Redistricting: big issue draws a small crowd
If it had been a street fight, in terms of numbers, it would have been even.
On Saturday afternoon more than 20 legislators and legislative aides sat on a long stage at the Carbon County Special Events Center and spoke to a sparse crowd about redistricting their house, senate, state school board and congressional districts.
Unfortunately there was hardly anyone there to listen. Only 22 people showed up in a room designed for hundreds. Despite cries by locals concerning legislative gerrymandering of the house seats that represent the area a decade ago just after the 2000 census, and a change that divided Carbon County between two legislators for the first time in the county's history, the crowd that showed up on a warm weekend day seemed particularly feeble in terms of numbers.
But not in terms of passion.
"We need more cohesiveness as county (in terms of legislative representation)," said Marilyn Davis of the Grassroot Advocacy Partnership. "It's difficult to bring in a legislator who lives so far away when we need him. We must look at the distances that they have to travel and the ability for advocates to come here. If we fracture Carbon even more it will become that much more difficult."
Davis was referring to the fact that Patrick Painter (state representative District 67), who represents about about one third of Carbon County, actually lives in Mona in Juab county. She said that while he was always willing and did come over a lot it was a large problem and certainly an imposition on the part time legislator's time.
Among locals that situation and the congressional seat that Jim Matheson currently holds were the hot buttons. Many people who have heard about the "donut hole" approach to congressional seats in the state (since some district will be electing a new seat with Utah now having four positions in congress) think the idea is good, while others like the "pizza cut" approach.
Under the donut hole approach three congressional districts would come from basically the Wasatch Front and one would Represent the rest of the state, really dividing the representatives into three for urban climes and one for rural areas in terms of representation in Washington D.C. That could mean one representative would serve up to 23 counties, depending on the plan adapted and many find that big an area (geographically) concerning.
"I see your task as very difficult," said Carbon County Commissioner Mike Milovich as he addressed the legislative committee. "I would like to see you keep the counties together as much as possible. The problem is in the distances. Congressional representatives must meet with constituents, but for one person to cover a vast area and do that is tough. I suggest you possibly look at the Association of Governments organizations boundaries as a possible guide."
The legislature has a constitutional mandate to adjust those districts based on the recent census. Population changes in the state, with the urban areas almost exploding (Utah had a growth rate of over 23 percent in the last 10 years, much of it in certain urban areas) and many rural areas only growing slowly is causing heartburn. They must try to stay within the parameters of "One person-One vote" but based on that growth some areas have expanded so much that many are largely out of whack population wise.
Basically the legislature is taking the stand that in areas where the growth was slower than average the geographical size of the districts will grow, while in the areas that grew faster than the average the geographical size of the districts will shrink.
Ideal numbers for representation? Under the redistricting principles each congressional district should have 690,971 people, state senate districts should have 95,306, state house districts should have 36,852 and state school board seats should represent 184,259 individuals. The deviations up and down allowed in redistricting for all but the congressional districts is plus or minus 3.5 percent. However the congressional districts parameters are much tighter with only a .1 percent deviation up or down allowed. At present the local representative in District 69 (Christine Watkins) is short of the required 36,852 by 5,039 (14 percent) and District 67 (Painter) is over 5,817 (16 percent). It would seen easy to swap the two and make Carbon whole again. But as legislators said time and time again in the meeting, if you crush the balloon that is the population at one spot, it pops out in another.
To complicate the process, the legislature must not only take into account the population census numbers but also the geography of any given area, the districts created must be contiguous and they should be reasonably compact.
"Would your interests (concerning the congressional seat) be better served by someone from Salt Lake City or someone from rural Utah?" asked Senator Ben McAdams (D) from Salt Lake, concerning the "pizza cut" verses the "donut hole" approach to congressional realignment. A few hands went up for both.
The local legislative representation was all at the meeting also. Present were State Senator David Hinkins from District 27, Painter (District 67) and Representative Christine Watkins from District 69, who is also on the redistricting committee.
Lynna Topolovec of Spring Glen, one of the last to address the committee before the meeting ended, said, "Please put our county back together again. And put representatives over areas that have like industries and issues. And be sure to not make a representative have to represent two sides of an issue to the state in their same district when there is a conflict."
The state is encouraging people to get involved in the redistricting issue. The committee has set up a web site where the public can draw and submit their own maps of how they think the various representative positions should geographically look. Anyone can submit proposals and there are already dozens of maps people have entered on the site. If interested go to www.RedistrictUtah.com.