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

"What the …?!" he posted under the map on redistricitutah.com. "Is this redistricting process going psychedelic? I feel totally baffled by these four bewildering conglomerations of precincts …"

And on his Facebook page Garber wrote, "Other than the outline of Utah, I don't see any resemblance between these two proposals, do you? Such claims are horribly dishonest …"

Before the controversy, House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, said, "I'm all for a citizen map." After the Democratic criticism, Dee asked that the proposal be put on hold so the Republicans could caucus.

Senate Republicans spent much of the day biding their time, waiting for the House to come up with a proposal. They had quickly passed the committee's proposed map at the beginning of the special session, before it stalled nearly two weeks ago.

That map, which came from House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, was the basis for what was ultimately passed. It also prompted the state Democratic Party chairman, Jim Dabakis, to threaten a lawsuit.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, said senators were "trying with all we're worth to stick to the first map that came out of the (redistricting) committee." The Senate GOP had opposed any major changes.

House Republicans started the day by voting to close their caucus despite a call from some in the majority party to debate openly.

"I believe we do ourselves a disservice to close the meeting," Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful, told the then-open caucus, held in a room crowded with media, Democratic Party leaders and others interested in the debate over dividing the state into four congressional districts.

Closing caucuses during the start of the special session earlier this month created the "wrong impression," Nielson said, that the GOP was drawing maps behind closed doors.

Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley, said if the House Republicans were going to be discussing proposed congressional maps that were already online, "I don't see any reason to close the caucus."

But House Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said other bodies closed public meetings when litigation is pending, a reference to Dabakis' threatened lawsuit over redistricting.

"I think the stakes are even higher now," Hughes said. "I think the minority party has made it clear this is going to be a litigious effort." He said closing the meeting "was more appropriate today than ever before."

The caucus loudly voted in favor of closing the caucus.

Outside the now-closed caucus room, Dabakis slammed the House Republicans.

"They're going to do it smoked-filled," he said, calling the action to close the meeting, "sad, sad, sad." He said it showed the GOP's "contempt" for Utahns.

House GOP leaders said they reached no agreement during a meeting earlier this morning. "We're wide open," Lee said before the caucus.

Lawmakers got a late start Monday morning and, on the House side, went immediately into caucuses.

House Democrats, meantime, met several times in open caucus to discuss GOP proposals as well as some of their own.

"Someone has to be the adults," said Litvack, emphasizing the need for compromise. "That's not happening downstairs" in the Republican caucus.

The Democrats' talks centered on Republicans' desire for a mix of rural and urban areas in all four districts.

"Urban-rural is not a redistricting principle," Litvack said. "This is something that's just a preference of the majority party."

King said Democrats feel shut out of the redistricting process.

"Basically, we have the Republicans doing whatever they want without talking to us. That's frustrating for us," he said.

Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, was not at the session. He was supposed to have returned from a Senate leaders meeting in Argentina, but his plane was grounded by a volcanic eruption.

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com, romboy@desnews.com Twitter: dnewspolitics, dennisromboy

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