Redistricting drama to play out at special Legislative session

Published: Sunday, Oct. 2 2011 5:02 p.m. MDT

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Cue the politicians and the protesters.

The special legislative session to finish the once-every-decade job of adjusting the boundaries of the state's congressional, legislative and school board districts to reflect the latest census starts Monday.

"It's the same movie that's played out every 10 years," said Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics. "The side with the power creates a map that's to their advantage. And the side that's not in power whines about it."

So far, everyone seems to be following the script.

Early last week, House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, presented her version of a map dividing the state's urban core into four largely rural congressional districts to the Legislature's GOP-dominated Redistricting Committee.

Despite the threat of a lawsuit by state Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis, who said breaking up the minority party's stronghold disenfranchises voters, members of the committee approved the map 48 hours later in a party-line vote.

On Monday, opponents of the so-called "pizza slice" approach to redistricting are holding a rally starting on the steps of the Capitol at 11:30 a.m. to urge lawmakers to "just vote no."

Speakers will include Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for governor last year, as well as advocates of an independent redistricting process.

"What we keep hearing from everyone is, 'Why did they waste our time … with the public hearing process?'" said Maryann Martindale, Alliance for a Better UTAH executive director.

Martindale said the public made it clear during those hearings that they didn't want their communities split up to accommodate the population changes identified in the 2010 Census, which gave Utah a new fourth congressional district.

Their preference is centering as many as three congressional districts in Salt Lake and other urban counties, and surrounding them with a rural district, the so-called "doughnut hole" map.

"What we kept arguing for was fairness, districts that gave representation to people based on where they live and what their concerns were," Martindale said. Southern Utahns, she said, are complaining they "don't even have the same weather," as Salt Lake City and other Wasatch Front communities that would be in the same congressional district.

Holladay Mayor Dennis Webb testified before the committee that his small community would be split among three congressional districts, making it difficult secure support for federal assistance.

Republicans argue they have avoided dividing many communities as a result of what they've heard from the public, including Salt Lake City, and that a mix of urban and rural residents in each district is best for the state.

"All that public comment has been factored in, in my opinion," state GOP Chairman Thomas Wright said. "This is not a Democratic state. This is a Republican state. It has been for a couple of decades."

GOP Gov. Gary Herbert, who has the power to veto any map passed by the Legislature, said he's encouraged lawmakers to come up with "a fair and balanced approach that's defendable."

Taking a balanced approach, the governor said, means putting both rural and urban residents in every district. "I think it's served us well in the past and will serve us well in the future," he said.

The committee produced excerpts from the minutes of public hearings that showed at least a slight majority of people in attendance preferred a "pizza slice" approach in six of eight communities. The "doughnut hole" style of map was favored only in Park City and Rose Park.

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