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A citizens group proposed on Monday what it says are four different ways to redraw Utah's congressional districts fairly this year each with one district contained within the boundaries of Salt Lake County, the state's largest.
This design, often referred to as a "doughnut hole," is favored by Democrats and clashes with a competing "pizza slice" concept favored by Republicans that divides Salt Lake County into all four districts.
The Utah Citizens Counsel, with such members as former GOP Gov. Olene Walker and former University of Utah President Chase Peterson, earlier called for lawmakers to appoint an independent commission to draw such maps. When legislators declined, the UCC drew its own.
"You are asking the people who are elected to draw their own boundary lines. It takes a statesman to go beyond politics, and say, 'This is what is going to be best for citizens,' " said Joe Dunlop, a consultant who drew the maps for UCC. "I wish I could say that we had 100 percent statesmen up there. However … that's not quite right," so the public should get involved to ensure fairness, he said.
UCC says its maps focus not on politics but on keeping communities and common interests together.
"In Salt Lake County, because it is large enough to have its own congressional district, it makes sense to give it its own congressional district," said Dunlop, who also worked with an independent advisory commission that former Gov. Scott Matheson appointed in 1981 for redistricting that year.
He said that forming a Salt Lake County-only district "held true with the goals and objectives the committee has of maintaining that unity [of keeping communities together] wherever possible."
Democrats have pushed the "doughnut hole" approach because it would form a relatively "safe" Democratic seat, probably for Rep. Jim Matheson. The other three districts would likely be "safe" GOP seats.
Meanwhile, a "pizza slice" design could create a greater chance for Republicans to win all four districts by diluting Democratic votes inSalt Lake County.
Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, a member of the Legislature's Redistricing Committee, said Monday that a "pizza-slice" approach would also force all Utah members of Congress to focus on both urban and rural issues including how federal, public lands are used.
"I always thought it would be good to have federal lands represented in all of the districts," he said. "Federal lands are important to the state, with oil and mining" competing with wilderness and other uses so "it would be good to have all the representaives pay attention to those issues," he said.
Dee Rowland, UCC co-chairwoman for redistricing, said the group drew four maps, instead of just one, to show that several fair ways to draw boundaries exist, and hoped the multiple maps would foster debate.
"Our purpose is to get the people as excited about redistricting as they are about liquor store closings," she said.
The four versions of the UCC maps take different approaches to creating the "doughnut hole":
• One map would create three all-urban districts along the Wasatch Front, plus one very large all-rural district in the rest of the state.
• Another would cut the state in horizontal slices, north to south.
• A third would split it vertically, east to west.
• A fourth version would leave every county intact except Salt Lake County. It would create a northern district, a southern district, a Salt Lake County district and another that combines western Salt Lake County, southern Davis, northern Utah and Tooele counties together.
Each of those approaches or any other would require slicing Salt Lake County because of its size.
"The big problem is that Salt Lake County alone has more people than one congressional district should," Rowland said. "So Salt Lake County must be divided. How to do that is a big issue."
Utah by law must be divided into equal-population congressional districts, each withroughly 690,971 people. Salt Lake County has about 1.03 million residents.
The maps can be found at http://www.utahcitizenscounsel.org. The group is planning a webinar, with links available at that site, to explain those maps (and others it is still drawing for legislative districts) on Thursday at 7 p.m. It will have a recorded version of that webinar available there later.
The UCC said it worked with several good-government groups to develop its proposal, including the League of Women Voters, RepresentMeUtah!, Fair Boundaries of Utah, Utahns for Ethical Government, the Utah Education Association, the Utah AFL-CIO, and AARP. Representatives of those groups attended its press conference on Monday.
R Utah, like every other state, is required to redraw its political voting maps every 10 years. The official purpose is to preserve the concept of "one person, one vote" by ensuring equal populations in every district.
Under the Utah Constitution, redistricting is a job for the state Legislature. There is no ban on an independent group being formed to recommend fair maps, but the Legislature has rejected that approach. Instead, lawmakers say they will take ample public input and factor that into their deliberations.
The Legislature's Redistricting Committee has scheduled 17 field hearings around the state. The first is at 6 p.m. Friday at the Lehi Junior High School Auditorium, 700 E. Cedar Hollow Drive, in Lehi.
The committee also plans to soon have available online software that will allow people to draw their own proposed boundaries and send them to the committee for consideration.