it would not be wise to discuss strategy with Democrats and the press in attendance. The caucus then approved a voice vote to close the meeting.
Dee said "no deal has yet been reached" between the Senate and House on congressional maps. Leaders from the two bodies spent and hour and a half in discussions Monday morning before the House finally came in session at 10:30 a.m. after a scheduled 9 a.m. start. It immediately adjourned and members went into caucus meetings to discuss options.
The Legislature stalemated earlier this month on how to redraw congressional maps, and called a two-week recess to seek compromise.
In those weeks, the House discarded an earlier map it had drawn behind closed doors that members said would have made it tougher for Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson to be re-elected than a Senate-passed map.
House leaders said they would ask the House if it is willing to accept the Senate map with some alterations, or seek a middle-ground map. The caucus was discussing that on Monday.
Of note, Matheson has said he may choose to run for governor or the U.S. Senate if the Legislature draws him a district that is too-tough. On Monday, The Hill newspaper reported that a poll conducted by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee showed Matheson trailing Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, by a 48-42 percent margin, if Matheson would choose to run for the Senate.
That is virtually unchanged from an August poll commissioned by The Tribune that showed Hatch leading Matheson in such a hypothetical head-to-head by 48-43 percent.