Utah poll: 'Doughnut hole' ahead of 'pizza slices' in redistricting
Paul E. Rogers, of Millcreek, would be in one congressional district, his neighbors across the street would be in another, and people living a half-block south would be in a third if a major redistricting proposal by Utah Senate President Michael Waddoups is adopted.
"I don't like dividing us up like that," said Rogers, a member of the Canyon Rim Community Council, one of four councils in Millcreek Township. He lives a half block from the intersection of 2700 East and 3300 South, where three congressional districts would meet and divide his community into thirds in the proposal by Waddoups, R-Taylorsville.
A new Salt Lake Tribune poll shows relatively little support for a method of redistricting that led to such a proposed division. It is often called the "pizza slice" plan, and would force Utah's four congressional districts each to have some urban and some rural area. Most "pizza slice" proposals would cut Salt Lake County into three or four slices with vast rural areas attached.
Popular doughnuts • A poll by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research for The Salt Lake Tribune shows that only two of every five Utahns (40 percent) favor it, and just one of every three in Salt Lake County (33 percent) do.
Of note, Democrats charge that "pizza slice" plans are an attempt by GOP leaders to dilute Democratic votes in their Salt Lake County stronghold, and make it more likely that all new U.S. House districts will elect Republicans. The poll showed, not surprisingly, that just 27 percent of Democrats like the pizza-slice idea, while 45 percent of Republicans do.
A more popular proposal is called the "doughnut" or "doughnut hole" plan. It would create districts that are nearly all-urban or all-rural. Most such plans would have at least one district entirely in Salt Lake County. In some versions, one all-rural "doughnut" district would surround three geographically smaller urban "doughnut hole" districts formed along the Wasatch Front.
The poll shows 53 percent of Utahns support that idea, including 67 percent of Salt Lake County residents. It shows that 72 percent of Democrats support it, and 47 percent of Republicans do.
Still, the numbers show that Utahns are perhaps as widely divided between the major two plans as Millcreek would be in Waddoups' latest pizza-slice plan. Even Millcreek leaders are divided over the two ideas.
For example, while Rogers hates dividing Millcreek among three districts, he still supports the pizza-slice idea. He says it just needs to be done in a way that would hold Millcreek and other major communities together, but he likes having each member of Congress represent both rural and urban areas to ensure they all look at statewide issues.
Disagreeing is Aimee McConkie, former chair of the same Canyon Rim council that Rogers serves on, and she is now a member of the overall Millcreek Township Council. She says the pizza-slice plan forces communities that have little in common into the same districts.
"I think rural and urban areas have different concerns and needs. I want someone to advocate for an urban area," she said. Also, "Millcreek has 64,000 residents. If that voice is divided into three [districts], obviously our voice gets diminished quite a bit." She said areas with more people in a district would likely get more attention.
Conversely, Rogers said it may be possible that having three congressmen each with a slice of Millcreek "could make Millcreek politically stronger than if it just had one guy. Maybe all three would be listening" to the community. Both Rogers and McConkie are Republicans.
Political pizza • Of note, Waddoups issued his last pizza-slice plan, he said, in response to Democratic complaints that Salt Lake City should not be divided. His plan holds that city together but combines it with most of rural eastern and southern Utah. Rural voters would outnumber Salt Lake City voters in that district, and could make it much easier to elect a Republican there.
Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis blasts GOP-backed "pizza slice" plans for dividing communities of interest.
"We believe that the people of southern Utah have common values and interests, and they deserve their own representative," Dabakis said. "If you take a little bit [of Utah County] and go south, that should be its own district with its own congressperson .... Republicans constantly disenfranchise the southern part of the state despite their tremendous loyalty to the Republican Party."
Utah Republican Party Chairman Thomas Wright said the GOP is not yet commenting on individual maps, but likely will soon.
Several good-government groups also oppose pizza-slice plans and endorse doughnut-hole plans. For example, the Alliance for a Better Utah, Fair Boundaries and RepresentMeUtah! said jointly that Salt Lake County should not be divided among more than two congressional districts.
Legislators are entering their final lap in deciding such questions, and the last chances for residents to weigh in are approaching. The Redistricting Committee scheduled a public hearing on Friday to look at citizen-proposed redistricting maps. On Monday it is expected to begin considering final maps for the state school board and state Senate.
Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, said the committee hopes to adopt all final redistricting plans by Sept. 10. Then he expects a special session of the Legislature to be called in early October to adopt final maps.
Upcoming redistricting hearings
P 9 a.m. Friday • 210 Senate Office Building, Capitol complex. The hearing will focus on proposed maps submitted by residents.
9 a.m. Monday •210 Senate Office Building, Capitol complex. Final maps for the state school board and state Senate may be considered and approved.