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GOP lawmakers reconsider congressional map; Democrats put them on notice that they will sue

Published: Monday, Oct. 3 2011 9:35 p.m. MDT

Numerous people rally over redistricting at the Capitol in Salt Lake City Monday, Oct. 3, 2011.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The controversial congressional map that drew more than 100 protesters to the Capitol on Monday is likely history.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said GOP House members made it clear they didn't like it, either, during their closed caucus meetings on the first day of a special legislative session dealing with redistricting.

So a public hearing will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday on a new map that was expected to be made public online late Monday, at redistrictutah.com.

The map, drawn by Rep. Don Ipson, R-St. George, still splits the state's urban core, but into even more rural districts.

The map also appears more favorable to the state's lone Democrat in Congress, Rep. Jim Matheson, leaving his 2nd District seat that stretches from Salt Lake to southern Utah largely intact rather than shifting his district from eastern to western Utah. 

Gov. Gary Herbert had reportedly been pressuring lawmakers to make sure Matheson was satisfied with his new district boundaries so that he wouldn't get into the governor's race. Matheson has said he is considering challenging Herbert or incumbent Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

The map creates the state's new fourth seat in Congress mostly from the current 3rd District, represented by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. The new 4th District would include western Salt Lake and Utah counties and much of western Utah.

Lockhart, who pushed for the now-rejected map that was approved by the Legislature's Redistricting Committee last week, said the new proposal "is probably the direction we're headed." 

The new map, she said, incorporated concerns raised since the committee's action, including the changes her proposal would have made to the 2nd District and not having enough rural voters in the 4th District.

"My ego's not so big that I have some" — she slaps her hands together — "that I'm going to dictate," Lockhart said, noting that the Senate raised concerns about her map even though the Senate passed it earlier in the day, 18-9. 

Two Senate Republicans joined the Democrats in dissent. 

"It's kind of a compromise map," said Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe. Though he conceded it emerged late in the process and there might be "better maps out there," he said the redistricting committee fully vetted it. "I don't believe that it was any last ditch effort."

Democrats complained that the map carves Salt Lake County into three districts. Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, called it "very irresponsible" because it would force some local community leaders to have to work with three different congressmen.

Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, said the map fails to recognize community boundaries. "We don't need rural representation in all districts in this state," he said.

Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, told reporters after the vote there are still several maps being discussed, including one by Senate Minority Caucus Manager Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake.

Adopting a version of that map, Waddoups said, would make it difficult for the Democrats to sue over redistricting.

The Utah Democratic Party officially put lawmakers on notice earlier in the day that there may be a lawsuit over redistricting.

In a letter delivered by courier, the minority party warned that because of potential litigation, all documents related to drawing new congressional, legislative and State School Board boundaries must be retained.

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