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Democrats file open-records request to see inside closed GOP redistricting meetings

Published: Monday, Aug. 3 2015 1:09 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Democratic Party leaders filed an open-records request Tuesday with the Legislature regarding Republicans' closed-door meetings on redistricting.

Meantime, Redistricting Committee co-chairman Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, posted two new congressional boundary maps online that would not require a public hearing because they're modifications of a map the Senate approved last week.

State Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis said GOP leadership is forcing him demand transparency and fairness in the redistricting process through the Government Records Access and Management Act or GRAMA.

“This is not a decision we are making lightly. We don’t want to tie up the Legislature and drag on an unnecessary process," he said. "But the Republican Party bosses are taking a two-by-four to the democratic process, and they must repent"

The lumber reference is a dig at Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, who in announcing his campaign last week for Utah's yet-to-be-determined 4th Congressional District seat said he's "going to take to two-by-four to Washington, D.C., and I'm going to clean up that town my friends."

GOP lawmakers defended the closed-door caucuses during last week's Redistricting Committee meeting. "When a family has a fight, they don't do it on the front lawn," House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said after the meeting in which a dozen new maps were discussed without a vote.

At the same time, Republicans, who own a majority in the House and Senate, say the once-a-decade redistricting process has had unprecedented public involvement.

Dabakis contends Republicans are drawing lines to favor Wimmer and Rep. Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, who is contemplating a run for Congress.

House Republicans conceded last week that they discussed in the closed caucuses ways to configure districts to heavily favor GOP candidates. But they said that is not a driving factor behind any decisions.

The two new maps Sumsion posted at redistrictutah.com are variations of one the committee endorsed and the Senate approved in a special session last week. House Republicans balked at that map leading to the current redistricting stalemate. Lawmakers are scheduled to resume the special session next Monday.

If GOP House members only tweak the Senate-approved map during the session, they preclude the need for a public hearing because it has already gone through the vetting process.

Democrats oppose that map and have threatened to file a lawsuit if it wins final approval. Dabakis said the open-records request is the first step toward litigation.

"We do not want to go the next step of subpoenas, affidavits, depositions, testifying under oath and official legal claims, but today, we feel we have no choice but to begin moving in this direction and we are reluctantly taking this step to ensure that all Utahns are represented," he said.

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