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(Tribune file photo) Utah Gov. Gary Herbert
GOP self-interest may have helped Matheson
Redistricting » By hoarding safe conservative areas, Republicans opened up other places.
First Published Nov 19 2012 05:16 pm • Last Updated Mar 06 2013 11:33 pm

Newly disclosed redistricting documents reveal Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson, if he holds onto his narrow election win, could owe thanks to some surprising and unwitting helpers: Republican Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, and, perhaps, Gov. Gary Herbert.

Redistricting texts

This document shows text messages between an aide for Congressman Jason Chaffetz and a leader of the Utah Legislature's redistricting committee.

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Documents, and interviews, say Bishop and Chaffetz pushed GOP legislators to make their conservative districts even more safe — although Bishop disputes that — thus making other districts more competitive. It could have made the difference in the newly created 4th Congressional District, where Matheson holds a slim 2,646-vote lead over Republican Mia Love before the final tally, including late absentee and provisional ballots, is announced Tuesday.

"In their own self-interest, they would have loved to have 80 percent Republican districts and got 70 percent-plus ... They would have taken 90 percent," although no specific numeric benchmarks were discussed, GOP Rep. Ken Sumsion, House chairman of the Redistricting Committee, said in an interview about efforts by Chaffetz and Bishop.

Meanwhile, documents also suggest — as was alleged during redistricting — that some legislators felt Herbert was pushing to make congressional districts that would provide enough of a fighting chance for Matheson that he wouldn’t decide to run against Herbert instead. Of course, Matheson did run for Congress —though in the new 4th District, rather than his redrawn 2nd District.

Those revelations emerge from the 16,000 pages of documents on redistricting that legislative leaders posted online Friday after a yearlong fight with Democrats over thousands of dollars in fees the Legislature attempted to charge.

Bishop, Chaffetz texts • Among the most interestingnuggets in the mass of records are cellphone texts from Bishop and Chaffetz aides to Sumsion, made Oct. 3, 2011, the first day of a special session on redistricting.

Scott Parker, Bishop’s chief of staff, texted Sumsion about how he wanted more of heavily Republican Davis County in the 1st Congressional District. "Between us, you can imagine we’re not fans of the line in Davis that far north — though I can understand the logic. But Rob is particularly feeling screwed w/ the process."

About the same time, Chaffetz aide Deidre Henderson texted Sumsion about some possible territory trades with districts where Matheson might run. "We’ll take Carbon and Sevier [counties] in exchange for the extra 40,000 people you gave us in Salt Lake County. ... We’ll keep that corner of Holladay, if you take some of Midvale to make the numbers work."

In an interview, Sumsion — who is leaving the Legislature after an unsuccessful run for governor — said the GOP congressmen "wanted as many conservative areas as they could get."

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He said Bishop and allies fought plans that would have taken his new district intomore Democratic-leaning Salt Lake County. That ended up pulling Chaffetz’s district more into that county, with concessions elsewhere. Sumsionsaid their efforts made their districts more safely Republican and the state’s other two congressional districts a bit more competitive.

Parker disputed Sumsion’s interpretation of the texts.

"I don’t think Rob ever said, ‘Give me a district as conservative as possible ...’ " Parker said Monday. "I don’t think Rob ever said, ‘Don’t put me in Salt Lake.’ "

Parker said Bishop did oppose some proposals that had his district enter Salt Lake County not from the north via Davis County but from the east mountains near Millcreek.

"That didn’t seem very defensible," he said.

Chaffetz did not respond Monday to inquiries about the texts from his office.

Utah Republican Party Chairman Thomas Wright said he sees nothing nefarious in the texts. He notes that Bishop was raised in Davis County and has long represented it, so the text from his aide simply shows "sometimes elected officials care about the areas they represent and would like to continue representing them."

Democratic response • "It’s a little ugly seeing the sausage being made there," said Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis, adding Democrats fought to makethe records public preciselybecause such political jockeying might be revealed.

"We’re seeing congressmen desperate to get as many Republicans into their districts to be as safe as possible," he said. "They are selfish. They are like piggies."

But the documents show some partisan mischief on the Democratic side, too — such as when Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, emailed party officials asking, "Are you planning on doing a partisan analysis of the six [final] congressional redistricting maps before our meeting tomorrow? That would be helpful."

Dabakis says partisan measuring of redistricting proposals should not surprise anyone by now.

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