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Legislative leaders announce redistricting committee

Published: Wednesday, April 6 2011 8:09 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Legislative leaders announced Wednesday the make-up of a redistricting committee that has the charge of drawing the state's political boundaries, including Utah's fourth seat in Congress, based on the 2010 census. 

The 2010 census confirmed the state's population has increased enough to earn it a fourth seat — from 2.23 million to 2.76 million in the past 10 years. 

The GOP-dominated committee is comprised of 14 Republicans and five Democrats. Together they will redraw maps for the State Board of Education, stateHouse of Representatives and Senate, and congressional districts.

The panel will host a series of public hearings around the state to gather input. Residents will also be able to use a soon-to-be accessible legislative website to listen in on the hearings, work on their own map proposals and track the progress of the committee's work.

How the council draws the boundaries of the fourth seat might affect some Utah lawmakers who have hinted at national aspirations, including Reps. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, and David Clark, R-Santa Clara.

A special session is expected to be called, likely in the fall, for the Legislature to take action on the proposed maps, giving lawmakers time to make decisions for 2012 races. 

In an atypical move, House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, and Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, appointed themselves to the committee, but Lockhart said it wasn't so she could influence the process as speaker.

“That’s not my style,” she said. “I don’t plan on driving any one specific agenda at all.”  

Salt Lake Democrat and now committee member, Brian King, said he isn't bothered by leadership appointing themselves to the committee. Their decision illustrates the committee's importance, he said.

Lockhart said she was pleased with the overall makeup of the commission, which includes Reps. Curt Webb, R-Logan; Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville; Roger Barrus, R-Centerville; Jackie Biskupski, D-Salt Lake; Todd Kiser, R-Sandy; Merlynn Newbold, R-South Jordan; Mel Brown, R-Coalville; Francis Gibson, R-Spanish Fork; Christine Watkins, D-Price; Don Ipson, R-St. George. From the state Senate are  Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe; Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake; Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake; Stuart Reid, R-Ogden; and Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal.

“That was really my goal," Lockhart said, "to make sure we had representation on the committee from all areas of the state.”

In areas of the state where the population hasn't increased significantly in the last 10 years, the districts will become bigger, and districts in areas where the population has surged will shrink as a result of the boundary shifting process.

While there are guidelines for the committee to follow, King said, the possibility of gerrymandering remains.

The last redistricting process took a shot at Utah's only Democratic member of Congress, Jim Matheson. Some said the revised boundaries of Matheson's district were intentionally drawn to keep him from being reelected. His was reelected anyway.

In 2010, the Fair Boundaries citizen initiative tried to set up an independent commission to redraw boundaries after the 2010 census. The commission would have made their recommendations to the Legislature, which would have retained the final say.

The state said there weren't enough signatures to put the initiative on the ballot. 

E-mail: averzello@desnews.com

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