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Matheson: Utah redistricting commission needed

Published November 12, 2010 12:08 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah's lone Democratic congressman said Friday he wants the state's Republican governor to create an independent redistricting commission.

U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson said Gov. Gary Herbert should follow in the footsteps of Matheson's late father and issue an executive order creating a group to advise the Legislature on drawing district boundaries.

Former Democratic Gov. Scott Matheson created a redistricting commission in 1981 consisting of four Republicans and three Democrats who were not allowed to be elected officials.

"It was the right thing to do then and it's the right thing to do now," he said.

Ideally, Matheson said Utah should probably follow in the footsteps of Iowa, where lawmakers must make an up or down vote on its redistricting commission's recommendations.

The Utah Advisory Commission on Reapportionment had its recommendations largely ignored by lawmakers. Since then, Jim Matheson said, redistricting has only become more partisan.

He should know.

Matheson's 2nd District was redrawn following the 2000 Census to make it easier to oust him. It has gone from a Democratic-leaning Salt Lake County-centric district to one that sprawls from downtown Salt Lake City to the rural Wyoming, Colorado and Arizona borders and leans Republican.

Matheson won a sixth term this year by about 5 percentage points.

His district will likely undergo significant changes again in the upcoming redistricting process, when Utah is expected to pick up a fourth House seat. Initial plans had called for creating a 2nd District focused on Salt Lake County that extended into the more liberal Park City. However, some lawmakers have said they would like to carve up the state up into a pie to ensure each representative's district consists of urban and rural areas. That design would likely give Republicans a good shot at winning all four.

For Matheson, the district boundaries could determine whether he seeks a seventh term. If he doesn't seek re-election, he'll likely be Democrats' top choice to run for Republican U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch's seat or against Herbert in 2012.

If he chooses to run against Herbert, redistricting could become a defining issue for him to run on. This year's Democratic nominee, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, struggled to connect with voters on other issues such as the economy, environment and education during a special gubernatorial election.

Matheson said the news conference he called Friday wasn't an attempt to embarrass Herbert into acting.

"I'm not trying to embarrass or shame him at all. I'm saying that this is the right thing to do," Matheson said, pointing to the report his father's commission generated. "I'm proud of what my dad did 30 years ago."

Matheson said the issue of gerrymandering isn't about making his seat safe. He noted that in legislative districts, towns are divided in such a way that is impossible for many people to remember who represents them.

"We have been as a state of Utah the source and target of national ridicule and embarrassment over the way we've conducted this process in Utah. It's time to change the way we do things here," he said.

Herbert spokeswoman Angie Welling said the governor respects lawmakers' constitutional role to draw district lines.

"In that context, he encourages the Legislature to perform its constitutional requirements in an open, transparent and thoughtful manner that adheres to the principle of fair representation for all Utah citizens," she wrote in a statement.