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Herbert accused of pressuring lawmakers on redistricting to avoid race against Matheson

Published: Friday, Sept. 30 2011 5:04 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — A potential GOP challenger to Gov. Gary Herbert accused him Friday of pressuring lawmakers to ensure the state's new congressional boundaries encourage Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, to stay out of the governor's race.

Morgan Philpot, who narrowly lost his bid to unseat Matheson last year, said the governor reportedly had threatened to veto legislation that didn't put enough Democrats in the 2nd District to make it winnable for Matheson.

"The Matheson threat is of greater concern to Utah's governor than fairness and due process," Philpot said. "Herbert's latest move represents a pattern of behavior Utahns should find disturbing."

Philpot is already looking at another run against Matheson but now is also considering a bid to unseat Herbert for the Republican gubernatorial nomination next year. 

The governor told reporters Friday that he had not seen Philpot's accusations but denied threatening to veto any action taken during the special legislative session on redistricting that starts Monday.

"I don't think we should redistrict on behalf of people or in opposition to people out there," Herbert said. "People have their own agendas on that. I've just tried to keep it simple."

The Legislature's decisions on dividing congressional, legislative and state school board districts to reflect the population shifts identified in the 2010 Census should be fair and balanced, he said.

On Thursday, the Legislature's Redistricting Committee approved a proposed map that divides the state into four largely rural districts, shifting the 2nd District from east to west and eliminating much of Salt Lake County outside of Salt Lake City.

Matheson said Thursday he also could run for the state's new 4th District seat, made up of the western portion of Salt Lake and Utah counties. He has already said he's considering a run against Herbert or Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

Utah State Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis has already warned the party will sue the state unless the map is changed. On Friday, Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright called "for a more civil tone" in the redistricting debate.

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

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