Rally urges lawmakers to draw fair boundaries

Published: Saturday, April 9 2011 1:26 p.m. MDT

Protesters rally at the state Capitol on Saturday to support the formation of an independent, nonpartison commission to oversee legislative redistricting in Utah.

Lennie Mahler, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A small but enthusiastic group gathered Saturday at the state Capitol to call on lawmakers to draw new legislative and congressional boundaries fairly.

"We know that they've chosen to do the redistricting in-house, but what we're asking them for is to listen to the public," Kelli Lundgren, Utah Coffee Party co-chairwoman, said. "We do not want to see gerrymandering."

Many of the more than two dozen people participating in the rally, who moved inside because of bad weather, were part of the failed "Fair Boundaries" initiative that sought to establish an independent redistricting commission.

The Legislature's redistricting committee, announced recently by GOP legislative leaders, is expected to hold public hearings around the state before the boundaries are finalized later this year.

"We are here today to hold them accountable," Lundgren said. "We just don't know if they are going to actually use our suggestions or not. We're just asking that they do. That's all we can hope for."

Lundgren said she was especially concerned about Salt Lake County being split into four congressional districts to dilute the influence of Democratic voters now that Utah has a fourth seat in Congress.

Rob Miller, Utah State Democratic Party vice chairman, noted that after the 2000 census, the state's lone Democrat in Congress, Rep. Jim Matheson, said his largely Salt Lake County district stretched across the state into one the size of Pennsylvania.

Similar changes were made in Tooele and Weber counties, Miller said, all in an effort to give Republican candidates an advantage in future elections. He said he hoped by the next census, Utah will have an independent redistricting commission.

Mark Sage, one of the sponsors of the Fair Boundaries initiative petition drive launched in 2009, said the effort is still alive. The group did not collect enough signatures to qualify the referendum for the 2010 ballot.

Sage said support for an independent redistricting commission has grown since then, with about three-quarters of Utahns now backing the change, according to a recent poll.

Lundgren promised future rallies would be held. The group had hoped for a large turnout, similar to the rallies that helped get HB477, a bill overhauling the state's open records law, repealed recently.

Rally participants waved signs calling for "Democracy for Utah," and advising "Voters choose leaders, not leaders choose voters." Several signs urged that House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, be stopped "from railroading your vote."

Lockhart, who will serve on the committee along with Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, has said she is pleased with the makeup of the mostly GOP committee because all areas of the state are represented.

A member of a tea party group in Magna, Sarge Froehle, said like him, a majority of Utahns are neither Republicans nor Democrats but nonaffiliated or third-party voters.

"We need to be treated like the majority," Froehle said. "This is a government of the people and for the people and it's supposed to be by the people."

Email: lisa@desnews.com

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