SALT LAKE CITY — A controversial map that divides the state's urban core among four largely rural congressional districts was approved by the Legislature's Redistricting Committee Thursday in a party-line vote.
The map, introduced just two days earlier by House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, carves out the state's new 4th District seat from western Salt Lake and Utah counties, the area that's shown the most growth over the past decade.
It also puts Salt Lake City into a mostly rural 2nd District with much of western and all of southern Utah. The 3rd District would shift east, including that portion of Salt Lake and Utah counties. Northern Utah, including Weber and Davis, counties, would remain in the 1st District.
Democrats, who only hold one seat in Congress and are a minority in both the state House and Senate, cried foul and have even threatened to sue. But they weren't able to stop the map from advancing to the full Legislature, set to begin meeting in special session on Monday.
The five Democrats on the 19-member committee did try unsuccessfully to substitute their plan to create three smaller urban districts stretching from Weber to Utah counties surrounded by a single rural district.
The committee, however, rejected their argument that the 75 percent of the state's residents living in the mostly urban counties deserve their own representation, usually described as resulting in a "doughnut hole" map.
GOP lawmakers have argued throughout the months-long redistricting process that federal public lands issues are so important to the state that each member of congress should represent rural areas of Utah, the so-called "pizza slice" approach.
Senate Minority Caucus Manager Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake, said the proposal "puts a target in the middle of a community of interest and parcels it out in three districts," rather than keeping urban areas together.
But Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said he has more in common with rural residents of the state than with those who live in Salt Lake City. He said western Salt Lake County identifies itself as an agricultural area despite being urbanized.
The committee heard mostly critical public testimony about the map before the vote.
Holladay Mayor Dennis Webb said the map would separate the city's 30,000 residents into three congressional districts.
"It's clear to me we have issues directly affecting our community that are not necessarily affecting the rural communities," Webb said, citing a $6 million federal grant secured by Holladay used to upgrade roads.
That mayor said having to go to three different members of Congress for help securing federal assistance in the future would "dilute representation that is significant for our community."
Senate Minority Assistant Whip Pat Jones, D-Holladay, testified the map "pushed me over the edge, and I think it should push everyone in the state. … Everyone deserves to have representation by someone who shares a common interest."
Kelly Lundgren, head of Represent Me Utah!, told the committee that advocates for an independent redistricting process felt like the map was "a rabbit you pulled out of the hat at the last minute."
The committee held hearings throughout the state over the summer and set up a special online tool to allow the public to come up with their own maps for all the districts that have to be redrawn. Lockhart's map was presented as a modification of an earlier map that split Salt Lake County four ways.
In addition to a congressional map, lawmakers are also adjusting the boundaries for their own state House and Senate seats as well as the State School Board based on the 2010 Census. The committee also approved maps for those seats Thursday, but some tweaks are still being made.
Waddoups said after the meeting he doesn't expect the congressional map to be changed significantly during the special session.
"Minor changes? Yes, I expect quite a few of those to be offered," he said. "But major changes that have support? It just won't happen politically."
Gov. Gary Herbert said during the taping Thursday of his monthly news conference on KUED Ch. 7 that he believes lawmakers will "come up with something that fair and that everybody can kind of feel pretty good about."
Herbert, who has the power to veto the Legislature's actions on redistricting, said he's "not expecting a veto. I encourage them to make sure they do things in a principled way. We ought to have principles stand over politics."
Contributing: John Daley