How new redistricting maps break a Utah community into three

Not even the local LDS ward boundaries in this Millcreek neighborhood would be left untouched by the proposed congressional district map.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Marcia Walke, a politically active constituent who lives on the border of three congressional districts as proposed by Utah lawmakers, near 900 E 3900 South in Millcreek expresses her anger over the latest move by the Legislature exclaiming, “to allow this district to be split three ways is absolute greed…”

If you stand at the corner of 3900 South and 900 East you’ll see a faceoff between a 7-11, a Starbucks, and the Iceberg Drive Inn.

What do these stores have in common? Answer: not their congressional districts if the Utah Legislature has its way.

This commercial intersection in Millcreek is where Utah’s 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Congressional Districts will intersect if the Legislative Redistricting Committee’s preferred map is signed into law.

Which congressional boundaries may not matter much to local stores, but they do to the Salt Lake County residents who live just behind them.

• If you live north of the Starbucks, you’re in District 2, currently represented by Chris Stewart, whom you will share with residents of St. George and Blanding.

• If you live behind the 7-11, you’re in District 3, currently represented by John Curtis. You’ll get to share him with folks in Vernal and Moab.

• And if you live just south of the Iceberg Drive Inn, you’re in District 4, currently served by Rep. Burgess Owens. You’ll get to choose whether to retain or dismiss Rep. Owens along with voters in Eureka and Gunnison.

A close up view of the proposed congressional districts where they intersect at 900 East and 3900 South in Millcreek.

Finding residents at home to speak with about the potential political fault line running through their neighborhood on Monday before the public’s one and only public hearing on the proposed maps at 3 p.m. was not easy.

“This is a working-class, blue-collar neighborhood,” said Stephani Hescock. “People are at work, not working from home.”

Hescock struggled for words when she learned that her neighborhood would be trisected and that the only window for comment was an hour away. “That just sounds dumb,” she said.

Hescock said the “needs of the community are best known by the community. We are pro-voice of the people in this household.”

Hescock, who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, lives across the street from her church meetinghouse, whose boundaries would also be sliced and diced by the new political boundaries. The meetinghouse serves two small neighborhood wards, which would be divided across three congressional districts.

Hescock found this odd. “It’s weird that [Utah lawmakers] would chop up a neighborhood into two, let alone three districts.”

Other neighbors described the division as absurd or reacted with indifference. No one was aware that their neighborhood was ground zero for what the impartial Princeton Gerrymandering Project sees as a proposal that violates the redistricting principle that communities should remain together.

Only one neighbor, who wished to be identified only as Jonathan, expressed a positive view of the proposal. Stating that if you had to divide the county somewhere, “This is probably a good spot for it.”

Around the corner, Peter Cimmino disagreed. “The whole thing is terrible.”

Cimmino, who moved to Utah eight years ago to attend college, thought that one of the best features of Utah was its grid system-based urban planning. “The whole state is divided into neat square blocks, but you have to draw squiggly lines to make your congressional map? No, that’s gerrymandering.”

Gerrymandering is the process of redrawing political boundaries to favor one political party over another. The voters of Utah adopted a nonpartisan redistricting committee under Proposition 4 in 2018 to avoid gerrymandering, but the Republican-controlled legislature stripped the committee of any real authority during the 2020 legislative session.

Marcia Walke, who identifies herself as very politically active, lives down the street from Cimmino and had plenty to say about gerrymandering.

“To allow this district to be split four ways is absolute greed,” said Walke. “It’s power-mongering and verges on the illegal.”

Walke believes the proposed map by lawmakers is just another way to keep current power systems intact despite a growing Utah.

“Our neighborhood has a great variety of nationalities, and we like it that way,” Walke said, pointing to surrounding homes. “That’s another reason why carving things up shorts some of the people here.”

Not only is Walke concerned about the makeup of the district maps, she questions the reason behind releasing the proposal late Friday night with little time for public comment.

“They’re just pushing everything through, and it’s intentional,” Walke said. “I’ve been nice for 75 years. Not anymore. I’m 76 now.”