Matheson calling for independent state commission

Published: Thursday, Nov. 11 2010 6:03 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Jim Matheson, Utah's only Democratic member of Congress, is calling for GOP Gov. Gary Herbert to create an independent commission to redraw the boundaries for congressional and legislative districts.

"Politicians should not be picking their voters," Matheson said in a statement announcing a Friday news conference where details of his proposal will be released.

Matheson will be joined by a leader of the failed "Fair Boundaries" initiative petition drive that sought to set up an independent commission to handle the redistricting required every 10 years, following the census.

The Legislature, even more strongly Republican after the Nov. 2 election, still has the final say on where the new boundaries will be. The independent commission Matheson is seeking could only make recommendations to lawmakers.

Herbert, though, is going to leave redistricting up the Legislature, which under the state constitution, remains responsible for reapportioning the seats to reflect population changes.

"In that context, he encourages the Legislature to perform its constitutional requirements in an open, transparent and thoughtful manner that adheres to the principle of fair representation for all Utah citizens," the governor's spokeswoman, Angie Welling, said.

Matheson spokeswoman Alyson Heyrend said the congressman's request was modeled on an attempt made by his late father, Gov. Scott Matheson, a Democrat, to influence redistricting in 1981.

The independent commission set up then drew up new maps reapportioning the districts and held public hearings on their proposal around the state. But in the end, she said, they had little impact on lawmakers.

Twenty years later, after the congressman won his first 2nd District race, the GOP-controlled Legislature redrew his district in an attempt to ensure his reelection would be difficult. This year he was one of the few Democrats nationwide to win, even though his district is strongly Republican.

e-mail: lisa@desnews.com

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