Although the committee charged with redrawing the state's congressional districts to include a proposed new fourth seat doesn't officially convene until Monday, some members were already working Friday on an alternative GOP plan.
Meanwhile, a group of Utah Republicans is preparing a resolution that asks Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and Utah's GOP congressional delegation to halt efforts to get a fourth U.S. House seat.
The resolution, to be considered at a Dec. 2 Salt Lake County Party central committee meeting and a February state GOP central committee meeting, says Utah should just wait until the 2010 Census, when population growth is projected to justify at least one additional seat in Congress for the state.
Leaders of the Legislature's just-named redistricting committee were tinkering Friday with a four-seat proposal put forward recently by the governor and House and Senate leaders. The plan would have split Salt Lake County in half, with the southern portion going into the new 4th District along with parts of rural Utah.
Instead of Huntsman's preliminary idea, committee leaders said, the state's most populous county may be divided among three of the four districts. A redrawn 2nd District could include Summit, Daggett and Morgan counties as well as Salt Lake City, the city's Rose Park and other parts of Salt Lake County.
"These are not set in stone. They're meant to be the starting point for discussion," said Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, co-chairman of the redistricting committee. "We've come up with something that looks fairly benign."
But even as Bramble was drawing his new map, House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, warned that any plan that split the county into parts of three districts would only come if Salt Lake County was the "population center of at least two of the districts."
The governor's proposal, along with a map drawn up in 2001 when the state first hoped to get a fourth seat in the U.S. House, will join other alternatives as the state attempts to convince the lame-duck Congress to give Utah additional representation.
Lawmakers are expected to meet in special session on Dec. 1 to approve a map to send to Washington, D.C., for action before the new Democrat-controlled Con- gress takes over in January. Public hearings across Utah on the proposals are expected to be held Nov. 27-29.
A fourth congressional seat in Utah is a political compromise in a bill that would give Washington, D.C., a voting member in the House. The new D.C. representative would likely be a Democrat, who would be offset by the Republican likely elected to represent a fourth district in Utah.
But going after a fourth seat now so the District of Columbia can have a voting member in the House is a bad idea, says Jeremy Roberts, a Salt Lake County GOP activist.
At the Dec. 2 county central committee meeting, Roberts, a member of the committee, and his supporters will try to get the county party to officially oppose a fourth seat now. He'll also try to get the same resolution passed in a February meeting of the state GOP.
Roberts' resolution says that only states should have voting representation in the U.S. House and Senate and so it is unconstitutional to let the District of Columbia have a House seat. And the Salt Lake County Republican Party stands for a strict interpretation of the Constitution, he says.
"This latest fiasco (of giving the district a voting representative and an additional seat to Utah) is clearly an attempt by the Democrats to get via legislation what they could not get via a constitutional amendment," Roberts says in his resolution.
The Dec. 2 county party meeting will probably come after the Utah Legislature has voted on a new proposed four-seat plan, however.
Currently, the 2nd District is one of largest geographically in the country, taking in most of eastern and southern Utah as well as a portion of Salt Lake County. Only about half of strongly Democratic Salt Lake City is in the existing 2nd District.
As for the rest of Salt Lake County, Bramble said some westside portions should go to a redrawn 3rd District along with a sliver of Tooele County. And the rest of Salt Lake County including Sandy could be part of a new 4th District "centered" in St. George.
But, Curtis said, "Salt Lake County has to be the major population center for two of the seats."
For example, the speaker said, each of the four new districts will have a population of about 560,000 people. Two out of the four districts would have to have 60 percent to 70 percent of their population coming in Salt Lake County "maybe 350,000 or so people in the county from those two districts" to come up with that figure, he said.
Curtis, who went through the bruising redistricting in 2001, has said that the 2nd District now held by Utah's only Democratic member of Congress, Rep. Jim Matheson must be a mostly Democratic seat. Otherwise, Democrats in Congress will not go along with the proposed deal that would give the District of Columbia one voting House seat and give Utah another House seat.
Bramble was traveling to St. George Friday with legislative staff in to to meet with Rep. Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, the House committee co-chairman. Bramble is the incoming Senate majority leader, and Clark, the incoming House majority leader.
Bramble said he expects the redistricting committee to come up with congressional districts that are "centered" in four areas of the state Salt Lake City, St. George, Utah County and northern Utah.
Splitting Salt Lake County by far the state's largest county by population three ways has already been done under the current three-seat boundary.
Currently, Rep. Rob Bishop's 1st Congressional District has northern and western parts of Salt Lake City. (Bishop routinely has lost the vote in Salt Lake City, his Democratic challenger getting more than 60 percent.)
Matheson's 2nd District takes in eastern Salt Lake City and east bench areas of the county. Matheson in recent elections has won more than 60 percent of the vote in this part of his huge geographic district, which also takes in eastern and southern Utah. In the 2006 election, Matheson got more than 70 percent of the Salt Lake County vote. Matheson also has a bit of northeastern Utah County, where he has been beaten by his GOP opponent.And Rep. Chris Cannon's 3rd Congressional District actually has more people in western Salt Lake County than it has in the parts of Utah County he represents. But the 3rd District has historically been based in Utah County, and Cannon wins huge GOP majorities there. In the 2006 election, 69,500 votes were cast in the Salt Lake County portion of the 3rd District, compared to 56,800 votes in Utah County.