SALT LAKE CITY — When Utah lawmakers return after a two-week hiatus to finalize new congressional districts Monday, partisan bickering, angry activists and lawsuit threats will continue to dog their efforts.
Legislators will be considering about a half-dozen new maps that have been drafted since negotiations for a compromise congressional map collapsed Oct. 4. The four new district boundaries will be in place for the next decade.
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said the legislative recess — a 30-day special session runs through the end of the month — gave everyone time to work with the congressional maps and try to find a compromise.
"Emotions can get high and it can feel like we're in a time crunch," Lockhart said. "There was a lot of stress and people were tired. We needed the time so that everyone could take a step back."
Most of the new maps are drawn by Republicans and divide Democratic-leaning Salt Lake County into at least three districts. They are generally variations on a map passed by the Senate Oct. 3 that House Republicans refused to support, in part because of an effort to shift more Republican voters into a couple of districts.
That partisan push has frustrated Democrats who claim their votes are being diluted, primarily in an attempt to get rid of six-term U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah.
Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said he will introduce a map that divides Salt Lake County twice in an effort to quell some of the public anger about the districts.
Other maps "are driven too much by a partisan desire to draw four districts where Republicans have the best chance to win," King said. "That's not what the people of the state want ... partisan numbers shouldn't be a primary consideration."
King said the rancor over the congressional maps is disappointing because it obscures the success of the overall redistricting process, which he said treated Democrats pretty fairly despite the Republican dominance throughout the state. Legislative and school board maps all passed with nearly unanimous support.
State Democratic Party Chairman James Dabakis has maintained that the party will sue the state if the proposed congressional map is approved. Earlier this week, the party filed an open records request seeking communications between legislators, staff and outside groups about redistricting.
Dabakis has repeatedly criticized the Republicans for meeting for hours in closed caucuses to discuss the maps. He said the recess was necessary to rally Republican votes in the House, not provide more opportunity for the public to comment
"It was a continuation of the charade," Dabakis said. "If they could've hammered a few more heads to support the original plan, this thing would've been finished. There's nothing noble about what they did."
Josh Loftin can be reached at http://twitter.com/joshloftin.
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