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REDISTRICTING PROPOSAL LEAVES OWENS OUT IN COLD

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Republicans have discovered a way to make 1992 a miserable year for Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah.

After much experimentation, the Republican National Committee has found a way to legally redraw congressional district boundaries after the 1990 Census so that Owens' 2nd District would lose virtually every Democratic voting district that it now contains.Owens' district would pick up other Democratic areas, but Owens would be forced to develop an almost entirely new base of support for re-election in 1992.

Owens could legally run instead in the 3rd District, which would contain his old power base. But it would also contain heavily Republican Utah County - which is the power base of Republican Rep. Howard Nielson, who has said he will not run in 1992 and may not in 1990.

Owens said the redistricting "would make re-election much more difficult. Republicans would have a 3 1/2-to-1 edge instead of the 2-to-1 edge they already have."

The RNC's plan is surprisingly simple. The redrawn 3rd District, now represented by Nielson, would include all of Utah County and the portion of Salt Lake County west of Seventh East.

Meanwhile, Owens' 2nd District - which now contains most of Salt Lake County - would retain only the heavily Republican east side there and be combined with the rural counties of eastern Utah, which are mostly Republican, too, except for the coal mining Carbon and Emery counties.

When Owens was shown the RNC's proposed boundaries, he exclaimed, "They've cut out every Democratic voting district in Salt Lake County.

They've probably cut out every Democrat, too - except me." Owens lives in the Federal Heights area east of the Seventh East line.

He noted that traditionally Democratic areas in Salt Lake County such as Magna, Rose Park, the Avenues and the Redwood area of West Valley City would all go to the 3rd District - where their power would be diluted by heavily Republican Utah County.

Owens called the RNC plans a monstrosity. "The Republicans are doing this because they perceive they cannot beat me in Salt Lake County." He said the plans disappoint him because much of his work on issues such as the Central Utah Project mostly affect Salt Lake County, not rural Utah.

However, the controversial 5 million acres of wilderness that Owens wants to create in the state would be almost totally in the redrawn 2nd District - even though the wilderness is not popular with miners and cattlemen there.

Here's a sampling of other reaction to the plan:

(BU) Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, said the redistricting proposal is currently considered "the inspired version" by the RNC, which he said had developed 35 or so alternatives that it didn't like as well.

Hansen likes it too because it would change his 1st District little and keep intact his Davis County support base. Some earlier proposals would have cut Davis County in half to combine it with northern Salt Lake County to dilute Owens' power there.

Hansen said the RNC plan should easily comply with laws designed to prevent gerrymandering - the process of drawing meandering boundaries that make little sense except to help re-elect a certain candidate.

Hansen notes that laws call for congressional districts to have roughly equal populations. The RNC proposal would create three districts with a population of about 565,000 people each. With current boundaries, the 1st District has 100,000 people more than the 2nd, and the 3rd has 73,000 more than the 2nd.

"The rules also say boundaries shouldn't split counties within a state. But if they do, they should only split one. This would only split Salt Lake County" - and it does it with one neat, straight line down Seventh East, Hansen said.

The RNC has already shown its proposals to some Republican legislators. The Utah Legislature is charged with redrawing congressional and legislative boundaries every 10 years after the U.S. Census. Because Republicans dominate the Utah Legislature, they are expected to choose a redistricting scheme that favors their candidates.

(BU) House Majority Leader Craig Moody, R-Sandy, who is considering running against Owens in 1990, said he's surprised by the national GOP plan. Moody has been guessing that Owens' district may be poured into Davis County in an attempt to get more Republicans in the district.

"But what people have to remember is that Salt Lake County is too large to be just one district. It has to be split. So the question is: Do we split it three ways and give each congressional district a piece, or do we split it just two ways. This proposal makes sense. And, hey, wouldn't you love to see Owens run in southeastern Utah?" Moody added, smiling.

(BU) Utah House Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich, D-Price, said the redistricting suggestion of the RNC is a clear attempt to get Owens, and so he can't support it.

However, Dmitrich, who represents the Democratic strongholds of eastern Utah, says that any other Democratic politician besides Owens may have a good chance to win such a district.

"Even the Democrats in my area are upset at Wayne over his wilderness proposals. The Republicans know that and know he's vulnerable down there. So such a district would be hard for him to win," said Dmitrich. "If such a district were created, and Owens wasn't the congressman, I'd run for it myself."

Somewhat surprisingly, not all Republicans like the RNC plan.

(BU) Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, said he will oppose it, even though he won't be running in 1992 and may not run in 1990. (He'll decide by this fall)

"I think the three districts in Utah should each have a fairly large rural area. This would create one district that is mostly urban," he said.

Nielson said the proposed boundaries "would definitely mean three Republicans would be elected to Congress. If that is what it is designed to do, it would. The 3rd District would be a sure thing for the Republican."

But he feels roughly equal rural-urban representation in each district is more important to help Utah congressmen obtain and perform well in assignments on committees with special interest to the West, such as the interior and energy committees.

Nielson also said he doubts the Republican Legislature would adopt a redistricting plan opposed by one of the two incumbent Republican congressmen in the state - so he feels his opposition will kill it.