Don't ignore what Utahns want in drawing new boundaries, advocates urge
SALT LAKE CITY — Advocates calling for the state's political boundaries to be re-drawn fairly urged the lawmakers in charge of the process Wednesday not to forget what Utahns want.
For several months, more than 150 members of the public have told the Legislature's redistricting committee they want their communities kept together rather than divided for political purposes.
But now that the committee has concluded a series of statewide public hearings, the advocates said they fear that testimony will be ignored in setting new legislative and congressional boundaries.
"We're concerned that the public input process has been nothing more than a dog and pony show," said Maryann Martindale, executive director of Alliance for a Better UTAH. "We hope we're wrong, but we don’t think we are."
She, along with leaders of RepresentMeUtah! and Fair Boundaries, said they'll continue to monitor the work of lawmakers as the new boundaries are finalized, based on population shifts identified in the 2010 Census that gave Utah a fourth seat in Congress.
The committee is expected to work through late August or early September, followed by a special session of the Legislature in the fall to give final approval to the new maps that will be in place for the next decade.
The advocates who gathered Wednesday at the state Capitol held up a box chained shut to represent maps that "have been or will be drawn behind closed doors without public input, only to be revealed at the last minute and approved in a rush."
They have not, however, put forth their own proposal.
"Frankly, we don’t think that it matters what the public is going to say," Martindale said. "We're not going to do their job for them when we know that it's not going to be taken into consideration."
An effort to establish an independent redistricting commission through an initiative petition drive failed, as did a push to get lawmakers to give up their control over the process.
A member of the redistricting committee, Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said the work is far from finished.
"I think it's been a very fair process. We've taken input at every meeting we've been to. We've asked anyone that's drawn maps to present them to us," he said.
But, Waddoups said, most people don't realize that keeping one community together likely means another has to be split.
"You've got to pick your poison," he said. "They're just finding that it's very difficult for them to do."
So far, none of the 150 or so maps for legislative, congressional or school districts already in circulation have committee support, Waddoups said.
Those maps can be viewed online, at the state's redistricting website, www.redistrictutah.com. Special software allowing the public to draw and submit proposals is also available on the website.
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