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After hours of behind-closed-doors wrangling, Utah lawmakers approved a plan for carving the state into four congressional districts.
The map will be forwarded to Congress for debate in a lame-duck session that begins today. Utah's new Republican-leaning fourth seat would balance a Demo- cratic-leaning voting seat for Washington, D.C.
"If Utah wants to be a part of this process, this is our vote," said House Majority Leader-elect Dave Clark, co-chairman of the redistricting committee. "Anytime Utah has an opportunity to expand our voice, we should take a look at it. The sooner, the better."
In the end, despite the closed-door GOP caucus discussions, lawmakers returned to a map adopted last week by a special redistricting committee. The plan creates a largely urban and liberal-leaning 2nd District, linking northern Salt Lake County with Snyderville Basin and Park City. Three remaining districts combine urban Utahns with rural, and more conservative, voters.
Through a spokesman, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said he was "pleased" with the map. Huntsman prodded lawmakers to create a new map before Congress adjourns for the year. By late Monday the map had been forwarded to Congress.
Rep. Tom Davis, the Virginia Republican sponsoring the district-Utah bill, said that Utah's actions mean that "all the key pieces are in place" for passage of the bill by Congress.
"There's nothing standing in the way now," said Davis, whose Government Reform Committee passed the measure 29-4 earlier this year.
In public, Utah legislators presented a unified front, approving a map created by a bi-partisan committee of lawmakers last week.
Behind the scenes in closed caucuses and private map-drawing sessions, however, some Salt Lake County lawmakers tried to tinker with the boundaries, some to cut their districts out of Democratic Congressman Jim Matheson's district. Even House Speaker Greg Curtis, who blamed Matheson, in part, for his close election, went to Capitol Hill with a sketched map, attempting to "square up" some of the boundaries in Sandy. Taylorsville Sen. Mike Waddoups attempted unsuccessfully to consolidate his city into one of the districts.
"Everyone wanted to make an adjustment," said Senate President John Valentine. "It was really the bi-partisan nature of the map that saved it. The committee had worked hard to come to a compromise."
On the floor, some lawmakers in the House and Senate attempted to scrap the entire scheme, arguing that giving the District of Columbia a voting seat in Congress is unconstitutional.
Fruit Heights GOP Rep. Julie Fisher pushed to amend the legislation to require Congress to cede the District of Columbia to Maryland, create a new state or amend the U.S. Constitution to give D.C. a voting seat - all requirements that would likely kill the seat exchange.
"The prevailing attitude is that we're just going to let Congress decide the constitutionality of giving D.C. a seat. I don't think we want to give over our responsibility [to uphold the Constitution] to Congress and the court," Fisher said. "Congress cannot move forward without our complicity.
Others, like outgoing Sen. Patrice Arent voted for the map, but questioned the process that produced it. Arent and other Democrats would prefer redistricting through an independent commission. "It is not a map I am happy with. More important, it is not a process I condone," she said.
But most lawmakers, including some Democrats, argued a redistricting commission would not necessarily result in non-partisan mapmaking.
"You would introduce hidden agendas - at least you know where we stand," said Sen. Chris Buttars, a member of the committee. "You are going to have somebody upset, even if the Lord came down and did the redistricting."
Democratic Sen. Gene Davis agreed, "I don't know how you get politics out of politics," he said.
"Why not make it politics from the start?" asked Senate Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich, D-Price.
But under a tight deadline, other lawmakers rejected all amendments, leaving it to Congress to resolve constitutional questions.
"If we complicate this with issues that don't directly affect Utah, all we're doing is further reducing our chances of getting a fourth seat," said House Minority Leader Rep. Ralph Becker.
* Tribune reporter THOMAS BURR contributed to this story.