Lawmakers approve new congressional districts amid partisan bickering

Salt Lake county still split three ways; Demos may sue

Published: Monday, Oct. 17 2011 12:00 p.m. MDT

Rep. Christopher N. Herrod speaks during the republican house caucus meeting, advocating moving the meeting from an open to a closed meeting during a special session of the Utah state Legislature about congressional redistricting maps Monday, Oct. 17, 2011, in Salt Lake City.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Lawmakers approved a new map dividing Utah into four new congressional districts late Monday, ending a special session that stretched over several weeks and sparked sometimes harsh partisan debate.

Before the House passed the 19th version of the map, Democrats complained that they had only minutes to review a proposal that had been debated behind closed doors by the majority GOP for several hours.

"This is not just a tweak. It affects real people. It changes who will represent them in the future," Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, said, urging the House to "take the time to do what's right."

House Minority Assistant Whip Brian King, D-Salt Lake, listed a number of cities that will be split into two congressional districts, including Salt Lake City, Millcreek, West Valley City, American Fork, Lehi and Park City. 

King said unlike a compromise map that he and other Democrats unsuccessfully tried to pass earlier, Salt Lake County would be divided between the 2nd, 3rd and new 4th districts while Utah, Juab and Sanpete counties would be divided between two districts. 

But House Republicans, who spent much of the day in closed caucuses, said the map was what the majority party could support in both the House and the Senate.

"Is it the perfect map? No. Is this the perfect process? No," said Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, the co-chairman of the Legislature's Redistricting Committee, which spent months holding public hearings statewide.

"In the end, this is a compromise," said Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, co-chairman of the Redistricting Committee, before the Senate vote. "We made hundreds of changes as a result of public comments made around the state. It was not disregarded." 

Senate Democrats also voiced concerns.

"We've managed to accommodate the egos of politicians who want to be congressmen," said Sen. Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake, noting each district is more than 62 percent Republican.

“I'm concerned about this. I'm distressed about this," said Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley. “This map has taken a whole and made it a half and has put the west side in jeopardy.”

In the end, the majority party passed the map largely along party lines. It now goes to Gov. Gary Herbert for his action. Lawmakers must adjust congressional boundaries every 10 years based on the census.

Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, urged residents let to the governor know they want him to veto the map. A protest early Monday evening drew only about two dozen people to the Capitol who voiced displeasure over the process.

The map flips much of the 2nd District — held by Utah's only Democrat in Congress, Rep. Jim Matheson — from the east side of the state to the west side. It creates the state's new 4th District largely from western Salt Lake and Utah counties.

The 1st District remains in northern Utah, but expands to include the Uintah Basin. And the 3rd District stretches from eastern Salt Lake County and encompasses the rest of the east side of the state.

The map appeared to be an attempt to address concerns raised by Democrats during a terse exchange on the House floor Monday afternoon about an earlier map advanced by the GOP. 

That earlier map was described as a modification of a proposal originally submitted by Provo resident David Garber using the software available on the state's redistricting website.

House Minority Leader David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, called the map a "ploy to pull the wool over the public's eyes." He said it was a brand new map that hasn't received a public hearing.

Garber also didn't recognize his work in the proposal.

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