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Utah lawmakers endorse congressional map

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 28 2011 12:11 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — The Legislature's Redistricting Committee endorsed a congressional map Tuesday that splits Salt Lake County residents among three of the state's now-four districts, a decision that drew harsh criticism from Democratic party leaders.

The map approved by the committee is a modification of one of the six congressional plans advanced last week for further discussion. The committee will meet Thursday to take another look at the map before making its final recommendation.

The Legislature is expected to be called into special session Monday to make changes to congressional, legislative and State School Board district boundaries based on population shifts identified in the 2010 Census.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, proposed the modified map as "kind of a hybrid" of the so-called "doughnut hole" and "pizza slice" plans, creating a new 4th District in western Salt Lake and Utah counties.

"It is a combination of areas of our state that basically had enough babies and enough people move in to give us the fourth seat," Lockhart said, noting her proposal only divides three of the state's 29 counties, Salt Lake, Utah and Davis.

The speaker said the map's 4th District resembles the "doughnut hole" sought by Democrats, while satisfying GOP concerns about slicing the populous center of the state into four urban and rural districts, the pizza slice approach.

Democrats, who would prefer to see the state divided into three urban districts centered in their Salt Lake area stronghold surrounded by a single rural district — a true "doughnut hole" plan — clearly did not like Lockhart's map.

State Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis said the map amounts to gerrymandering that will discourage Democrats from voting.

The newly elected leader of the state's minority party suggested Utah is a "banana republic" where Democrats are blocked from winning office . "It causes people to feel disenfranchised because they feel like it doesn't matter," if they vote, he said.

His contention was challenged in a contentious exchange over whether any Utahns were actually being deprived of their right to vote. Dabakis concluded that the committee should put aside partisanship and "put passion" back into voting to encourage a higher turnout.

Salt Lake County Democratic Party Chairwoman Mary Bishop said she was "deeply, deeply saddened" by the map. "I think we can do better than this," Bishop said, urging lawmakers to "look in your hearts of hearts, all of you. We're living with the these maps for the next 10 years."

The only vote cast against adopting the map came from Senate Minority Caucus Manager Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake, who tried unsuccessfully to keep at least two maps in the mix. "This is a direction we're heading very quickly," he said.

The map, modified from one created by the committee's co-chairman, Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, would put Salt Lake City into a 2nd District that includes most of the western and central counties and all of southern Utah.

Salt Lake County's east bench neighborhoods would go into a 3rd District with much of Utah County's population and several eastern rural counties. Northern Utah would be in the 1st District, along with most of Davis and all of Summit counties. 

"This is no one's favorite map," Sumision said after the meeting. "But it's a compromise."

He said he believes the map ultimately passed by the Legislature will be close to the map backed by the committee "That's my expectation," he said "I don't expect any surprises." 

Both Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and GOP Gov. Gary Herbert had raised concerns about Sumsion's original map, which would have put the Millcreek area of Salt Lake County into Bishop's 1st District.

A spokeswoman for Bishop said he was not commenting on the redistricting process.

Herbert's spokeswoman, Ally Isom, said the governor had not threatened to veto any specific map. His criteria for assessing the final map, Isom said, include "fairness, balance and a blend of rural and urban populations," as well as what is best for the entire state.

Utah's lone Democratic member of Congress, Rep. Jim Matheson, said he expects the full Legislature "will take another look at the map and do what is in the best interest of the state of Utah."

Matheson also said in a statement that based on the map, "a race by me for governor of for the Senate is still on the table." Polls have shown Matheson would be competitive in 2012 against the GOP governor or Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

During Tuesday's meeting, the committee made some adjustments to the legislative and state school board maps and approved the versions that will be recommended to the Legislature. 

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com Twitter: dnewspolitics

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