Public hearings bring redistricting compromise
Park City • The Legislature's Redistricting Committee finished a series of 17 field hearings Tuesday after traveling 2,000 miles in nine weeks. Senate President Michael Waddoups said he's been listening, and he presented what he says is a compromise congressional map based on comments from state residents.
"I originally was an advocate of the 'pizza slice' plan. Frankly, I'm not thrilled with that anymore," he said at the last field hearing in Park City. That plan would have divided Salt Lake County into four slices, combining each with vast rural areas.
Although GOP leaders said the plan would help ensure that all Utah's members of Congress would focus on both urban and rural issues, Democrats complained it was designed more to dilute their one stronghold in the state to ensure all four new districts would likely elect Republicans. They want three all-urban districts on the Wasatch Front, surrounded by one large rural district.
"It didn't work out as well as I had hoped," Waddoups said of the pizza-slice plan. Official minutes indicate that residents who spoke at the first 14 meetings opposed it by a 3-2 ratio. The crowd in Park City opposed it by about the same ratio when asked for a show of hands.
So Waddoups' new plan would cut Salt Lake County into three slices instead of a possible four.
First, it would keep Salt Lake City whole but combine it with most of eastern and southern Utah into one district. Those generally conservative GOP rural areas appear to outnumber Salt Lake City and its majority Democratic residents in that district.
The western part of Salt Lake County outside Salt Lake City would be combined with western Utah County, Juab County and a part of Tooele County into a district. Eastern Salt Lake County would be combined with eastern Utah County and Wasatch counties into a district.
Finally, the plan would put Davis, Weber, Box Elder, Cache, Rich and most of Tooele County into a district.
"I tried to implement comments we received," Waddoups said. "It keeps Salt Lake City whole. It puts all the military installations in our state into District 1."
Sen. Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake City, a member of the committee, dislikes Waddoups' plan and said it still appears designed mostly to produce an all-Republican congressional delegation.
"It combines Salt Lake City with 19 rural counties. I've always argued that we should keep communities of interest together. While it keeps Salt Lake whole, it doesn't have a lot in common" with the other areas, he said. "Democrats earn 30 to 40 percent of the vote in the state, but his plan would leave them without congressional representation."
Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, the House chairman of the committee, said he believes the committee will end up splitting Salt Lake County into three slices as Waddoups' plan would based on input from the hearings.
Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, the Senate chairman of the committee, said the panel will take a few weeks to digest what it has heard and will schedule more meetings next month to hash out final plans before sending them to a special session of the Legislature for approval, probably in the fall.
He added that the public has submitted more than 160 maps mostly on congressional districts to the committee on its website, RedistrictUtah.com. "They are really helpful," he said. "We will continue to use them" as final maps are negotiated.
"I'm not sure what we've learned, really," Sumsion said as the field hearings finally ended.
"Most people want a representative who lives in the neighborhood," Sumsion said. But mandates to create 75 equal-population districts for the Utah House, 29 for the state Senate and four congressional districts will force dividing some communities and counties.
A review of official minutes of the first 14 meetings of the committee indicated that keeping communities together was the topic addressed most often by the public by far. It was brought up more than all other topics combined.
In its final hearings in Vernal and Park City on Tuesday, the committee heard more pleas not to divide communities and worries that the process isn't impartial enough.
"The county should be split as little as possible," said Summit County Democratic Chairman Glen Wright at the Park City hearing. But he added, "You are probably tired of everyone saying keep us together and divide the other guy."
Linda Simmons, of Park City, similarly said, "I really like the idea of Summit County being one area" in districts. But she added, "As you make one group in the state happy, you make others unhappy."
Editor's Note: This is a corrected version of the story first published online Tuesday. The comments in the second to last paragraph are from Glen Wright. An incorrect name was used in the original version.