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Matheson wants independent group to redraw congressional districts

Published: Friday, Nov. 12 2010 5:06 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.

His father, Scott Matheson, issued an executive order when he was governor to encourage a fair redistricting process 30 years ago, in 1981. Back then, the Legislature ignored the governor's request. Friday, Herbert rejected Congressman Matheson's request.

But Jim Matheson insists that taking politics out of redistricting is the right thing to do.

"Politicians should not be picking their voters," Matheson said.

Matheson was joined by the 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.

"It's a difficult issue to explain to people," said Mary Bishop, executive board member of the Fair Boundaries ballot initiative organization. "But once the light bulb goes on, they absolutely believe it should not be done by politicians, and that it should be done by an independent commission.

"Polls show overwhelming support for such a commission, with redistricting standards," Bishop said.

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," Herbert's spokeswoman, Angie Welling, said Friday.

Even if Herbert were willing to issue an executive order, 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.

Friday, Rebecca Lockhart, speaker-elect of the Utah House of Representatives, insisted lawmakers can draw the new district boundaries fairly.

"I believe they can, and do it fairly," Lockhart said. "The state constitution is clear, the Legislature draws the lines after each census."

Lockhart added that Utah has never had its redistricting boundaries litigated in a court of law.

"We're very careful about looking at the criteria, the rules if you will, around which we draw those lines," Lockhart said.

But Matheson points to a Wall Street Journal editorial from 2001, which Matheson said calls Utah's last redistricting a "scam."

"They said Utah, the way it conducted itself in redistricting, was an embarrassment," Matheson said. "We deserve better."

e-mail: rpiatt@desnews.com

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