Lawmakers meet to consider new election boundaries

By Josh Loftin

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Oct. 3 2011 4:53 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Republican lawmakers met behind closed doors for hours Monday in an attempt to finalize redistricting maps for the next decade.

Congressional and legislative maps remained in flux as a special session of the Legislature began, prompting GOP leaders to retreat to party caucuses multiple times to resolve lingering issues.

The Senate did pass proposed maps for 29 state Senate and four U.S. House districts, although it's likely the congressional map will be changed by House Republicans.

Utah gained a House seat because of population growth in the 2010 Census. The four approved congressional districts have almost identical population numbers, which Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, said was a primary goal for lawmakers.

"We have to come up with maps that we believe make sense and meet those number considerations," Okerlund said. "This map is a compromise the committee supported."

A sticking point for congressional districts is the need for greater rural representation in every district. Republican lawmakers have consistently argued against having any districts comprised solely of urban voters because the state runs the risk of having a congressman or congresswoman who ignores rural issues.

The federal government owns more than 75 percent of land in some of Utah's least-populated counties.

Democrats contend the public lands issue is a smoke-screen to divide Democratic-leaning Salt Lake County, home to more than a third of the state's 2.8 million people.

During a midday rally in the state Capitol rotunda, Democratic leaders and groups affiliated with a push for a non-partisan redistricting committee criticized Republicans for hijacking the process.

The rally of about 100 people included boisterous chants and fiery speakers who decried the map as driven by partisanship instead of equality.

"It's splitting our communities, dividing neighborhoods and breaks the long-held tradition of fairness and common sense in American government," Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon said.

Josh Loftin can be reached at http://twitter.com/joshloftin.

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