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Some say her fellow Democrats plunged a political dagger into her back. Others say Republicans did her in. Some wonder whether high-powered friends of the Utah Transit Authority targeted her because of her criticism of that agency.
Regardless, when the Utah House approved new district maps this month for its own members, only one was unhappy enough to vote against it Rep. Janice Fisher, D-West Valley City.
"It's an awful map. They drew the new line right down the middle of my street. I look across the road into another district now, but it used to be mine," she said. "The areas of my strongest support and common interest were taken away. … Only about 10 percent of my old district is in my new one."
That tiny part of her old district was grafted into what had been mostly the district of Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley City. The new district is the only one in the state in which an incumbent Republican and Democrat would face each other next year. It is considered one of Utah's few true swing districts, where either party could win.
Lawmakers easily could have placed Fisher in a relatively safe Democratic seat, and Cox in a fairly safe Republican one. Why they did not makes for an interesting political whodunit.
"[Fisher] came up to me before the vote on the House map and was furious. She told me that I had ruined her political career," said Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, the House chairman of the Legislature's Redistricting Committee. "It was really the Democrats, not the Republicans. We allowed Democrats to draw the boundaries in areas that they had controlled. They did some interesting things" that hurt her.
For example, key parts of Fisher's old west-side district, centered in the community of Hunter, were cut up and put into two new long and thin east-west Democratic districts.
Those districts benefit Democratic incumbents who live far to the east, including Rep. Larry Wiley, D-West Valley City (who lives near the Jordan River) in one district, along with Reps. David Litvack and recently appointed Brian Doughty, Democrats who live in Salt Lake City and would face each other in the other district.
Sumsion said Democrats could have put more of their east-side incumbents together in districts and kept Fisher's west-side district mostly intact, but did not. "We, as Republicans, chose to do that in the southern end of the valley, where we put [Reps. LaVar] Christensen [of Draper] and [Todd] Kiser [of Sandy] in the same east-side district, instead of trying to draw long east-west districts to try to protect them."
Cox notes that Fisher's old district was just short of the population needed to preserve it. But rather than keep it together, it was split to the apparent benefit of other Democrats.
So did Fisher's fellow Democrats throw her to the Republican elephants to help save themselves?
"I don't think that's true," Fisher said. "I think my fellow Democrats did everything they could for me."
Agreeing is Litvack, the House minority leader. He says Democrats did make an original proposal to put Cox and Fisher in the same district, "but it looked a lot different then than it does now." He said as leaders tried to mesh a variety of proposals and ensure that population variation between districts was as close to zero as possible, the district became worse for Fisher.
"I don't want to blame it just on Republicans," Litvack said. "Some of it we did, and some they did in the redrafting process," but he added Democrats did try eventually to make the district more friendly for Fisher. "And we couldn't come to an agreement" with Republicans.
Fisher said she and Republican Cox went together to GOP leaders seeking to add back key parts of her old district into her new district, especially areas just north of her home.
She said Republicans granted such tweaks to several other incumbents. But when she and Cox met with Rep. Merlynn Newbold, R-South Jordan, who was coordinating adjustments in Salt Lake County, "Merlynn said no," Fisher said.
Fisher also wonders if she was treated poorly because she is an outspoken critic of UTA. She had unsuccessfully pushed ethics legislation affecting its directors and had called for a criminal probe into "transit-oriented development" deals that profited one UTA director.
House Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper, is also chairman of the UTA board, and had clashed with Fisher over the agency.
"I don't think I'm so important that people would target me for what I'm doing with the UTA," Fisher said. "But, still, I have to think about it. I wonder if it is possible."
Hughes said it "had absolutely nothing to do with UTA." Like other Republicans, he said the lines in that area were drawn by Democrats. "Really, the districts you see for the Democrat seat are what were proffered by that caucus."
For his part, Cox who was appointed to his seat this year to replace former Rep. Ron Bigelow, R-West Valley City, who resigned to become the state's budget director also could have received safer boundaries than he did from fellow Republicans. He believes that happened because Republicans were trying to draw districts that made sense geographically.
"I would rather have a district that makes sense geographically," he said, "than one where I might not have had to run against another incumbent but where the lines didn't make sense."
Cox and Fisher say either could win the new district, and both expect a tough fight.
Cox said he likes his chances because he is conservative and feels the district is as well. He added he would need to reach out to Democrats as well as Republicans to win.
"It is a swing district. It could go either way," he said. "I don't think anyone is going to win if they target just one party."
Fisher believes she can win, too, but predicts an uphill fight after losing most of her old district.
"West Valley City is my city. I was on the City Council for 16 years," she said. "I hope to get reacquainted with people who I haven't represented for a long time. And while my new district is maybe 85 percent new, the people are 100 percent friends and neighbors. It is what it is, and we will go out and work our buns off" in the campaign.