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The Legislature's Redistricting Commission unanimously passed on Monday new district maps for both the Utah Senate and House, which would force a dozen legislators to face a fellow incumbent for re-election if approved by the full Legislature at a special session next month.
The committee also managed to win praise from good-government groups for its Utah House map, but they and some officials from Tooele and Salt Lake counties groused that the Senate map may have unfairly gerrymandered some areas to help incumbents.
In the Senate, slow-growing Salt Lake County will lose one seat to fast-growing Utah County. The map shrinks seven Democratic Senate districts in that county into six. The map would put Sens. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, and Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights, into the same new district, although Democrats may redraw that later. Morgan also has talked about running for governor.
In the House, Salt Lake County will lose two seats and Weber loses one. Because of faster growth, the St. George area picks up one of those seats; Utah County picks up one and a half (with half spread into adjoining areas); and rural areas essentially pick up a half.
The new maps that make those changes would put 10 House members into a district with a fellow incumbent.
In Salt Lake County, incumbents put into the same districts are: Reps. David Litvack and recently appointed Brian Doughty, both D-Salt Lake City; Rep. Janice Fisher, D-West Valley City, and Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley City; and Rep. Todd Kiser, R-Sandy, and LaVar Christensen, R-Draper.
In Utah County, two House members who have long fought shoulder-to-shoulder against illegal immigration would face each other: Reps. Steve Sandstrom, R-Orem, and Chris Herrod, R-Provo. The Provo-Orem area grew relatively slowly, and one House seat from that area is being shifted to faster-growing northern Utah County.
In Weber County, Reps. Brad Galvez, R-West Haven, and Jeremy Peterson, R-Ogden, were drawn into the same district.
Of note, redistricting would also take away most of the current district of Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, and make the Park City area the heart of his new district. Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, House chairman of the committee, said that redrawn seat will become highly competitive, if not Democratic.
"I have put myself with another colleague," Kiser, a committee member, announced at the committee meeting Monday. He said that placing himself with Christensen was dictated because numbers showed that the slow-growing southeast quadrant of Salt Lake County should give a new seat to the faster growing southwest side. He said his act showed a willingness by lawmakers to do the right thing and avoid gerrymandering.
Somewhat similarly, Cox, who is not on the committee but attended its meeting, said he was not upset at being drawn into the same district as incumbent Fisher. He said he would rather be put into a district that makes sense geographically than be gerrymandered into a weirdly shaped area that might give him a better chance at re-election.
Such attitudes won praise from Maryann Martindale, executive director of Alliance for a Better UTAH. She said at first glance, the House map seems to try hard to be fair, keep communities whole where possible and comes close to having nearly exactly equal population in each district to meet the constitutional requirement of one man, one vote.
But she disliked the Senate map, saying it appeared to draw some lines that made little sense except to protect incumbents. Some officials from Tooele and western Salt Lake counties agreed.
Instead of keeping Tooele County whole so that it might elect its own senator, it is split so that, "We will have about a third of two different districts," complained Chris Sloan, chairman of the Tooele County Republican Party. The map combines Tooele City with distant Brigham City, connected on the map only by using the Great Salt Lake. Tooele officials say that was done to help preserve the district of Sen. Pete Knudson, R-Brigham City.
Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, complained that changes in the map to help Utah County incumbents forced Herriman into a Utah County district against its will and forced west-side Riverton and Bluffdale into a district with east-side areas against their will.
The Senate map did avoid a controversial proposal to put Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, who represents the multicultural area of Rose Park, into the same district with Sen. Dan Liljenquist, R-Bountiful, where the GOP would overwhelm Democrats.
However, the map still takes about 5,000 people in Rose Park and 5,000 people on Capitol Hill in Salt Lake County and puts them into Liljenquist's district.
Sen. Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake City, said Democrats may make a later motion to move those residents back into districts in Salt Lake County. He said the future motion may be based on the argument that protecting Rose Park and Capitol Hill as communities of interest is more important than having a zero-deviation in population statewide.
Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, the Senate chairman of the committee, said the Senate map easily passes the major constitutional requirement of ensuring equal population among districts. It varies by only three people from its largest district to its smallest. The Supreme Court has said a variance of up to 3.5 percent in population between districts is acceptable.
Okerlund said both maps are only "base maps" that will continue to be refined until the Legislature meets in a special session on Oct. 3. For example, Senate Democrats said they are still considering several options on how to redraw their areas in Salt Lake County, including putting Jones together with Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City, who is considering running for county mayor.
The committee has yet to draw a map for new congressional districts but has now drawn maps for the Legislature and state school board. The newly adopted maps are expected to be posted on the committee's website, RedistrictUtah.com.