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Richfield • Republicans proposed Friday two redistricting plans that could further reduce the number of already far-outnumbered Democrats in Utah's Legislature and congressional delegation.
Two Democratic seats in the state Senate would likely disappear under a proposal unveiled by Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, at hearings of the Legislature's Redistricting Committee in Richfield and Ephraim. Republicans already hold a 22-7 edge in the Senate.
Republicans also floated a second major proposal to divide Salt Lake County among all four new U.S. House districts, which would dilute Democratic votes in their one stronghold in the state. That could make it more difficult to re-elect Democrat Rep. Jim Matheson if he runs again for the House.
A Democrat on the committee, Sen. Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake City, said in response to the new plans, "We are concerned because we already think Democrats are underrepresented in the state."
He said Democrats receive 31 to 41 percent of the vote in most statewide elections, but have only about 24 percent of legislative seats, and one of three U.S. House seats and new plans could reduce that further.
Waddoups said his state Senate plan would put Sen. Patricia Jones., D-Holladay, and Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City, into the same redrawn district, and also Sens. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, and Dan Liljenquist, R-Bountiful, into a district together.
Waddoups said the moves are a result of Democratic areas not growing as fast as GOP areas not a desire to gerrymander lines for political gain.
He explains that to ensure equal-population representation in the state's 29 Senate districts, each should have about 95,306 residents.
But, he said, "Salt Lake County [currently] has seven Democratic Senate seats. If you take the growth in those seven seats, they are 100,000 people short of what you would need" to meet ideal populations and not be joined with other areas.
So, he said, those seven current Democratic seats need to be redrawn into six. And his proposal also puts Republican Liljenquist and Democrat Robles together and almost all of that district would be in the Davis County home of Liljenquist, improving his chances of election.
McAdams said, "Democratic districts do need to grow geographically, but that doesn't mean they should be consolidated together." Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, said instead of consolidating the Democratic districts, they should be grouped with nearby GOP areas. This would make for more competitive races, and likely improve voter interest and turnout, he said.
Waddoups' plan may be close to what is finally drawn for the state Senate, although he says he plans more refinements. House and Senate leaders say they will essentially let each other draw the plan for their own chamber, as Waddoups has done for the Senate.
Waddoups said his redistricting plan should be online Saturday at the committee's website, RedistrictUtah.com.
Also online there should be another proposal by Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, House chairman of the committee, to slice up Salt Lake County among all four new U.S. House districts. He said the proposal is to stimulate discussion only, and he is not tied strongly to it. It would divide Salt Lake County into almost equally sized quadrants, and join them with rural areas elsewhere.
Sumsion made an earlier proposal to do the same a bit differently, because many Republicans argue that each U.S. House district should have a rural-urban mix to ensure that all its members of Congress worry about federal lands issues. Sumsion said he wants to show variations of what that could look like to allow public comment.
Democrats say it makes more sense to include as much of Salt Lake County as possible into one district to hold it together as a community of interest. It would also concentrate Democratic votes there, and make it easier to re-elect Matheson or some other Democratic candidate.
On other issues, residents pleaded with lawmakers to keep their local communities together as much as possible.
For example, Sanpete County Commissioner Spencer Cox said his county was divided into three House districts that had their population centers elsewhere 10 years ago, and none of their representatives actually live in the county. "Sanpete is the poster child for terrible map drawing," he said.
Cox was upset that legislators are proposing Sanpete County be divided again. Cox said that shows no one is looking out for Sanpete's interests in the Legislature, and proves a district needs to be centered there.
"We know somebody's ox is going to be gored," he said. "The truth is in the last 10 years, Sanpete County's ox has been gored, it's been starved and it's recently been castrated. We're a little upset about that. We're hoping that someone else will take a turn next time."
The committee also plans hearings on Saturday in Cedar City and St. George as part of 17 being held statewide.
The hearings in Ephraim and St. George on Friday were lightly attended, with about 30 people in Ephraim and 25 in Richfield. They were nearly outnumbered by members of the committee, which has 14 Republicans and five Democrats.