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A five out of six chance now exists that Utah will have a "pizza slice" plan for its new congressional districts, which would divide Salt Lake County into slices that are attached to large rural areas.
The Legislature's Redistricting Committee voted Thursday to advance six congressional plans for further and final consideration Tuesday. Five of the six are variations of pizza slice plans. Maps are available online at http://bit.ly/mWM4oJ.
That upsets Democrats and reform groups, who say such plans are an attempt to divide Democratic votes in their one stronghold in the state in Salt Lake County and ensure that all of Utah's four U.S. House seats next year will end up in Republican hands.
"It's an attempt to draw the lines to affect the outcome of an election, and split up Salt Lake County as a community of interest, and it is disappointing," said Sen. Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake City, a member of the committee.
"They are ignoring the will of the public," said Sue Connor, vice president of the reform group Represent Me Utah!
She noted that a Salt Lake Tribune poll last month showed only 40 percent of Utahns supported creating "pizza slice" districts, while 53 percent supported a "doughnut hole" plan that would create an all-Salt Lake County district. Most reform groups back doughnut-hole plans. Connor said minutes of committee hearings also show most people who testified supported doughnut-hole plans.
But GOP members of the committee, who outnumber Democrats 14 to five, said most people they talk to favor the pizza-slice idea. Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, said at the committee's final eight field hearings, it asked residents for a show of hands about which type of plan they preferred and the pizza slice was preferred in six of eight.
Steve Clark, chairman of the Sanpete County Republican Party, told the committee he feels rural counties find doughnut-hole plans "abhorrent," because "you give the politicians within that doughnut hole district the luxury of being able to totally and completely ignore rural issues." He said rural areas prefer forcing all members of the congressional delegation to pay some attention to them because it might make a difference in a close election.
Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, House chairman of the committee, also said it is in the state's interest to have "a congressional delegation that is representing all the interests of the state," and that would most likely happen if all districts had rural and urban areas.
Despite such arguments, Connor said, "They are ignoring public input and relying more on anecdotal evidence for support, and are providing no evidence to support that... The public is left with nothing but to be outraged."
The committee did forward one modified doughnut-hole plan for more consideration next week, proposed by Rep. Wayne Harper, R-West Jordan. It creates one district in Salt Lake County in areas south of Salt Lake City and largely on the west side. Salt Lake City would be combined with eastern Utah. Utah County would be combined with most of southern Utah.
The other five plans are variations of pizza-slice plans and include one plan submitted by a regular citizen, David E. Garber, of Provo.
Garber said he became seriously ill this year, and had to withdraw from BYU as a student and is unemployed. But he used his extra time to try drawing some redistricting plans as allowed by the committee's website.
"I'm pleased they found some value in my plan," he said. It slices Salt Lake County only in two pieces. The western portion of the county would be joined with Tooele County and northwestern Utah County. Eastern Salt Lake County would be joined with eastern Utah. Northern Utah would have a district, and southern Utah and most of Utah County would be in a fourth district.
Similar to that is a map submitted by Clark, of Sanpete County. It also divides Salt Lake County into two slices, and combines them with rural areas to the west and east. His map divides southern and northern Utah differently.
The committee also advanced pizza slice plans submitted by its two leaders, Sumsion and Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe.
Members said another pizza slice plan by Sumsion initially also had support, but lost it because of a potential breach of rules when people in the audience attempted to pass out information showing that its districts would all be two-thirds Republican. Committee rules do not allow members to formally consider partisan information.
Another plan which received the most support by members in rounds of voting on Thursday was submitted by Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley City. He calls it a "hat and three stripes" plan because it creates a district across the northern top of Utah, and three long vertical districts beneath it. That plan splits Salt Lake County into four slices.
Sumsion said the committee is seeking public comment on the finalist plans before it meets again on Tuesday, when it hopes to adopt a final plan. He said the committee is not bound to adopt any one of the six proposals that it advanced, and may still borrow and combine elements of them into a final plan.
P The Redistricting Committee is expected to pick its final recommended map at its meeting Tuesday. The meeting, which is open to the public, begins at 9 a.m. in Room 445 of the State Capitol.
O Check out the six finalist maps that survived Thursday's cut › bit.ly/mWM4oJ