SALT LAKE CITY — Republican state lawmakers Friday defended their closed-door meetings this week on the contentious task of setting new congressional district boundaries.
They also conceded during a Redistricting Committee meeting Friday that those discussions touched on drawing lines to favor GOP candidates, with each district being at least 60 percent Republican.
"It came up, but it was not a driving force," House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said after the meeting. "The Democrats are talking about that, too."
Attempts to redraw new boundaries, including a new fourth seat in Congress, came to an abrupt stop late Tuesday night after House and Senate Republicans, who hold wide majorities in both bodies, couldn't agree on a map. The stalemate forced a special legislative session to approve the maps to resume Oct. 17.
Republican House members spent most of the two-day session meeting outside the public's view.
"It was closed because we have Republicans fighting with Republicans," said Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton. "If we're going to fight in my house, I'm sorry, all the visitors are going to have to leave."
Magna resident Sarge Froehle responded: "My house is not his house. I don't know where his house is. But I know where my statehouse is."
At Friday's redistricting meeting, legislators looked at a dozen new or modified congressional maps, but spent little time debating them. Instead, the discussion turned to partisanship. Democrats and residents, who accused Republicans of drawing maps in secret, wanted to know what the House GOP was doing in its closed caucus.
Lockhart said they were not drawing maps.
"Were you singing Broadway songs?" said Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis.
Dabakis said it's not just a Republican family feud because redistricting involves everyone in the state. "It's sausage making, but it's the public's sausage," he said.
Lockhart said she's not opposed to keeping the GOP caucus open when it meets again, but the decision rests with the representatives.
Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said as far as he knows all the maps presented so far, whether they came from Republicans, Democrats or the public, were drawn behind close doors. They were then brought to the committee where they were discussed openly, he said.
"No seat belongs to a Republican. No seat belongs to a Democrat. All seats belong to the public," he said. "Whoever puts up the best candidate is going to win."15 comments on this story
On Monday, the Senate passed a map that the redistricting committee endorsed earlier. But some House Republicans want more rural areas in some proposed districts, while others want another map altogether.
The Redistricting Committee is expected to meet again next week where it could endorse a new map or stick with the one it has already advanced. "I'm not sure where it's going, I can tell you that," said committee Chairman Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe.