Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Norm Bangerter are frowning upon a Republican National Committee proposal to redraw Utah's congressional and legislative districts early - in 1990 instead of 1991.
That would ensure the present Republican-controlled Legislature would redraw the lines before Democrats could possibly gain control of the House in the 1990 elections. It could also make the U.S. House district of Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, so Republican that he may not win re-election.Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, brought the proposal to GOP leaders and Bangerter. Hansen said lawyers from the national committee visited him - in part because he was once the ranking Republican on the House subcommittee that came up with redistricting guidelines to avoid gerrymandering - to discuss the idea of redrawing lines in Utah before the 1990 census is completed.
"They felt Utah might be a good place to test whether it can be done," Hansen told the Deseret News.
The Republican National Committee lawyers say because Utah is so Republican and because the population of Utah's three congressional districts is far from equal - which goes against guidelines and Supreme Court one-man-one-vote rulings - the political and legal ways are open for redistricting now, as opposed to waiting two years.
Hansen's 1st District has 100,000 people more than Owens' 2nd District. And the 3rd District of Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, has 73,000 people more than Hansen said the national committee suggested that someone in Hansen's or Nielson's district could sue the Legislature, saying residents are underrepresented and forcing early redistricting. But a lawsuit really wouldn't be needed, Hansen added. The Legislature could just redraw the boundaries in 1990 using annual estimates of population supplied by the Census Bureau with the argument that the current boundaries are unfair.
A lawsuit in Kansas may soon prove whether such early redistricting is legal, Hansen said.
Several legislative leaders, who asked not to be identified, said that when Hansen presented the Republican National Committee proposals, he indicated that he thought redistricting early had some merit. Hansen denies that, saying he told Bangerter and others redistricting early is a bad idea but should be discussed.
Democrats need to pick up 11 House seats to win a majority in 1990. With a majority, the Democratic House could force the Republican Senate and Bangerter, also a Republican, to compromise on redistricting.
Outgoing Democratic Party Chairman Randy Horiuchi said he heard of the discussions ad called GOP leaders to complain. "It would have been political suicide for them, so underhanded." said Horiuchi.
One Republican leader said, "Jim (Hansen) asked that we consider redistricting in 1990 (during January's and February's general legislative session). We discussed it. But we don't think it's a good idea.