This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Three of every four Utahns polled by The Salt Lake Tribune would like an independent commission rather than lawmakers to recommend how to redraw political boundaries this year. Despite such popularity, legislative leaders say that simply is not going to happen.
"I ran a bill to create one [such commission] last year, but it didn't even find its way to a committee hearing," said Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City. He said that shows how little Republicans want to give up their power over redistricting as long as a GOP-heavy Legislature continues to oversee the process.
But House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, says the Utah Constitution specifically gives the Legislature responsibility for redistricting. "Besides, there's no such thing as a truly independent commission. Members are appointed by some entity, and everyone has their own agenda. You can't take politics out of the process."
Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, agrees. "Redistricting affects everyone, so everyone has a conflict of interest."
But one Utahn polled, Richard Tracy, 67, a retired federal employee living in Hurricane, said, "The less that the politicians have to do with how they are elected, the more I like it."
Tracy is in sync with most Utahns on the issue. A Tribune survey by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research showed that 73 percent of Utahns would favor using an independent advisory commission to redraw boundaries, as is done in many states; 21 percent opposed that; and 6 percent were undecided.
Political boundaries are redrawn once every 10 years, after completion of the census. Last time, critics charged that GOP legislators tried to redistrict U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, out of office by removing many Democratic areas from his district.
He survived anyway, but late last year asked Gov. Gary Herbert to appoint an independent commission (as Matheson's father, former Gov. Scott Matheson, once did) to recommend fair boundaries to the Legislature. Herbert rejected that, again noting that the Utah Constitution gives the Legislature power over redistricting and he said he did not want to interfere with that.
Lockhart said she is doing her best to defer talk about redistricting until after the current session of the Legislature to keep members focused on current business. She said she will not appoint members to redistricting committees until after that.
But others said redistricting is still a common topic of behind-the-scenes conversation at the Capitol especially because Utah is receiving a new, fourth U.S. House seat after the new census.
The Tribune poll measured support among residents for some of the most common proposals about how to draw districts for Utah's U.S. House seats.
The most support came for the idea of giving southern Utah its own U.S. House seat in the mix. That was supported by 66 percent of respondents, including a majority from every region and party in the state.
Rep. David Clark, R-St. George, a former speaker of the House who is seen as a potential congressional candidate next year, is among those who have pushed the idea of a district just for southern Utah.
"Eighty percent of the people in Utah live along the Wasatch Front. That concentrates political power there. You don't know what kind of [inferiority] complex that gives to the rest of the state about whether their concerns are heard," he said.
Tracy, the Hurricane resident who participated in the poll, said, "Southern Utah has different issues than the urban northern area. So it makes sense that it have its own representative."
Waddoups is not so sure. He said rural areas may actually have better representation in Congress if every House district has a slice of rural area, ensuring that members must pay attention to them.
Proponents of such thinking have discussed including a slice of Salt Lake County in all four House districts. Waddoups said the county is so large that simple math shows it must be put into at least two or three districts anyway.
But that "pie slice" idea had the least support of the options given to poll recipients 49 percent supported it, 32 percent were opposed and the rest were undecided. Salt Lake County residents themselves especially disliked the idea, with only 37 percent supporting it while 47 percent opposed it.
Another idea is called the "doughnut hole," where one entire district would be in Salt Lake County possibly combining Democratic strongholds into it to make the oher three districts safe for Republicans.
That was supported by 53 percent of poll respondents, and opposed by 28 percent. Salt Lake County residents favored that by a large 63-18 margin, and Democrats favored it by an overwhelming 80-13 margin. Republicans gave it tepid 44-33 percent support, with the rest undecided.
The poll interviewed 625 Utahns Jan. 17-19. Its statistical margin of error is plus or minus 4 points.
Districts redrawn every 10 years
R Political districts are redrawn to account for population changes reflected in the census. Utah's Legislature will tackle the remapping later this year, after holding public hearings. In addition to carving out new congressional districts including a fourth U.S. House seat they will rework legislative districts.
What both sides say about process
Critics • Say incumbent politicians drawing maps have inherent conflict.
Opponents of independent group • Point out that the Utah Constitution gives the Legislature the task. Most proposals for an independent commission, though, would make it advisory, thus steering clear of a legal conflict.