Utah Senate president says anti-gerrymandering negotiations have improved

(Al Hartmann | Tribune file photo) Chad Smith, of West Valley City, looks at redistricting maps on Sept. 27, 2011.

Tensions around the potential repeal of an anti-gerrymandering initiative approved by voters appeared to cool on Tuesday, with a Utah legislative leader saying that negotiations are progressing and an advocacy organization canceling a protest event planned for later this week.

Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said that talks with Better Boundaries — the group behind 2018′s Proposition 4 — “kind of fell apart a little bit,” but had resumed heading into the final weeks of the 2020 legislative session.

“What I’m hearing is that things are moving in a more positive direction,” Adams said.

And in a prepared statement, the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah announced that its rally in support of Prop 4 had been indefinitely shelved after lawmakers “returned to the table.”

“The process of negotiating with lawmakers over bills is always a sensitive situation, and we anticipate that actual bill language will soon be introduced,” said Chase Thomas, executive director of the alliance. “Out of respect for the sensitivity of the process, we have decided to postpone Thursday’s rally until further notice.”

In 2018, voters approved three initiatives including Proposition 4, which sets guidelines for the once-every-decade redistricting process and creates an independent commission to draw maps that would then be recommended to lawmakers for their consideration.

Lawmakers quickly repealed two of the three initiatives, replacing them with more restrictive laws, and signaled that Prop 4 would similarly be adjusted before map-drawing begins in 2021.

But last week, Better Boundaries announced that talks had broken down and that the Legislature appeared to be “dead set on repeal.”

Legislative leaders disagreed with the group’s characterization of their intentions, but confirmed that a number of amendments — up to and including a full repeal — were under consideration to address what they perceive as flaws in the initiative language.

Better Boundaries followed up their announcement with a fundraising email saying they intended to go on the offensive and target lawmakers who sit on the committee that would review redistricting legislation.

“These legislators need to know that if they ignore the will of the people of Utah and gut Prop 4, they can and will be defeated in the upcoming election,” Rebecca Chavez-Houck, a former lawmaker and executive director of Protect Better Boundaries, said in the email.

On Tuesday, Chavez-Houck concurred with Adams’ comment that positive discussions had resumed. She also praised the Alliance for a Better Utah for postponing its event “in consideration of our ongoing negotiations.”