State committee accepts input on redistricting Utah
Utah legislators are on a short time line to decide how the state will add fourth congressional seat should the United States Congress approve the action before the end of the year.
On Monday, the state committee handling the redistricting effort was in Price to meet with Carbon County citizens about ideas the local electorate may have about the possible change.
"The main reason we are here is to find out what the people of this area think about our proposed plans and to see if you have any other ideas for us," said Sen. Curtis Bramble of Utah County, the legislative committee chairman .
"We have struggled with the ideas of the change, mainly between the concepts of an all rural district or ones that mix urban and rural areas together in the districts," added Bramble.
Announced last Wednesday, the Nov. 27 meeting was conducted in the Price City Council chambers and the room was full of officials, interested parties and local residents.
The majority of the attendees were concerned about how the committee, comprised of five Republicans and three Democrats, would come up with a fair redistricting plan.
"There are a lot of competing ideas in the state about how to do this," said Sen. Chris Buttars, a Republican from West Jordan. "People have asked for rural or urban districts, but they have also not wanted counties split, nor do they want cities split up either. It is a difficult task without doing at least some of those things."
According to the committee, it would be nearly impossible, based on population figures from the 2000 census, to make all United States House of Representatives seat districts equal without doing urban rural splits.
The Utah Legislature must apply the census data to determine representation.
"The population of Utah is such that 80 percent of the people live along the Wasatch Front. And to make any district work for proper representation means that, somewhere along the line, part of that area needs to be included in every district," indicated Bramble.
"Equal population is the most important aspect of this. If we take the 2000 census numbers it shows that each district should have 558,292 people in each district, with one more than that being in a single district. That is as close as we could come to parity between the districts," continued the committee chair.
The move to create an additional congressional district in Utah started in 2000, when the census showed that the state and North Carolina deserved an additional seat in the U.S. House because of population growth.
But federal law specifies that no matter how big the population in the country gets, there are only 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives. Therefore, a seat must be taken from one place and given to another as populations shifts take place.
A U.S. House seat was subsequently removed from the northeast, where the population was in decline, and given to North Carolina.
Utah's congressional delegation and the governor were campaigning to get the seat located in the Beehive State. The Utah Legislature approved a plan for redistricting in order to be ready should the seat come Utah's way.
That U.S. House position would result from a move that would give Washington, D.C., a congressional seat, something that the district has never had before.
Under the legislation, it was assumed any seat given to the U.S. capitol district would be filled by a Democratic candidate and the one in Utah would presumably be Republican.
Despite the fact that the seat in 2000 went to the southeastern part of the country, plan A is still in force and law based on the Utah Legislature's vote at the time.
The present committee has been given the task to determine if there is a better plan than the one in force and to bring it to the state lawmakers. The Utah Legislature will meet in a special session next week to determine what will be done should Congress vote to give the state an additional seat in the U.S. House.
The committee made it clear that the members were not in Castle Valley to lecture citizens on how the Utah Legislature wanted the map to look after redistricting.
Instead, the redistricting committee members were at the meeting to get any ideas citizens may have.
While a few ideas about redistricting Utah were raised at the meeting, the committee heard from many Carbon and Emery residents who objected to changing the representation they had voted for at the November polls.
"We just had an election and voted in the person we wanted in the seat that represents us," said Ann Evans, referring to incumbent Rep. Jim Matheson who won the race against Draper Republican Lavar Christensen. "What will happen to that election if the seats change?"
The committee chair responded to the question.
"The Legislature only has the responsibility to draw up new boundaries for the district, we won't determine when an election will take place for the seats," pointed out Bramble "That will be up to Congress. But one thing we know will happen because of the redistricting, all four seats in the state will be up for election at the same time because all the present districts will be affected by the changes."
While option A is still the law of the state, legislative committees have come up with different proposals lettered clear to plan J.
Last week, an alleged controversy between the Democrats and the Republicans on the committee was reported by an upstate newspaper.
The newspaper indicated that the controversy ended with the Democrats walking out of the meeting, complaining that their plan was never considered.
But on Monday, the Democrats on the committee, Sen. Gene Davis and Utah House members Jackie Biskupski and David Litvack, said the dispute was overblown in the newspaper article.
"I think there has been a genuine effort to have both parties represented in two of the plans," said Biskupski. "This process has been collaborative."
Many questions were asked by Castle Valley attending the local committee meeting about the problem of only having a rural district.
Some local residents thought a rural district would be the best way to be represented.
"I think to combine and put all the rural interest in one seat would be a mistake," said Republican Rep. David Clark. "I think that all of our congressional representatives need to understand the problems of rural areas. By doing that we would have only one instead of four who had rural interests in mind."
But Rep. Brad King from District 69 who occupies the Utah House seat serving most of Carbon and all of Emery disagreed. King, who was in the audience at the meeting, said he thought that rural representation would be a good thing.
"I am of the opinion that rural areas should have their own representation because then that person can effectively pursue rural issues," commented King. "However, I want you to know that I realize how complicated this is and that you have made a good effort with the maps and ideas you have brought to us."
On Tuesday, it was reported that the members of the state's redistricting committee apparently ran into the opposite feeling from citizens at meetings conducted along the Wasatch Front.
Some people attending the Wasatch Front meetings apparently felt that an urban-rural mix might make the dog wag the tail the wrong way, with the interests in smaller population areas diverting attention from urban issues that concern the majority of the residents in Utah.
However on Monday, the discussion continued on the Matheson and how the congressman's current representation would change.
As the committee discussed the matter, the members seemed to be leaning toward two of the proposals - plan I and plan J.
In the two plans in question, Carbon and Emery counties would be included in U.S. House district three.
House district two, where Matheson is presently serving, would be located in the northern part of the state. A significant portion of the district would be urban, although there would be some rural areas included as well.
Basically, the two plans differ in boundaries within counties and county splits.
Presently, district three is represented by Rep Chris Cannon from Utah County.
In the two proposed plans, district three would be dominated population wise by Utah County. Utah County has more than 60 percent of the voters in the district.
The situation did not appear to sit well with some attendees at the local meeting and the discussion frequently turned to the kind of representative the area wants to have.
While the discussion did not develop into a partisan issue, several committee members wondered whether Matheson was liked in Carbon County because he was a Democrat or because he represented the area well.
The majority of local residents responding to the questions indicated that Matheson has spent more time in the area than past congressmen.
Matheson has also voiced more concerns about local problems than officials who represented the area in the past.
It was pointed out that Matheson had even opened an office in the area to allow local citizens to have more input.
"In the end, we as citizens of this area have to realize that two-thirds of the votes in any of the redistricting plans presented for our two counties will come from Utah County," stated Delynn Fielding. "All plans center around that county."
Fielding is the economic director for Carbon County.
After the local input session concluded, the committee left town to fly to St. George for another meeting on the same subject that evening.
On Tuesday, the state redistricting committee conducted meetings in Park City, Ogden and Salt Lake.
The Utah Legislature will meet on Dec. 4 to consider the issue.