The first major Democrat to issue a formal map on how to redraw Utah's U.S. House districts proposes centering three districts in a compact "doughnut hole" area along the urban Wasatch Front, encircled by a fourth vast, rural "doughnut" district.
That map, by Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, one of only five Democrats on the 19-member Redistricting Committee, isn't surprising since most Democrats and a few rank-and-file Republicans have voiced support for the doughnut-hole idea he depicts separating urban and rural districts. GOP leaders instead have proposed that all districts have a rural-urban mix.
"I recognize that I am in the minority and am outnumbered," he said. "How well this does depends on how well people like it, and what kind of pressure the people put on the committee."
Davis said the main reason for his proposal is that three-quarters of the state's population Â or almost exactly what is needed for three U.S. House seats Â live in Salt Lake, Utah, Davis and Weber counties.
"You take those counties' population and add it together, and you have three districts," he said. "When you take the population density of the state, you end up with a doughnut hole."
He said it makes sense to make three urban districts and one rural district, because that keeps people with common interests together.
However, most top Republican leaders have proposed splitting up Salt Lake County among all four districts, to ensure each district has a rural-urban mix that may force all Utah members to deal with public-lands issues as well as urban concerns. But Democrats say the GOP really wants to dilute Democratic votes in Salt Lake County to help Republicans win all four districts.
Davis said Utah has had rural-urban districts for the past 10 years, and said it has left rural residents feeling that no one truly represents them because they are outnumbered by urban residents who elect representatives from their areas.
"If I were in rural Utah and I wanted a strong voice for me â¦ I would want someone who understood the rural lifestyle, who understood what the agricultural problems are," he said. Davis adds that most rural residents testifying in hearings so far have supported the idea of an all-rural district.
He said other field hearings showed him that most Weber and Davis residents who have testified would prefer to be paired together than with Salt Lake County. So he put them in one district, and filled in the additional population needed for equal population with western Salt Lake County (mostly in areas that hug the Oquirrh Mountain from Magna to Herriman).
He said it makes sense to keep Utah County in one district and added to it southeast Salt Lake County. He said areas such as Draper, Riverton and South Jordan are young and growing Â like Utah County Â and it makes sense to combine them.
"What was left over became a Salt Lake County-only district," which, probably not coincidentally, would keep most Democratic areas in one district. It contains areas that have elected the only Democrats in the Legislature, such as Salt Lake City, West Valley City and some eastside areas.
Davis said he did not consider party loyalties as he drew his map, and said he simply tried to keep areas together that have common interests. But he concedes his plan would likely create one Democratic-leaning district, and three that are Republican.
Davis said he is eager to see what the public thinks of his and other plans in the eight field hearings remaining this month before the Redistricting Committee starts arm-wrestling over final plans.
His, and many other proposed maps, are available at the committee's website, RedistrictUtah.com.
Upcoming redistricting hearings
P Moab • Saturday at 11 a.m., Grand County High School Auditorium, 608 S. 400 East
Price • Saturday at 4 p.m., Carbon County Events Center, 450 S. Fairgrounds Way
West Jordan • Tuesday at 6 p.m., Jordan School District Auxiliary Service Building, 7905 S. Redwood Road