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Lawmakers relieved to be taking a breather on redistricting

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 5 2011 10:12 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Tuesday night, Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins was fed up over the House GOP's failure to reach an agreement on how to divide the state's now four congressional districts.

After two days "of mostly sitting around" waiting for the House majority Republicans to make a decision, "I was frustrated like everybody else," Jenkins, R-Plain City, said.

But Wednesday, the Senate leader said he agrees that adjourning the special redistricting session that started Monday until Oct. 17 was the right call.

"If the House needs a little more time than the Senate, the House should take it," he said. "I'm hoping in the meantime, the leadership teams will do a little more advance work to have a better product that the caucuses are unified on."

Jenkins didn't blame House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, for the House's inaction on a proposed congressional map approved by the Senate on Monday, despite hours of closed-door GOP caucuses.

"They have some problems. But you know, they have a lot more people to deal with than we do," he said. "A lot of it is timing as much as anything else. Once people have gotten to the point where they've had it, there's no talking to them."

Lockhart told KSL Newsradio's Doug Wright that members of the caucus "have some philosophical differences within our own party as Republicans and we're just taking the time necessary."

The Legislature's Redistricting Committee will meet at 9 a.m. Friday to review at least some of the proposals that surfaced in the closed caucuses.

The speaker said the extra time makes for a more open process "where the people feel like they have input and where the representatives feel like they have input." She called herself "a process person. That's what I ran on to be speaker."

Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said the impasse may just be a continuation of last year's battle for the speakership. Lockhart reportedly beat former speaker, Rep. Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, by just a single vote in the secret ballot.

Her supporters, Jowers said, "have definitely tried to put her in the best light, that she's doing a great job trying to deal with all the different interests" involved in redrawing the congressional boundaries to reflect the 2010 Census.

He said Lockhart's detractors, however, are saying "she wasted all of our time and embarrassed us," citing her inability to get the caucus behind a map — even one she pushed through the Legislature's Redistricting Committee last week.

Jowers said it appears much of the backroom battling was over whether to reconfigure Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson's 2nd District to benefit Clark's likely congressional run or leave it largely intact.

Gov. Gary Herbert has reportedly been pressuring lawmakers to ensure that Matheson wants to run for re-election once the map is done, not challenge him in the governor's race.

Herbert told Wright that was "a false conclusion based on bad information" and that he had "not looked at anybody based on any numbers. I've said we ought to be fair and balanced in our approach."

The governor said "as the dominant party, as Republicans, we ought to be statesmanlike in how we approach it. I understand the role the party has in the state. I understand the role the loyal opposition has."

He said he had "faith in the Legislature" and that too much is being made about the impact of the new boundaries.

"I trust the voters of Utah to make the decisions in their own best interests as a state and as a congressional district," Herbert said. "The elections are determined by the people of Utah and not by the lines on a map."

House Rules Chairman Wayne Harper, R-West Jordan, said there were "issues with other elected officials outside the House and Senate weighing in," apparently a reference to sitting members of Congress as well as the governor.

Also, Harper said, coming to an agreement was made more difficult because several House members are eying a run for Congress, including Clark and Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, who has already announced a bid for the new 4th District seat.

Wimmer said he's "just letting them do their job" and the final map "doesn't really matter. We will take what we get and we will run with it."

Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said the pause in the process reflects well on House leadership, showing "that they were trying to allow their caucus members to express their views."

House Democrats support the decision to adjourn, to give the public an opportunity to see the proposals discussed in the closed GOP caucuses. The state Democratic Party has threatened a lawsuit over the congressional boundaries.

"This need to step back from our perspective has nothing to do with whether Republicans can come together on a map," House Minority Leader David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, said.

"To come out with something new at the last second, at the end of the evening was not the right way to do it," Litvack said. "That would put a pall over the entire redistricting process and the entire Legislature. We don't need that."

Email: lisa@desnews.com Twitter: dnewspolitics

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