As expected, Utah lawmakers Monday adopted a new four-seat U.S. House redistricting plan, but only after a few legislators tried to carve up the map with eyes toward running for Congress or shoring up their own legislative seats.
With Utah's action, all depends on Congress. But legislation giving Utah and Washington, D.C., each a new voting U.S. House seat is not on the House calendar for the four-day lame-duck session that adjourns Friday.
"I believe it is an uphill battle, but Utah is not standing in the way," said Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem. Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. will "absolutely" sign the new four-seat law, his spokesman, Mike Mower, said.
Should Congress not act this week, Utah leaders said the state will still be ready with a better four-seat option when or if Congress gives the state another seat before the 2010 census.
But hope springs eternal, especially in politics.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democratic delegate who represents the District of Columbia in the House, said giving up on the bill is not an option and Monday's action by the Utah Legislature will help push the bill along.
"Utah has shown that the state wants this vote this week as much as D.C. does," Norton said. "My Republican and Democratic congressional allies and D.C. residents alike are further energized to do what it takes as Utah passes the baton to us to run this race to the finish line and pass this bill before Congress adjourns this week."
Ilir Zherka, executive director of DC Vote, an advocacy group for voting rights for DC residents, said the bill could to the House floor without going through the committee, saving precious time.
In Utah, the bill passed with bipartisan support even though some lawmakers grumbled about behind-the-scenes wrangling to draw boundaries favorable to certain congressional or legislative candidates.
Sen. Ed Mayne, D-West Valley, for example, had tried to get his hometown completely into the new 4th District, so he could run for an open congressional seat in the future. But his house stayed several blocks within the 2nd District.
Mayne, head of the Utah AFL-CIO, said he is still seriously thinking about a run for Congress. That could mean a move, into the 4th District, or running in the 4th District while living just outside the boundary (which is legal) or challenging the lone Utah Democrat in Congress, Rep. Jim Matheson, in the 2nd District.
"I really wanted to be in the new district. I think I could win that," Mayne said, noting he would be able to raise a lot money for the race through his union ties. "I'm going to be a threat in any district if I choose to run."
Some senators complained that another possible candidate for the new district, House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, was trying to protect Rep. Ron Bigelow, R-West Valley, and other vulnerable GOP House members by moving them into the new 4th District.
Being in what is widely expected to be a GOP U.S. House district could protect them from the so-called "Matheson effect," votes lost by down-ballot Republicans to the popular U.S. House member's Democratic political coattails.
The oddly shaped district boundary that resulted, nicknamed the "Bigelow boot," was "something the House wanted bad enough that they were ready to walk away from the table," said Senate Minority Whip Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake.
But Curtis said the early attempts at drawing a four-seat plan reflected his effort to put as many Democrats as reasonable into Matheson's 2nd District, and if that left some mid-valley House Republicans in the new 4th District, so be it.
After some reportedly heated debates in lengthy closed Senate and House GOP caucuses, all efforts to amend the so-called compromise "Plan L" failed Monday.
The map passed the Senate 23-4-2 without any amendments, even though several changes were proposed in the GOP caucus including re-drawing the boundaries so Taylorsville was not split between the 2nd and the 4th districts.
Sen. Mike Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said he voted against the map in part because his amendment was not accepted by the caucus. He and other senators also raised constitutional concerns about giving Washington, D.C. a vote in Congress.
Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Pete Knudson, R-Brigham City, said there was interest in the proposed changes, but caucus members didn't want to jeopardize the bill's passage by tinkering with it.
"They didn't want to screw up that deal," Knudson said.
On the House floor, Rep. Julie Fisher, R-Fruit Heights, offered an amendment that would have adopted Plan L, but not place it into law until after Congress either gave Washington, D.C., back to Maryland (where its residents could vote as a citizen of that state), created a D.C. state or changed the U.S. Constitution to specially allow D.C. to have a voting member.
She said it is "clearly unconstitutional" to let anyone not from a state vote in Congress a position that coincidentally was passed by a meeting of the Salt Lake County Republican Party's central committee on Saturday.
But Fisher's amendment failed in a voice vote. And the county GOP's resolution wasn't even debated by lawmakers, who ignored it.
Plan L was the four-seat plan recommended last week by a hastily organized special legislative redistricting committee.
Some Republicans believe that minority Democrats got considerable political traction with the public after according to the Democrats the 2001 redistricting was seen as an unfair, highly partisan affair.
GOP legislative leaders said earlier Monday the preferred Plan L which actually treats Democrat Matheson very well must get a number of Democratic votes in the House and Senate, so as not to repeat the 2001 fiasco, or perhaps no plan would be adopted.
But once House Minority Leader Ralph Becker, D-Salt Lake, promised them at least 13 Democratic votes, things began to move Monday afternoon.
Rep. Ben Ferry, R-Corinne, abandoned his attempt to include Morgan County into Matheson's redrawn 2nd District after he failed to get enough support in his Republican House caucus.
The suggested 2nd District, as approved Monday, really has no rural component. It is based in Salt Lake City, and stretches to include Park City and Snyderville Basin in Summit County to the east and north into Davis County, taking in North Salt Lake and part of Woods Cross. Putting Morgan County into the 2nd District would have added a rural component.
Rep. Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, co-chairman of the special redistricting committee, said at the start of the process, "we basically had a Republican plan" that had four heavily GOP districts that included both urban and rural parts. And the Democrats started with a plan that had one huge rural district and one very urban one.
In the end, said Clark, after both sides compromised greatly, they ended up with Plan L, which has, he said, three urban/rural districts and one urban district (Matheson's 2nd District.)