Redistricting drama to play out at special Legislative session

Published: Sunday, Oct. 2 2011 5:00 p.m. MDT

Jowers, who supports an independent redistricting commission, said both Republican and Democrats are attempting to benefit politically from the process.

"No party is pure in this," he said, noting both parties are "trying to find ways to advantage themselves but they're trying to put it in non-partisan ways."

In the end, Jowers said there's little doubt the GOP majority will push through the proposal they believe gives their party the best shot at winning all four congressional seats.   

"The truth is, for every party through time, it's a small price to pay for the benefit, a couple of weeks of protests and critical press stories for 10 years of having the boundaries drawn the way you want," he said.

Still, he said, there is a history here of redistricting backfiring on Republicans.

After the 2000 Census, Utah lawmakers were accused of some of the nation's worst gerrymandering by the conservative Wall Street Journal when they stretched the 2nd District through much of rural Utah.

But that district has continued over the past decade to reelect the state's lone Democratic member of Congress, Rep. Jim Matheson. Matheson is leaving his options open for 2012.

He could run for reelection in the 2nd or even make a bid for the new fourth district seat carved from western Salt Lake and Utah counties.  And he's also considering taking on a Republican in a statewide race, either Herbert or Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

The governor was accused last week of trying to pressure lawmakers to put enough Democrats in the 2nd District to keep Matheson from challenging him. The accusation came from Republican Morgan Philpot, who narrowly lost to Matheson last year and may run for governor.

Although the congressional map is getting all the attention, lawmakers also have to their own boundaries for the next 10 years. Changes were still being made to the House and Senate maps over the weekend.

Because of shifts in population, a number of House and Senate incumbents are likely to end up in the same districts. Unlike Congress, candidates for the Legislature must live in the district they seek to represent.

The co-chairman of the Redistricting Committee, Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, became emotional describing how he had to "draw one of my very best friends into another seat because it was the right thing to do."

That friend, Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, now must face off next election against a close ally on Capitol Hill, Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, unless one or both of them seek another office.

Sandstrom had been eying the 3rd District congressional seat now held by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. But Chaffetz has decided to run for reelection rather than Hatch's Senate seat.

The special session is expected to last several days. Special computers will be set up for the public outside the Capitol's fourth floor House and Senate galleries so proposed changes to the maps can be viewed.

In addition to redistricting, lawmakers will also take up several other issues including making a technical fix to allow the 2012 presidential candidates to appear on the June primary ballot.

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

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