Democrats abound in redistricting effort
While two Republicans - Lisa Watts Baskin and former state Rep. Merrill Nelson - are the public faces of a recently-filed initiative to create an independent redistricting commission, the organization is dominated by Democrats.
The self-described non-partisan Fair Boundaries Political Issues Committee, formed in March to raise funds for the statewide campaign, lists five officers. Three of those are Democrats who unsuccessfully sought House seats in 2008: Trent Alvord, Mark Sage and Marcie Smith West. A fourth, Nikki Norton, the group's executive director, is a former state Democratic Party staffer.
"You always scratch your head when it's a former candidate who was unsuccessful in a bid," said House Speaker David Clark, R-Santa Clara. "It's up to them to validate their reasons."
Clark, who chairs a 50-state redistricting committee for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said the process boils down to simple math -- and some complex geography.
"Take a number [state population] and divide it by 75, 29, four and 15," Clark said of the House, Senate, congressional and school board districts that will need to be defined after the 2010 Census.
As Clark sees it, no one knows districts better than elected representatives, so he believes Utahns are well-served to have those boundaries drawn by the Legislature.
Republicans continue to dominate both houses of the state Legislature, holding 21 of 29 Senate and 53 of 75 House seats.
That super-majority thrives for a reason, said Wayne Holland, chairman of the state Democratic Party.
"Republican leadership has been picking their voters for quite awhile here," Holland said, noting that the lines drawn in 2001 particularly damaged Democrats and swung the GOP even further to the right.
While many Democrats seek redistricting reform, Holland said the party is not the driving force behind this effort.
"For 3-1/2 years now I've been hearing Republicans say they feel as strongly as I do," Holland said, "that Utah should have an independent nonpartisan redistricting commission."
Until recently, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., a centrist Republican, had asked his Commission on Strengthening Utah's Democracy to study that possibility. Under pressure from Legislative leadership, he backed off.
"Any initiative in Utah will be driven by the more progressive groups in this state," Holland said, "so there's no doubt that Democrats will be involved."
The initiative petition was filed May 6 with the lieutenant governor. His office has three business days to review it, then it goes to the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget, which has 25 calendar days to look it over and send a fiscal note to the petition's sponsors.
From the date filed, sponsors have one year to hold seven public hearings and gather 95,000 voter signatures statewide.
Source: The Lieutenant Governor's Office
» View the initiative at http://www.fairboundaries.org/documents/initiative.pdf