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Correction: Rep. Jim Matheson refused to endorse a map of new congressional voting boundaries proposed by the governor and legislative leaders. A headline in Friday's Tribune overstated his opposition to the plan.
Despite a proposal to give him a safe Democratic seat, Utah Rep. Jim Matheson refused on Thursday to endorse a map proposed by the governor and legislative leaders for a fourth U.S. House seat for Utah.
Matheson, a Democrat in a Republican-leaning district, says elected leaders shouldn't be dividing up districts to favor one party or the other, and that "no one should have a safe seat."
"There's not enough competition for seats as it is," he said. "Congressmen shouldn't be picking their" own districts.
Matheson favors a plan, already cleared in committee, which would create a statewide, at-large district to gain a fourth seat. However, Matheson says in the end he would vote for alternative legislation if that's what it took to get the extra seat.
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who last week drew what he calls a "rough draft map," said Thursday he likely will call the state Legislature into a special session after the Nov. 7 election to approve a redistricting map.
"This should not happen in a political environment," Huntsman said, referring to the election. He said he would like to look into creating a bipartisan commission to draw voting maps, but that would take too long to meet the deadlines for a fourth seat now.
"I got what I thought to be a very fair map. When you have both ends of the political spectrum that are complaining, and pointing fingers at you, I guess you have to conclude you've done it about right," Huntsman, a Republican, said at his monthly news conference on KUED-TV.
When Congress returns in a lame-duck session in mid-November is the best opportunity to get a map finalized, Huntsman said. "It's during that time that I would be willing to call a special session and to look at whether or not we can come to grips with a fourth district. It seems that the political will is there with respect to the Judiciary Committee, which is driving this whole process in Washington."
Huntsman remained optimistic Utah will finally get its fourth House member.
"I think that there's a better than 50-50 likelihood that after the election in November, during the lame duck session, we're likely to figure out a way to get a fourth seat."
The new map was drawn at the behest of Congress, which is considering legislation that would grant Utah a fourth congressional seat and the District of Columbia its first full-voting House member.
The legislation was originally written to grant Utah a seat temporarily elected at-large as a way to calm Democratic fears that the state would gerrymander Matheson into a more Republican district than he currently represents. But Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner wants to strike that provision and have the new seat represent a regular-sized district.
"Sensenbrenner has single-handedly derailed that option," Matheson says. But "I don't think we should be giving up on that option. We need to keep all of the options on the table."
Utah Republican Party Executive Director Jeff Hartley said it was strange that Matheson wouldn't want a Democratic seat, and that Matheson needs to get on board to move the bill forward.
"Jim Matheson may cost Utah the fourth seat by refusing to endorse the plan presented which guarantees him re-election," Hartley said. "The Democrats in Congress have made it clear they will not support this plan without Matheson on board. He holds the cards and is putting the fourth seat for Utah in jeopardy."
Matheson counters that GOP members are holding up the bill, not Democrats.
"Last I heard the House of Representatives is in the Republican Party's hands," Matheson said, noting Republicans could pass the bill if they wanted.
The bill to grant Republican-heavy Utah a fourth seat and the Democratic-dominated District of Columbia its first was planned as bipartisan legislation to add two members with no advantage to either party. Utah barely lost out on getting a fourth seat in Congress after the 2000 census.