As protesters claimed lawmakers who are redrawing political boundaries are not listening to the public, the Legislature's Redistricting Commission spent five hours in a hearing Friday reviewing 172 maps that citizens, special interests and lawmakers submitted to it.
Sen. Ralph Okerlund and Rep. Kenneth Sumsion, co-chairmen of the committee, said they held that long meeting to prime members to begin debating final redistricting plans on Monday, and to show that they take citizen proposals seriously. They said they have not polled members on where they stand on the main proposals.
But Sumsion said he favors what is called a pizza-slice plan, that divides Salt Lake County into three or four slices and combines each with a vast chunk of rural area. He said it would ensure all members of Congress represent rural and urban issues. "With where I stand on public lands, I really want four congressional members representing those public land issues," he said.
Sue Connor with Represent Me Utah! said that shows committee Republicans are not listening. She said polls, most citizen maps and most testimony at 17 field hearings statewide show most Utahns oppose the pizza slice plan which Democrats claim is designed to dilute their votes in their stronghold of Salt Lake County and ensure that only Republicans are elected to Congress.
"It shows they wasted $100,000" on a website that allowed citizens to submit their own plans, Connor said. "It also shows they wasted a lot of money on travel to their field hearings around the state. They just aren't listening."
Connor was with several good-government groups protesting at the hearing Friday. They called themselves the "Broken Record Brigade," in response to Utah Senate President Michael Waddoups recently saying that the same groups come to all the redistricting hearings and they sound like a broken record. Many protesters wore broken vinyl records on strings as necklaces and Connor wore a vintage Motown Lionel Richie album.
"We want to be heard, and not herded," said Sarge Froehle with Represent Me Utah!
"We will remind them what the people are saying," said Maryann Martindale, executive director of the Alliance for a Better Utah. "The people have spoken over and over again, and we will not let them forget."
Connor said polls and testimony show that most Utahns prefer a "doughnut hole" plan Â which makes districts all urban, or all rural. Most such plans would create three all-urban congressional districts in a "doughnut-hole" area along the Wasatch Front, surrounded by a doughnut-shaped all-rural district.
Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon told the committee on Friday, "We would appreciate a doughnut for breakfast rather than pizza for lunch. We would like our county split as little as possible."
Of the 121 maps submitted to the committee about congressional boundaries, 73 were variations of the doughnut hole plan and 48 were versions of the pizza slice plan.
Interestingly, because the Salt Lake City Council was upset that many pizza-slice congressional plans would split its city, it proposed a doughnut-hole alternative that would keep its city whole but would split Lehi and Springville to do so.
Citizen Michael Jolley may have been too honest with a state Senate map he submitted. "I didn't factor in incumbents' locations, which means this map has no chance of being passed," he wrote in his explanation.
Connor similarly asked the committee to support maps that do not take politics into consideration. "People should select their representatives, and representatives should not be selecting their voters," she said.
She said politics were avoided in maps submitted by the Utah Citizens Counsel, headed by such people as former Gov. Olene Walker and former University of Utah President Chase Peterson. The UCC and other groups had unsuccessfully urged lawmakers to form an advisory citizens commission to submit such maps and to help avoid down-and-dirty politics in redistricting.
While little debate has come about state school board maps, some came Friday when Sumsion proposed to decrease the number of board members from 15 to nine Â noting that Utah has one of the largest boards among states and it may be a bit unwieldy.
Other members quickly shot down the idea, saying it would force members to run in much larger areas, increase their campaign costs, and make it less likely residents could interact with members.
The committee is expected to adopt final, proposed district maps for Congress, the Legislature and state school board by Sept. 10. A special session of the Legislature is expected to pass final plans in early October.